Half a quote is worse than none

Almost everyone reading this has, in their lifetime, said, “I love Satan.” At least, that’s what the Republican Party might want us to believe.

You see, everyone has uttered the first-person singular pronoun. Ditto, one would hope, for the word “love.” And it should be a safe bet that the vast majority of us have said “Satan” at some point. So, based on the Republicans’ zest for out-of-context calumny, you conceivably would be considered to have said, “I love Satan.”

If you would be frustrated at such a blatant misrepresentation of your prior statements, think how the President of the United States must feel.

In a July 13 speech in Virginia, President Obama, referring to how entrepreneurs thrive in our country, said:

Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Instantly, a frenzy of bloviation arose on the Right. The President was condemned for telling American entrepreneurs that they owed their success not to their own efforts, but to the government. The Right seized upon his casual misuse of the singular pronoun “that” (instead of the more appropriate plural “those”) to claim he was telling American business people that they did not create their own companies.

When, as expected, the Republicans were criticized for taking the President’s remarks out of context to misrepresent what he said, they doubled down by saying context did not lessen the harshness of his words.

“Well, just read the whole speech. I found the speech even more disconcerting than just that particular line. The context is worse than the quote,”  Mitt Romney was quoted himself as telling CNBC on July 30.

But the “whole speech” makes clear the President was referring to the essential infrastructure that business needs to innovate and thrive, and how that infrastructure exists because of the commitment and efforts of many others, including government. How is that worse? How is that dismissive of American entrepreneurship?

The simple answer, of course, is that it’s not. Despite the more radical ravings of the Right, darkly referring to the President as a “tyrant,” Obama is anything but. In fact, he’s not even a particularly liberal president, especially compared to such progressives as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Any of those men would be shocked at how low the top-tier tax rates are. Any of them would be surprised — especially Nixon — at how timidly President Obama undertook health care reform. And any of them would admire how forcefully President Obama has been prosecuting the so-called “War on Terror.”

Unfortunately, this is an election year and it appears the Republicans wish to win the presidency at any cost. Their unholy alliance with the Tea Party movement in 2010, regarded by most observers as the principal catalyst for the absolute paralysis that has hobbled Congress for almost two years, demonstrates clearly the Pyrrhic nature of their quest.

We may have, as a people, resigned ourselves to enduring lies and distortions as the lingua franca of national campaigns. However, we are not absolved of our duty to discern the truth. And no news organization, if its existence is to have any legitimacy, is excused from the obligation to articulate that truth, even in the midst of a cacophony of deceit.