Last fall, Mitt Romney's very first television ad took a line Barack Obama uttered four years ago, wrenched it from context, and tried to mislead the public. After getting caught, the Republican candidate said he didn't care -- the deception didn't matter because it's "sauce for the gander."
Incidentally, I still don't know what that means.
What we didn't know at the time was the extent to which this tactic would be important to the Republican's campaign. Indeed, at this point, hyperventilating after taking Obama quotes out of context isn't just part of the Romney campaign strategy, it is the Romney campaign strategy.
When President Obama told business leaders that U.S. policymakers have been "a little bit lazy" when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil, Romney went berserk and said Obama believes Americans are "lazy." When the president said private-sector job growth is "fine" relative to the public sector, Romney took that out of context, too.
And this week, Romney is pretending to be apoplectic about Obama's belief that businesses thrive thanks to public institutions -- a concept Romney conceded yesterday he agrees with. In fact, there's a new Romney campaign web video featuring a New Hampshire business owner who's disgusted by the notion that Obama is "demonizing" him for his hard-earned success.
Whether the New Hampshire business owner actually believes this nonsense or he's been lied to by the Romney campaign is unclear.
But if you watch the clip, what's truly amazing is the hack-job editing. Team Romney didn't just take Obama's words out of context, the GOP campaign moved sentences around in order to make the president express an anti-business sentiment he does not believe and never expressed.
Indeed, this one's a doozy.
Greg Sargent was the first to catch the deception this morning, noting this audio of Obama that plays at the beginning of the video:
"If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be 'cause I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
Of course, when you're watching a video, you can't see ellipses, and in this case, you don't know what the president actually said:
"If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. 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."
And remember, just yesterday, Romney endorsed this exact sentiment. He is, in other words, on the attack over an idea he agrees with.
In the video, Team Romney had to take out the sentences that showed what Obama was saying in order to fool people. Adding insult to injury, a Romney speech is featured at the end of the video, and it's edited to omit the part of his speech in which Romney said Americans "couldn't have" businesses were it not for public institutions -- a sentiment that presumably makes the Republican candidate a socialist.
Greg added, "Romney supporters will respond that the parts of the speech that were included in the Web video are objectionable on their own. I don't agree with that, but it's a debatable point. However, there is no question that this edit is highly misleading. It deliberately removes multiple sentences about the broader theme of Obama's speech that preceded the 'you didn't build that' quote in order to deprive it of its actual meaning as Obama plainly intended that. And it creates the false impression of a seamless transition."
Of course, if the Obama quote were really as outrageous as Republicans claim, creative editing wouldn't have been necessary -- Romney could have shared the real quote, with the context. That he hasn't reinforces the fact that the president's sentiment wasn't offensive at all. Indeed, when the Romney campaign heard the line, they ignored for five days because they didn't see it as controversial.
In the larger context, Romney has spent the last few days saying he can't release his tax returns because rascally Democrats might take tidbits from the materials out of context, making him look bad. The irony is rich.