You might expect that in a Republican primary the candidates would be criticizing one another. They certainly would have plenty of material. But in keeping with Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment—thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican—the GOP presidential candidates are focusing their television commercials in the early primary states on President Obama. Unfortunately, the quotes they use from Obama are taken so far out of context that they go beyond misleading into outright falsehoods.
Last week Rick Perry snipped a quote from President Obama talking about US efforts to attract foreign investment. On November 12 at the APEC CEO Business Summit Obama said:
“There are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the US as a great opportunity—our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture. But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted—well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.”
It is abundantly clear from the context Obama is not calling the American people themselves lazy. But, taking the phrase out of context, Mitt Romney attacked Obama in a stump speech and Perry cut an ad around it.
“Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy?” Perry says in the commercial, which is airing in Iowa and New Hampshire. “That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington…. Obama’s socialist policies are bankrupting America. We must stop him now.”
Perry’s press release for the ad accuses Obama of “apologizing for America and disparaging Americans by calling us lazy, soft and unambitious.” The smear is so dishonest that even Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly questioned Perry about its legitimacy in an interview on Friday. Perry insisted it was fair by falsely asserting, “This president’s traveled around the country making excuses for America, apologizing for America, saying that America is not an exemplary country.” Obama has never apologized for America nor has he said America is not an exemplary country. Indeed, his most famous speeches, such as the ones he delivered at the 2004 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions had America’s exemplary qualities as their theme.
What’s especially pathetic is that Perry can’t even correctly deliver the Republican slander of Obama. Obama is not alleged to have traveled around the country apologizing for America; he is—as Romney says frequently—supposed to have traveled around the world apologizing for America. (It wouldn’t make much sense after all, for Obama to traveling the United States apologizing to it for itself.) What Romney is referring to is Obama’s habit of graciously acknowledging when speaking abroad, such as in his famous speech in Cairo, Egypt, in 2009, that the US has not always been perfect in its treatment of foreign countries. Why this is a bad thing neither Romney nor Perry has ever explained. And, in point of fact, Obama never said the words “sorry” or “apology” as such.
Perry set the bar for lying about what Obama has said pretty high, but Romney managed to clear it. In a commercial Romney released in New Hampshire on Tuesday he takes a clip of Obama speaking on the 2008 campaign trail, quoting a McCain adviser who said, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” So they took Obama quoting someone else and make it sound as if he were speaking for himself.
As Think Progress demonstrates, you could put together an ad where Romney quotes imaginary liberals and pretend that he is the one who thinks “We should just raise everybody’s taxes,” “there’s nothing unique about the United States,” “government knows better than a free people how to guide an economy,” “fiscal responsibility is heartless, and immoral” and so on. Of course, Obama wouldn’t do that, because he generally tries to avoid lying to the American people. His opponents, however, are a different matter.