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Posted by on Apr 30, 2010 in Politics | 0 comments

The ‘Out-of-Context-Quote’ Award

The award is shared this week by Michelle Malkin and Scott Johnson. Both jumped on the following thought from the President, spoken Wednesday when he was in Quincy, Illinois:

I think at some point you have made enough money.

First, if Malkin and Johnson are going to put quotation marks around comments made by anyone, they should quote the actual words, which (according to Ed Morrissey and the audio recording on which he relied) were these:

I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.

Does the meaning change between what Malkin and Johnson cited vs. what the President said on the tape and what Morrisey transcribed? No. But rules are rules, folks. If you’re going to use quotation marks, you should exercise a little discipline in applying them.

Second — and more importantly — Malkin and Johnson use that line from the President to launch expositions on how capitalism is supposed to work and how Obama just doesn’t get it.

Now, re-read the President’s line in context, as transcribed by Ed Morrissey:

We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.

Note that, after the line Malkin and Johnson imprecisely quoted, there’s a key word: “But.” Emphasis added here …

I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service.

In the first paragraph of her post, setting up her argument, Malkin conveniently clips out that annoying three-letter word. With that word returned to its rightful place, the clear translation is not Malkin’s translation. It’s this: I think there’s a certain point where you’ve made enough, but what I think doesn’t really matter. The American way allows you to keep making money if you’re providing a good product or service.

That sounds like a very common, very familar, and very American sentiment. I’d venture that most of us have probably said or thought something like it at some point in our respective lives. I certainly have. In fact, I know a man who has somewhere around a gazillion dollars in net worth … and he’s still trying to make more money. Among my circle of friends, we occasionally talk about this guy, how we think he would just be happy with what he has. But we’re always quick to acknowledge that it’s a free country, and if this guy can make even more money — legally and ethically — then good for him.

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Following Malkin’s lead, Johnson re-translates the President’s “good product … good service” phrase to mean the President “believes that only those who provide what he deems ‘good’ products and services should ‘keep on making it.'”

[Insert sound of wrong-answer buzzer here.]

What the President actually said is steeped in what Malkin labels “Capitalism 101,” which assumes (1) if you provide a good product or service, you can make a lot of money, and (2) you’re probably not going to make a lot of money, if you provide a bad product or service. Why? Because the marketplace is self-correcting. If a product or service is consistently sub-standard, buyers will take their dollars elsewhere. Seriously, what do these critics want the President to say: “You can get rich by selling stuff that has no value”?

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I did not tag Ed Morrissey with an “out-of-context” award because he had the decency to imbed and transcribe the audio of what the President said. Unfortunately, Ed’s provision of context does not stop him from misreading the President’s words. Still, he provided the context when the others didn’t, and that counts for a lot in my book because it allows the reader to weigh opinion versus fact, in the same space, at the same time.

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Ed also writes:

… the responsibility of an entrepreneur isn’t to “grow our economy,” core or otherwise. It’s to grow his own economy.

There, he’s obviously jumping on this line from the President:

We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.

Unlike Ed, I read that sentence with an implied “When X happens, we get Y” … to wit: We don’t want people to stop fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system because when they do, it helps grow our economy.

But those aren’t the words the President used, so I can’t, absent clarification from the White House, cleanly debunk Ed’s interpretation of that particular line as it was spoken.

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