Why Context Matters

I imagine the zillion or so partisan bloggers and political wesbites are buzzing around comments by Joe Biden that his "one focus" is getting a second term for President Obama.

The VP made the remark during an interview with CNN's Sunday show, "State of the Union," and it sounds a lot like a comment made last year by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who said his "single most important" goal is to make Obama a one-term president.

Democrats, including Obama, have pounded away at McConnell's comment ever since, offering it as evidence Republicans don't want to help fix the economy or create jobs or do anything other than unseat the incumbent.

Republicans, I expect, will come back with the same argument on Biden's remarks, offering it as proof Democrats, including the president, aren't interested in anything other than re-election.

The easy thing here is to say both sides are right because all politicians ONLY care about staying in office, and when they say jobs, jobs, jobs, they're talking about their own.

Heck, I've made that case myself.

But part of the problem with rapid-fire, technology-driven political commentary is it rarely includes any context. Instead, it cherry-picks pols' phrases to push agendas of the moment.

So here's a break from the pattern.

McConnell did say "the single most important thing we want to achieve" is keeping Obama from being re-elected. But, as reported by the St. Petersburg Times politifact.com's respected "truth-o-meter," McConnell, in the same interview, also said when it comes to policy he's willing to meet the president halfway.

Somehow, that part was lost in all retelling of McConnell's words.

As for Biden, his weekend comment came in response to a specific question about his own interest in running for president in 2016. It was clearly a personal political question, unrelated to national policy. When he said, "My one focus right now is getting the President reelected," he also said, "I'll make up my mind on that later." He was addressing his own political status not the administration's policy priorities.

I'm not arguing that either of these pols are more interested in public service than political gains. But I am arguing that context matters and ought to be reported with the same energy and repetition as selected quotes and phrases.