Sunday, May 24, 2015

Why Context Matters

Did Biden just join McConnell is putting politics above solving problems? Not if you context.

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'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.



Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

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