Context matters

CONTEXT MATTERS…. Last week, in an unusually painful example of what’s become of the Republican ticket, the McCain campaign released a “comically misleading” web ad, showing Barack Obama suggesting the “fundamentals” of the economy are strong. The ad concluded, “Obama’s a hypocrite.” The problem, of course, is that when one looked at the context of Obama’s remarks, he was actually saying the opposite. McCain just wanted to deceive, and hoped the public wouldn’t know the difference.

Today, he’s trying a similar stunt. In a speech this afternoon, according to the prepared text, McCain will tell voters in New Mexico, “As recently as September of last year [Obama] said that subprime loans had been, quote, ‘a good idea.’ Well, Senator Obama, that ‘good idea’ has now plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

And once again, McCain’s desperation has led him to ignore context so blatantly, his attack is baseless.

In that September 17, 2007 speech — titled “Our Common Stake in America’s Prosperity — Obama criticized the “dangerous erosion of the rules and principles that have allowed our market to work and our economy to thrive.” He said that dynamic reared its head “during the Enron and WorldCom scandals … and we cannot help but see some reflections of these practices when we look at the subprime mortgage fiasco today.”

Obama said that “subprime lending started off as a good idea — helping Americans buy homes who couldn’t previously afford to. Financial institutions created new financial instruments that could securitize these loans, slice them into finer and finer risk categories and spread them out among investors around the country and around the world. In theory, this should have allowed mortgage lending to be less risky and more diversified.”

But then, Obama said, something went wrong.

“As certain lenders and brokers began to see how much money could be made, they began to lower their standards,” Obama said. “Some appraisers began inflating their estimates to get the deals done. Some borrowers started claiming income they didn’t have just to qualify for the loans, and some were engaging in irresponsible speculation. But many borrowers were tricked into glossing over the fine print. And ratings agencies began rating bundles of different kinds of these loans as low-risk even though they were very high-risk. Most everyone knew that some of these deals were just too good to be true, but all that money flowing in made it tempting to look the other way and ignore the unscrupulous practice of some bad actors… Repeated calls for better disclosure and stronger oversight were met with millions in mortgage industry lobbying. Far too many continued to put their own short-term gain ahead of what they knew the long-term consequences would be when those rates exploded.”

Context, in other words, matters.

I wonder if McCain will ever look back at his campaign, see how ridiculous he allowed it to become, and feel embarrassed. Somehow, I doubt it.