Sunday, June 29, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Here’s the deal: when it comes to statements made in public by a politician, if that politician’s supporters (or really, anyone) have to come back and defend a comment by “what he/she really meant was…” it was a poor statement.

To wit: McCain’s gasoline comment noted in the previous post.

Also, a note: it is possible to comment on how a comment will play in the public without endorsing the way that comment is being interpreted. I have noted several times when I have posted something along the lines of the previous post and people proceed to tell me how the interpretation in question isn’t fair or that the speaker didn’t mean what I am saying they meant. If one pays attention, I am not normally endorsing a particular interpretation but commenting on the political significance (as I see it) of the statement.

Politicians make any number of statements that can be unfairly used by the opposition. Just because I can see how that statement can be so used doesn’t mean that I endorse that meaning. The sad fact of the matter is, the meaning of a statement (and its broader context) is usually not what really matters. What it sounds like to the casual listener (especially if it is commercial-worthy) is more important in terms of the political salience of the utterance in question.

It would be nice if that wasn’t the case, but nonetheless, that’s the way it is.

(Another recent example of me trying to address how something will play to the public, but having some of the commenters miss that point is here).

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3 Responses to “A Basic Rule for Analyzing Sound Bites”

  1. PoliBlog (TM): A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Not a Smart Thing to Say Says:

    [...] the fact that this much splainin’ is necessary, proves the basic point I am trying to make here. Sphere: Related Content Previous Related Posts Delegate [...]

  2. Patterico Says:

    I reject the implication that I misread your post or missed your overall point.

    If you hadn’t made a positive statement that included a false implication about what McCain was asked, I wouldn’t have said a word.

    If people are misstating what a candidate has said, bloggers have a special duty not to imply that the misstatement is correct.

    I do appreciate the update, if not its grudging nature.

  3. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    I don’t want to start another confrontation. Let me say this, however, and you can respond as you see fit. I have no doubt you understand the basic issue.

    However, my point is that even your post about the TP’s post on the subject underscores my point–McCain’s statement was sufficiently problematic that it resulted in a rather lengthy post to refute a portion of a sentence. I am not saying that the basic refutation isn’t basically correct.

    My point remains that McCain’s original sentence was politically clumsy, if not stupid and the fact that supporters have to go around pointing he meant, or knows simply underscores my basic point.

    Same thing with McCain’s statement about computers last week. Ultimately who cares if the president can use a PC or not, the bottom line, however, is that it makes him sound old, and that isn’t to his benefit.

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