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Distorting McCain’s Remarks

An Obama ad uses dated and out-of-context quotes to portray McCain as clueless on the economy.


Obama’s campaign is running a TV ad in Indiana that asks the question: "How can John McCain fix the economy, when he doesn’t think it’s broken?" But the ad uses quotes from McCain that are old and taken out of context:

  • The ad shows McCain saying, "I don’t believe we’re headed into a recession." But McCain said that in January, and he also acknowledged at the time that the American economy was in "a rough patch."
  • The ad then shows McCain saying in April, "[T]here’s been great progress economically." But the quote is lifted from a much longer response; McCain went on to say that the "progress" made during Bush’s tenure still wouldn’t console American families who are facing "tremendous economic challenges."
  • The third quote from McCain, "[W]e have had a pretty good prosperous time, with low unemployment," also comes from January. In his full response, McCain went on to say "things are tough right now."


Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign is running an ad in Indiana that tries to paint Sen. John McCain as being out of touch with Americans’ concerns about the economy. It contrasts remarks from McCain with comments from residents of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Obama’s ad, however, used dated remarks from McCain and takes his words out of context.

[TET ]

Obama for America Ad: “Fix the Economy”

McCain: I don’t believe we’re headed into a recession. January 10, 2008
Rutherford: I think we’re absolutely in a recession. Graphic: Ed Rutherford, Morrow, Ohio
Ahlersmeyer: I sometimes struggle just to get essentials, you know the milk, the bread, the eggs. Graphic: Lauren Ahlersmeyer, Lafayette, Indiana
McCain: There’s been great progress economically. April 17, 2008
Morrison: The economy is in a rut. Graphic: Stuart Morrison, Park Hills, Kentucky
McCain: We’ve had a pretty good prosperous time with low unemployment. January 30, 2008
Robertson: The way the economy is, it is the bleakest of times. Graphic: Kelly Robertson, Elkhart, Indiana
Fisher: I’m worried, I’m really worried. Graphic: Christina Fisher, Wilmington, OH
Announcer: How can John McCain fix the economy, when he doesn’t think it’s broken?
Obama: I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.[/TET]
Cherry-Picking Quotes

The ad opens with video of McCain saying, "I don’t believe we’re headed into a recession." But the clip comes from a response to a question at a Republican primary debate in South Carolina back in January. The date is shown in the ad, in the lower-right hand corner. McCain’s quote is followed by a clip of a man from Ohio saying, "I think we’re absolutely in a recession." While that man and others shown in the ad are talking about economic conditions now, this quote from McCain and another in the ad are from seven months ago, a fact that may not be apparent to viewers if they miss the fine print. Here’s more of what McCain said in January:

McCain, Jan. 10: … And by the way, I don’t believe we’re headed into a recession. I believe the fundamentals of this economy are strong, and I believe they will remain strong. This is a rough patch, but I think America’s greatness lies ahead of us.

While McCain clearly said the country wasn’t headed into a recession, he also acknowledged that the U.S. was in "a rough patch." At the time, unemployment was 5.0 percent, and it has since climbed to 5.7 percent, as of July. McCain’s comments on the economy, in fact, have been more critical of late. In an August 1 speech before the National Urban League, McCain said the economy is "struggling" and "troubled." The second and third quotes the Obama campaign uses from McCain are more misleading. The ad shows McCain saying: "[T]here’s been great progress economically." The quote comes from an interview McCain did with Peter Cook at Bloomberg Television in April. But the Obama campaign’s selective use of McCain’s words leaves out what the Republican had to say about families’ economic hardships:

Cook, April 17: I’m going to ask you a version of the Ronald Reagan question. You think if Americans were asked, are you better off today than you were before George Bush took office more than seven years ago, what answer would they give?

McCain: Certainly, in this time, we are in very challenging times. We all recognize that. Families are sitting around the kitchen table this evening and figuring out whether they’re going to be able to keep their home or not. They’re figuring out whether they’re – why it is that suddenly and recently someone in their family or their neighbor has lost their job. There’s no doubt that we are in enormous difficulties. I think if you look at the overall record and millions of jobs have been created, et cetera, et cetera, you could make an argument that there’s been great progress economically over that period of time. But that’s no comfort. That’s no comfort to families now that are facing these tremendous economic challenges.

McCain was making a case for what he believed were positive economic developments during Bush’s time in office. However, the fuller quote shows McCain was saying that whatever progress had been made, it wouldn’t be enough to comfort families "facing these tremendous economic challenges." His comments overall are pessimistic; he cites "challenging times" and "enormous difficulties." The Obama campaign distorts his views by using just a snippet of his remarks. In the third quote in the ad, the Obama camp also uses something positive McCain said about Bush’s tenure but leaves out his not-so-rosy comments about the economy. The video is of McCain at a CNN Republican debate in late January saying: "[W]e have had a pretty good prosperous time, with low unemployment." But that’s not all he said:

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Jan. 30: Senator McCain, are Americans better off than they were eight years ago?

McCain: I think you could argue that Americans overall are better off, because we have had a pretty good prosperous time, with low unemployment and low inflation and a lot of good things have happened. A lot of jobs have been created. But let’s have some straight talk. Things are tough right now. Americans are uncertain about this housing crisis. Americans are uncertain about the economy, as we see the stock market bounce up and down, but more importantly, the economy particularly in some parts of the country, state of Michigan, Governor Romney and I campaigned, not to my success, I might add, and other parts of the country are probably better off. But I think what we’re trying to do to fix this economy is important. We’ve got to address the housing, subprime housing problem. We need to, obviously, have this package go through the Congress as quickly as possible.

Following McCain’s response, Cooper responded: "It sounds like that we’re not better off is what you’re saying." To which McCain replied: "I think we are better off overall if you look at the entire eight-year period, when you look at the millions of jobs that have been created, the improvement in the economy, et cetera." McCain added, "What I’m trying to emphasize, Anderson, that we are in a very serious challenge right now, with a lot of Americans very uncertain about their future, and we’ve got to give them some comfort." As for McCain’s comment that there was low unemployment at the time, he was technically right. The 5.0 percent unemployment rate in December 2007 was still below the 5.6 percent average for all months since the late 1940s. The rate has since climbed to just above that average. McCain was wrong about inflation, however: Two weeks before McCain spoke the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index had risen 4.1 percent in 2007 alone; it was the fastest increase in prices since 1990.


For Better or for Worse

The economy has worsened since McCain’s debate comments back in January, and so has his public assessment. This month McCain’s campaign released an ad that begins with these words from an announcer: "Washington’s broken. John McCain knows it. We’re worse off than we were four years ago." Nevertheless, Obama’s ad ends by asking: "How can John McCain fix the economy, when he doesn’t think it’s broken?" By using months-old quotes and selective editing, the Obama ad distorts McCain’s assessment of the economy.

– by D’Angelo Gore


CNN. "Transcript of GOP debate at Reagan Library." CNN.com, 30 January 2008.

Council on Foreign Relations. "Republican Debate Transcript, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina." 10 Jan. 2008.

Bloomberg TV. "John McCain on Bloomberg TV." RealClearPolitics.com, 17 April 2008.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National). United States Department of Labor, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index. United States Department of Labor, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. United States Department of Labor, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

John McCain 2008 Press Office. Remarks by John McCain to the National Urban League Annual Conference. JohnMcCain.com, 1 August 2008.

McCain, John. "Remarks By John McCain On His Jobs For America Economic Plan." JohnMcCain.com, 7 July 2008.