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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bum Rap for Rahm

Sen. Rand Paul distorted an old quote from Rahm Emanuel during an appearance on Fox Business, as he disparaged the reaction of liberals to last weekend’s shootings in Tucson.

The Kentucky Republican, who took office just this month, was asked on Wednesday by Fox host Andrew Napolitano how pundits (Paul Krugman, a liberal columnist for the New York Times, was mentioned) could "get away with blaming murder on political discourse." Paul responded:

Rand Paul, Jan. 12: Well, these are the kind of things that I think some on the left decide and manufacture even before the events occur. I mean, this is part of the playbook of Rahm Emanuel where they say any crisis should be used to their advantage to further their agenda. So I'm not surprised that they do it, I do think they should be ashamed of themselves for doing it.

Paul was referring to comments that Emanuel made at a Wall Street Journal conference of corporate chief executives in November 2008, days after Barack Obama won the presidential election and in the thick of the financial crisis. (Emanuel went on to serve as Obama's chief of staff.) Part of what Emanuel said frequently has been cited by conservatives to show that the left supposedly wants to exploit circumstances to ram its agenda through. That Emanuel quote is: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

In context, though, Emanuel wasn't talking about partisan gain or advancing any particular "agenda," as Paul claimed. Emanuel specifically urged addressing longstanding problems with "ideas from both parties" when a crisis presents the opportunity. He used the energy crisis of the 1970s as an example of an opportunity lost:

Emanuel, Nov. 19, 2008: You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before. I think America as a whole in 1973 and 1974, and not just my view but obviously the administration's, missed the opportunity to deal with the energy crisis that was before us. For a long time our entire energy policy came down to cheap oil. This is an opportunity, what used to be long-term problems, be they in the health care area, energy area, education area, fiscal area, tax area, regulatory reform area, things that we have postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with. This crisis provides the opportunity, for us, as I would say, the opportunity to do things that you could not do before. The good news, I suppose, if you want to see a silver lining, is the problems are big enough that they lend themselves to ideas from both parties for the solution.

Emanuel then talked in broad strokes about Obama's priorities in the areas he'd mentioned.

This week, Emanuel was asked about the fact that bloggers and editorial writers were repeating the statement in blaming others for exploiting the shooting incident.

Emanuel, Jan. 11: First of all, what I said was, never allow a good crisis to go to waste when it's an opportunity to do things that you had never considered, or that you didn't think were possible. That's not intended for this moment, nor does it apply to this moment.

That didn't stop Paul from twisting the quote again.