Carly Fiorina, Context Victim

It’s almost as if the McCain campaign circulated a memo on how not to respond to the Wall Street collapse, but everyone misinterpreted it as what they should do.

First, McCain asserted that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong” before describing them as “at great risk.” Then his top economic adviser suggested—the campaign says jokingly—that McCain helped invent the BlackBerry . Now Carly Fiorina, another top adviser, said in separate instances that neither Sarah Palin nor John McCain could run a major corporation.

Now, before you pounce on Fiorina, consider the full context:

MITCHELL: You were asked whether Sarah Palin has the experience to run a major company … and you said, “No, I don’t, but you know what? That’s not what she’s running for.” 

FIORINA: “Well, I don’t think John McCain could run a major corporation. I don’t think Barack Obama could run a major corporation. I don’t think Joe Biden could run a major corporation. But on the other hand, running a major corporation is not the same as being President or Vice President of the United States. It is a fallacy to suggest that the country is like a company. So, of course, to run a business you have to have a lifetime of experience in business. But that’s not what John McCain, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin or Joe Biden are doing.”

Her answer is completely natural and nondamning if you look at the entire paragraph. (Although you could take issue with the “fallacy” line, since George W. Bush did suggest that business experience matters.) The “gaffe”—that McCain couldn’t run a major corporation—is manufactured by the setup.

It’s not unlike Wesley Clark’s comment in June about how John McCain’s getting shot down doesn’t prepare him for the presidency. He, too, was responding in the context of the question. Bob Schieffer pointed out that Barack Obama had not “ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down,” to which Clark replied: “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

Of course, the “context” defense is useless now. If John McCain can excerpt Katie Couric’s observation that the primary campaign was sexist and make it sound like she was talking about Obama … if Obama can rip McCain’s “100 years” quote to make it sound like he’s for a century-long occupation of Iraq … if McCain can juxtapose Sarah Palin’s “lipstick” line from the RNC with Obama’s “lipstick” quote to make it sound like he’s talking about her … then Carly Fiorina, whatever her intention, is out of luck.