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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The magic of context

by folkbum

A couple of weeks ago, Barack Obama said this in his major policy speech about national service:
We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just aspowerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.
Out of context, it sounds like Obama is calling for a multi-billion-dollar, million-strong force of armed civilians patrolling the streets finding those terrorists that JB Van Hollen believes are hiding behind of every wheel of cheddar.

This, of course, is driving the right-wing blogs nuts. Only NRA-approved candidates can demand an armed populace, you know.

But since I read those sentences on a right-wing blog, I had no reason to believe they were accurate. So I googled up that speech on service and found that, in fact, Obama had not included those two sentences in his prepared remarks. But he did ad-lib them, as he did many lines throughout the speech. You can see it on this YouTube of the speech, and the words above appear at about the 17-minute mark. Here, then is the full context of those lines:
As President, I will expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots, and make that increased service a vehicle to meet national goals like providing health care and education, saving our planet and restoring our standing in the world, so that citizens see their efforts connected to a common purpose. People of all ages, stations, and skills will be asked to serve. Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem - they are the answer.

We'll send more college graduates to teach and mentor our young people. We'll call on Americans to join an Energy Corps to conduct renewable energy and environmental cleanup projects in their neighborhoods. We'll enlist veterans to help other vets find jobs and support, and to be there for our military families. And we'll also grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered, and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy. We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.

And we'll use technology to connect people to service. We'll expand USA Freedom Corps to create an online network where Americans can browse opportunities to volunteer. You'll be able to search by category, time commitment, and skill sets; you'll be able to rate service opportunities, build service networks, and create your own service pages to track your hours and activities. This will empower more Americans to craft their own service agenda, and make their own change from the bottom up.
In context, it's clear that he's not suggesting hordes of armed librul avengers roaming the prairies looking for suspicious characters to send to the re-education camps. But, cleverly, by removing the context and drawing attention to what may, yeah, be a slightly hyperbolic assertion of how critical Obama thinks civilian service will be in the coming decade, you make people think Obama's on the verge of calling for a police state. Mission, as they say, accomplished.

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