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Sunday, June 29, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the OC Register‘s Total Buzz blog: Total Buzz’s Q&A with John McCain

When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?
Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters.

Look, it is pretty obvious that Senator McCain (like Senators Obama and Clinton, to name two others) doesn’t pump his own gas. And the notion that he wouldn’t know the exact price the last time that a vehicle in which he was riding was filled is perfectly understandable (indeed, what are the odds that said vehicle was filled up while McCain was in it?).

However, this is a politically stupid answer, especially the last part (highlighted above). On one level, he’s right: it doesn’t matter if a given candidate can cite the exact price of a gallon of gas at any given moment in time. However, given the political saliency of the issue, it is entirely unwise to say anything that makes one sound indifferent or dismissive of the issue-even if the honest to gosh truth is that the next President is going to be able to do precious little to change the price of gasoline.

h/t: Think Progress

Update: If it makes Patrick Frey (see comments below also) happy, I will concede that the question was not about how much gas was the last time McCain was in a vehicle that was pumped full of gas, but the last time that McCain himself pumped gas. However, that really isn’t the point of my post and does not mitigate my basic point.

See also: James Joyner.

Also, the fact that this much splainin’ is necessary, proves the basic point I am trying to make here.

One last thing: I never thought for a moment that McCain didn’t know the basics of the price of a gallon of gas.

Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments/Trackbacks (21)|
The views expressed in the comments are the sole responsibility of the person leaving those comments. They do not reflect the opinion of the author of PoliBlog, nor have they been vetted by the author.

21 Responses to “Not a Smart Thing to Say”

  1. Jay Says:

    It was a compound question. Perhaps the last part of his compound answer was to the question of when was the last time he pumped his own gas. If so, I agree. Who cares about that?

  2. Sunday Links : Stop The ACLU Says:

    [...] Criminals, It Works The Moderate Voice: Obligatory McCains are Tax Deadbeats Column Poliblogger: Not a Smart Thing to Say Powerline: Anthony Kennedy’s Song of Himself Michelle Malkin: Sunday Open Thread The Next [...]

  3. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    @Jay - I agree that there are a number of ways to interpret the response. My point is simply that in terms of being political astute that he missed the boat.

  4. Patterico Says:

    “And the notion that he wouldn’t know the exact price the last time that a vehicle in which he was riding was filled is perfectly understandable . . .”

    Please don’t misrepresent what McCain said. That wasn’t the question. The question was: what was the price the last time he pumped it?

    He knows the price of gas. He stated it, six days before the article that Think Progress dishonestly used as evidence that he doesn’t know it now. Proof here.

  5. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    Look, I don’t mean to be pedantic, but this kind of response to this kind of post gets on my nerves. I am pointing out that McCain could have more astutely answered the question. The bottom line is that in terms of the media, the issue is how something will play, not what someone meant.

    My point is that he could have answered in a way that would have been better.

    This type of answer is the kind of thing that ends up in a pro-Obama ad. That may not be fair, but it nonetheless is true. As such, I stand by the title of the post.

  6. PoliBlog (TM): A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » A Basic Rule for Analyzing Sound Bites Says:

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

  7. Think Progress Lies About McCain : Stop The ACLU Says:

    [...] he didn’t give the most politically astute answer, however its completely transparent the twisting Think Progress has attempted to [...]

  8. Patterico Says:

    “Look, I don’t mean to be pedantic, but this kind of response to this kind of post gets on my nerves.”

    Sorry if you don’t like having your false implications pointed out.

    You have a strawman response. Did I criticize the title of your post? No. Did I say that McCain’s response was smart? No.

    Here’s what I said. In response to your quote:

    “And the notion that he wouldn’t know the exact price the last time that a vehicle in which he was riding was filled is perfectly understandable . . .”

    I said:

    “Please don’t misrepresent what McCain said. That wasn’t the question. The question was: what was the price the last time he pumped it?”

    You implied that McCain said he didn’t know “the exact price the last time that a vehicle in which he was riding was filled.” That’s not what he was asked. He was asked if he knew what the price was the last time he personally pumped it.

    That’s different, and significantly so. The price the last time he was riding in a vehicle is recent, and it matters. The price the last time he personally pumped it is a long time ago (understandably, since he has been on the campaign trail) and doesn’t matter.

    Your main point stands. Your false implication does not.

  9. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    Look, for what it is worth, I agree with McCain that it doesn’t matter what the price of gas was the last time he pumped it (or, for that matter) what the price was if he was in a vehicle when the gas was pumped.

    I take your basic point, that the question was about when he pumped it, although I really don’t find that my interpretation is all that big a deal or that it alters, in any way, the discussion of the political implication of the statement in question.

    Regardless: I am not charging that McCain doesn’t know the price of gas, but rather that it is possible for an opponent of McCain to take the statement and makes it sound as if he does. That’s the point.

  10. Patterico Says:

    “I take your basic point, that the question was about when he pumped it, although I really don’t find that my interpretation is all that big a deal or that it alters, in any way, the discussion of the political implication of the statement in question.”

    Then I’ll repeat why it matters:

    You implied that McCain said he didn’t know “the exact price the last time that a vehicle in which he was riding was filled.” That’s not what he was asked. He was asked if he knew what the price was the last time he personally pumped it.

    That’s different, and significantly so. The price the last time he was riding in a vehicle is recent, and it matters. The price the last time he personally pumped it is a long time ago (understandably, since he has been on the campaign trail) and doesn’t matter.

    That’s OK; I know from past history with you that, despite your proud label as the Reasonable Conservative, you’re absurdly reluctant to admit error. Case in point. I’ve made my case; readers can decide for themselves.

  11. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    In all honesty, this is a silly argument. I will concede (and have done so above) that the question was not about the most recent a tank-fillings to which McCain may have been party (i.e., by being in the car, but not pumping the gas himself). I will grant that there is a difference between McCain pumping the gas and someone else pumping it.

    However, that was never my point.

    I did not, btw, endorse the Think Progress interpretation of the comment, but simply acknowledged Think Progress as the source of my finding the quote (I went to the OC Register site to read the whole thing in context before writing).

    Really, I consider my basic interpretation to be sympathetic towards McCain, but nonetheless not the politically smart thing to say.

  12. Patterico Says:

    Yes, it’s a silly argument. It’s silly that you spent so long defending a false implication by suggesting that it didn’t matter because it didn’t undercut your main point.

    It’s not silly for someone like me to point out others’ false implications — especially when that false implication helps reinforce a positively false and destructive misstatement about a politician’s statement.

    So yes, this has been silly. But the silliness is entirely yours.

    I appreciate the update, if not its grudging nature. For an example of how to correct a post without whining or trying to place the blame on others, see James Joyner.

  13. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    I honestly don’t think it is too broad an interpretation to read the quote the way I originally did. Not to get all Clintonian, but does “pump your own gas” have to mean, especially on first hearing, that one actually got out of the car and put the nozzle in the opening of the tank? A first hearing/reading of the phrase could come across as “the last time you got gas” (and as such, I am unclear on the “false implication”). I am not imputing anything to McCain-certainly not that he doesn’t know the price of gas (which you correctly note, he does). I simply read the broadest meaning into the initial question.

    Surely it is possible that in your fervor to correct me that you have taken the whole thing a bit too literally.

    I don’t see, btw, how I am whining or placing the blame (blame for what?) on others. Really, like yourself, I am arguing for my position.

    And really, this is all based in a pet peeve of mine: responses that basically say “what he really meant was” when I wasn’t attributing any meaning to him in the first place. Perhaps I picked the wrong time to note that. As such, my apologies for being overly argumentative on that point. And, I will grant: you did concede my basic point.

    And on a lighter note: it surprises you that a blogger/professor would argue? ;) Not that an attorney would, I guess… ;)

    In the interest of shaking hands and such, I do appreciate you stopping by and commenting, and for the spirited interchange.

  14. Sean Hackbarth Says:

    I am not charging that McCain doesn’t know the price of gas, but rather that it is possible for an opponent of McCain to take the statement and makes it sound as if he does. That’s the point.

    I guess I’ll jump on you slightly, Steven. It wasn’t a politically smart thing to say since many (including me) parse a politician’s words too closely. Since I flub up my words often I can sympathize. I think a problem with current political discourse is how pundits, reporters, and webloggers don’t give others more of a break and acknowledge we’re all human.

  15. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    @Sean Hackbarth - Goodness knows that I say any number of ridiculous things in a given week.

    My point, however, isn’t about bloggers, pundits or any of the people you mention, but the general public. How do these words play in the ears of a generic voter. I am asserting that they sound as if he doesn’t know/doesn’t care about the price of gas. That is wholly false, but that is how it sounds and how it certainly will sound to a casual hearer. It certainly is fodder for a commercial. Anything else one can say about the quotation is irrelevant compared to those issues.

    Really, my main point in all of this (and in the next post) is that we (the pundits, bloggers, political junkies) get all caught in what the guy actually meant v. using it to political advantage (depending on whose side we are on) and we ignore to a large degree how it plays in Peoria (so to speak).

    Those who support a candidate dwell on how a guy was misinterpreted and the opponents play “gotcha” but neither of those ultimately matters because the supporters continue to support and the opposers continue to oppose. I am far more interested in how it sounds to the regular voter.

  16. Sean Hackbarth Says:

    I am asserting that they sound as if he doesn’t know/doesn’t care about the price of gas. That is wholly false, but that is how it sounds and how it certainly will sound to a casual hearer. It certainly is fodder for a commercial. Anything else one can say about the quotation is irrelevant compared to those issues.

    True. But I think people like you and me who comment on the issues of the day should point out when comments like this really don’t matter even if Mr. Joe Sixpack thinks it does. It’s a separation between positive analysis and making normative conclusions. Call me “elitist” but that’s a role for us political junkies.

  17. McCain Vulnerable to Economic Smears » The American Mind Says:

    [...] at PoliBlog Steven Taylor takes some heat for his interpretation of the Q&A while I get into the obsession we political [...]

  18. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    My point is: they do matter (or, at least can). We may want them to (I don’t), but that doesn’t change the fact that they do.

    I think it is actually empirical/positive (in the scientific sense) to note that these things do matter. It is actually normative to point out that they shouldn’t.

    In other words, it is one thing to tell the normal voter that something shouldn’t matter (a normative evaluation) and yet another to acknowledge that such statements can affect the way a given voter perceives (an empirical observation).

    Would I prefer that voters were less susceptible to such issues? Yes.

    Of course, there is always the possibility that they should matter. That’s a different issue to discuss.

  19. Hey, Here’s A Great Idea! Let’s Elect A Man To The Presidency Who Admits He Can’t Remember The Last Time He Had To Level Himself To Pumping His Own Gasoline! | THE GUN TOTING LIBERAL™ Says:

    [...] The Raw Story; The Impolitic (Our good friend, Libby Spencer); Liberal Values (Ron Chusid); PoliBlog; The Moderate Voice (Our good friend Joe Gandelman); QandO (Right) [...]

  20. Captain D Says:

    Say, how ’bout them Braves?

  21. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    :)


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