05/26/2010 01:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Politicians and Spin


Last week, Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, who is running for Christopher Dodd's Democratic seat in the Senate and Rand Paul, the winner of the Republican Senatorial Primary in Kentucky, found themselves having to explain controversial statements they had made in public: Mr. Blumenthal on the subject of whether or not he had seen active duty in Vietnam, and Mr. Paul on whether or not he would support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Each man's original statement raised a firestorm in the media and on the web and each man had to make new statements to clarify his position.

In politics, this backtracking is known as "spin," and when the spin does not cover the original tracks, even the spinners' supporters look unkindly on the tactic.

  • Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, appearing on ABC's This Week, said of Mr. Blumenthal's controversy, "Those statements were wrong, period. They were wrong and it was very important for him to acknowledge that and clear that up."
  • The New York Times' Republican columnist characterized Mr. Paul's explanation as "conspicuously avoiding saying that he would have voted for the bill that outlawed segregation. By the weekend (and under duress), he finally said it. But the tap-dancing route he took to get there was offensive, tone deaf and politically crazy."

As we the people have so painfully come to expect, spin does not clarify; at best, it digresses, at worst, it obfuscates. In the business world, spin is not an option. But in politics, it happens so often that we have come to tolerate it.

In next week's post, you'll read the most egregious example of political spin I have ever seen.