Putting it into context…or not

I saw my old pal Context the other day. He seemed very low. He hasn’t been the same since our mutual friend Irony died.

“Hey, Connie,” I said, “Why the long face? You look like a horse — or maybe John Kerry.”

“Ah, I’ve seen better days, Reg. It seems like no one has any use for my services anymore. My work has been in decline for years, but this primary season has finally done me in. I feel like the last chastity-belt maker after the knights finally shed their iron pants and the Age of Friskiness set in.”

Surely the help of Context was still needed in a few situations, I said, hoping to cheer him up.

“You would think so. Somewhere in this world there’s some poor fellow who will find himself up before a judge for grabbing a neighborhood kid by the scruff of his neck and he will rue the day that old Context wasn’t there to help him out,” he said.

I reminded him that grabbing a neighborhood kid by the scruff of his neck is considered a very bad thing these days.

“Not when he has just tried to set fire to your cat,” he said.

I saw that he had a point. Sometimes Context can be useful.

But nobody to my knowledge has been accused of trying to set fire to cats this primary season — it’s the one issue that hasn’t come up. So how else could Context be so needed with the Democratic candidates caterwauling on the fence and the old Scottish terrier, McCain, barking in the yard?

Context looked doubly pained. “People just seize on a few isolated words to form their opinions, as if they hold the only meaning. They ignore what was said before and what was said after. They ignore the time and the place, the audience, the history of the speaker and what was clearly intended. I come along, yelling ‘Context here,’ but people don’t want what I am offering. ” That’s true, I said, assuming that he was talking about some of the controversies besieging Barack Obama — the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. being one of them.

“The trouble,” he went on, “is that certain people are searching for respectable excuses not to vote for a man who is different in a glaring way from themselves. They seize upon those few key words taken in isolation and weave a whole narrative around them so they can explain with a sincere look why they can’t vote for such a different person.”

Wait a second, I said. I can accept that someone will give you, Context, the cold shoulder in their zeal to find an excuse not to vote for someone who is different — and let us not be coy, it’s because he has ears that stick out like two open car doors — but how do you provide background for a preacher who damns America in church? Surely, even you, Context, cannot give enough information that makes this look less bad.

“It is true,” he replied, “that this would have required my best work. But Context always has something to say about difficult situations, because things are never quite as clear as they seem, particularly when politicians are involved. And there is always a Larger Context.”

With this, he gestured to a very big fellow who suddenly appeared at his side. “Meet my brother,” he said.

“Hi,” the big fellow said. “I am Larger Context. I heard you talking about the Rev. Wright. The first thing you have to remember is that the irreverent reverend is not running for president, Obama is. Now, this is good, because it is increasingly clear, even to Obama, that the guy is a crackpot.

“Second, it is not beyond the realm of human experience that a person could sit in the pews for years and, you know, drift off during sermons, because some of these reverends go on a bit and if you listened intently to everything they said, they would drive you not to drink.” (Clearly, Larger Context rather liked a drink; he had not grown big on sandwiches alone.)

Context spoke up again. “I want to make clear that this is not about my brother and I just helping Obama. We Context boys are equal opportunity educators. We stand ready to help Hillary whenever she takes figurative sniper fire. We are also happy to point out that McCain doesn’t really want to be fighting the war in Iraq for 100 years. He was just speaking about having bases there for 100 years. The actual war will only go on for, oh, I don’t know, 20 or 30 years.”

I left Context and Larger Context at the crossroads as evening fell. They looked lost — but not half as lost as the American people.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)