Everyone loves a good laugh, but when you get a chance to laugh at a politician for saying something dumb, all the better.
Much ado has been made about President Obama’s eloquence, but he’s certainly shown he’s not immune to Foot-in-Mouth Disease. During his taped appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, Obama likened his bowling skills to watching the Special Olympics. Before the show even aired on Thursday night, an Obama aide told reporters that Obama “made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics.” En route back to Washington, Obama called Tim Shriver, the head of the Special Olympics, to apologize:
“He expressed his disappointment and he apologized in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population,” Shriver said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Tracking political gaffes is a favorite pastime of the media. Indeed, Slate.com dedicated an ongoing column, sometimes updated daily, that listed the best of George W. Bush’s “Bushisms.” Some gems from Slate’s top 25 Bushisms List:
– “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.” – Greater Nashua, N.H., Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 27, 2000
– “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” – Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000
– “There’s an old saying in Tennessee-I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” – Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
True, the notoriously tongue-tied Bush is an easy target, but gaffes know no party lines and some have even made a second career out of sticking their foot in it. When Obama announced the famously loose-lipped Joe Biden as his running mate, one could almost hear the blogosphere clapping with glee. Newsweek blogged about Biden “firing up the Gaffe-o-Matic,” while The New Republic launched the “Biden Gaffe-o-Meter,” complete with scores.
Vice-presidential debates rarely get much press, but the anticipation leading up to the Biden-Palin debate reached even beyond our shores: Ahead of the debate, the BBC ran a piece called “The Biden-Palin debate: gaffe potential?” and listed, for fresh embarrassment, comments made by both “that invited ridicule or incredulity”:
– Biden: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
– Palin: “As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?”
Of course, who can forget the infamous Dan Quayle Potato Incident of 1992? After incorrectly telling 12-year-old William Figueroa to add an “e” to the end of “potato,” Quayle secured his spot in the annals of Things Politicians Said That They Wish They Could Take Back. In his memoirs, the former vice president lamented the repercussions of that moment:
“It was more than a gaffe. It was a ‘defining moment’ of the worst imaginable kind. I can’t overstate how discouraging and exasperating the whole event was.”
But sometimes, gaffes are just bad, bad jokes gone awry: On August 11, 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan made an off-the-cuff remark while preparing for a radio address. Unaware that his microphone was on, Reagan jokingly said, “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Whoops.
You’d think with all the practice they get speaking in public that politicians would know better than to say what they’re thinking when they’re thinking it. And when they do, and comments about the Special Olympics come out, it can make you shake your head and think, “Really?”
But in a way, it’s heartening to hear our politicians stumble over words, mangle syntax and make inappropriate jokes. It shows politicians are human, too. Sometimes.