Gaffes Can Be Deceiving

In 2000 and 2004, the ’Net was full of chuckles over Bush’s notorious slips of the tongue.  One had to hunt pretty hard to find out that his opponents had their share.  But if you made the effort, you just might be willing to admit that given enough opportunity nearly everyone’s tongue gets twisted.  And of course, a presidential campaign is full of such opportunities.  I used to get really irritated at the constant portrayal of Bush as ignorant and illiterate by people who knew he isn’t.  To me they were effectively saying they were unable to criticize him on anything truly important.

But as Michael Kinsley points out, sometimes a gaffe is more than a gaffe.  It can be just a slip of the tongue, for which opponents should avoid “casting the first stone.”  But it could also be a revelation of the speaker’s ignorance, hypocrisy, or worse.

Richard Russell¹ alerted us to another treat from Time.  He suggested that it seemed Sarah Palin had the most, indicating unfitness for the post of Vice President.  As I clicked through the sequence, it seemed he was right.  But as it went on and on and on (and the other side began appearing more and more), I wondered whether he had gotten bored with it (I sure did) and stopped reading too soon.  I decided to do a full count, and also to distinguish between the merely embarrassing and those worse.  Of course, as with Bush vs. Gore, the count should be taken with a grain of salt—most of us don’t have the time to research whether the proportions are truly representative or are skewed unconsciously by the bias of Katie Rooney or that of her sources.  (Or consciously—I noticed that some of them had a candidate’s name in large letters above a gaffe by someone else.  Guilt by association, or just deception?).  I should also admit that it’s often impossible to be certain whether it’s a true gaffe or ignorance; whether ignorance or dishonesty.  But, with the disclaimers out of the way, here are my counts:

Candidate   Lies   Ignorance   Harmless   Not a gaffe 
Obama 5 6
McCain 8 10 3
Biden 1 3 3 1
Palin 4 4 2
other 13 16 7 11

I just had to give up—I have to sleep some time tonight.  There are at least thirty more that I haven’t counted, and that’s still not the end of the show!  I’m also worried that I might have tallied some of Obama’s items in McCain’s row.  Perhaps I’ll take some time later and discuss a few of Katie Rooney’s selections, from the viewpoint of one of my favorite admonitions:

  • Don’t call it malice if it could be stupidity.
  • Don’t call it stupidity if it could be ignorance.
  • Don’t call it ignorance if it could be misunderstanding.

¹ The Screw-ups of Campaign ’08 (no longer on-line)