Monday, April 14, 2008

Did I Say That?

I've long been an apologist for verbal gaffes on the campaign trail. I always say that if someone were to follow me around with a microphone 24 hours a day for months on end, I'd probably say some things that made me look pretty dumb. So I'm hardly one to pile on when candidates say things that they probably didn't mean.

That being said, I'm surprised at the way Obama keeps putting his foot in his mouth in the same, predictable way. First, in the afterglow of his brilliant speech on race he calls his grandmother a "typical white person" during a radio interview. Then, a few weeks later in California of all places, Obama said "then [voters in small Pennsylvania towns] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." Wow. Only someone as rhetorically gifted as Obama could manage to alternately sound like Stokely Carmichael and an elitist university professor in so close a time frame.

Now obviously, both quotes are taken out of context, but that's the way they've been taken and will continue to be taken as the campaign goes along. You can't expect your opponents to say, "Now of course, in the broader context, which I'll explain in a moment, he actually isn't as elitist as he sounds." That doesn't happen. And everyone in a campaign knows that. So it's frustrating when Obama with all his verbal skills keeps walking into the landmines that John McCain and Hillary Clinton set out for him. That in two sentences he can come across as an anti-white elitist is like giving John McCain and the Republican party an early Christmas present because that's exactly how they want to portray him. Winning elections is hard enough without giving your opponent any gifts.

Also, while we're on the topic of verbal slips, this Clinton Bosnia things continues to make me laugh. First, she said there was sniper fire and then it turned out that no, she really meant a little girl with a poem (a common mistake, I'm sure). First, it was just a late night, tired, misremembered incident, then it turned out to be an oft repeated statement. Now, Bill is telling people that Hillary doesn't want him to talk about the incident anymore. (That he's telling people about it means he didn't really take the advice to heart.) The best line in the CNN article comes when Bill Clinton is talking about how the media has made such a big deal out of it. He said, "And some of [the press], when they're 60, they'll forget something when they're tired at 11 at night, too." I can't imagine that came from the talking points of the candidate claiming to be ready to deal with any sort of global crisis at 3 a.m. I guess no one's immune from verbal blundering.

Update: The New Yorker has a nice bit on misspeaking here. It talks about degrees of misspeaking and the severity of each candidate's errors. Didn't notice until right after I'd posted.

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