The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, Aug. 21:
One of the most annoying features of modern American politics is the scripted politician. He or she memorizes a set of consultant-generated talking points, repeats them with monotonous efficiency and never lets the public glimpse a real human being with thoughts that have not been preapproved and focus-group-tested. So why do politicians behave that way? Simple: They want to avoid the dreaded “gaffe.”
Gaffes have become one of the dominant topics of this election season. But contrary to what you might assume, all gaffes are not created equal. Here, we offer voters a guide to which stumbles warrant a response and which deserve to be excused or ignored:
A common type is the quote ripped from context, framed to distort the candidate’s actual views and blown up 10 times its original size. Mitt Romney found his way into this phenomenon when he was quoted as saying, “I like being able to fire people.” His critics pretended he was showing disdain for the unemployed, when he was really extolling the value of letting consumers “fire” companies that treat them poorly.
Something similar occurred when Barack Obama said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” The “that” in his statement, though not entirely clear, seemed to refer to the infrastructure that businesses need to operate in a modern economy. The valid criticism was not that Obama thought business people didn’t build their businesses, but that he discounted the importance of that entrepreneurial contribution. This pertinent point, however, was lost in the uproar.
Then there is the gaffe committed when someone dares to speak impromptu on a controversial topic. Among the politicians prone to this sort of spectacle are Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill.
Biden made news¬†the other day when he got carried away in front of an audience that included many African-Americans, warning that Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains.” Walsh attracted attention recently when he asserted, in reference to the threat of Islamic terrorism, “It’s here. It’s in Elk Grove. It’s in Addison. It’s in Elgin.”
The vice president later insisted he didn’t mean to make any racial allusions, and Walsh acknowledged that he got “a little ahead of myself with my language.”
Maybe both were hoping to inject some unworthy elements into the electoral bloodstream while escaping responsibility. But we’re inclined to give the benefit of some doubt to any elected official or candidate who refuses to be enslaved by scripts and teleprompters. Walsh and Biden deserve some credit for not poll-testing every utterance before speaking.
But spontaneity is not an excuse for ignorance or egregious blindness. Both were on display when Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., a U.S. Senate candidate, was asked about his opposition to legalized abortion even in cases of rape. “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare,” he said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Read more »