The Republican presidential nomination battle has had its share of “oops” moments—gaffes, mental lapses and verbal miscues. Not surprisingly, they’ve become the defining narrative about the GOP for a media desperate to distract the public from the Obama administration’s failures.
This year’s Republican presidential candidates have been called every name in the book—a group of “clowns,” “a sick joke” and a “national tragedy masquerading as a trivial farce.” The GOP debates have been compared to the food fight in Animal House and to the bar scene in Star Wars.
“The Republican presidential candidates have served comedians a full platter of laughs this year—a steady diet of gaffes, misstatements, puzzled looks and long, awkward pauses,” The New York Times proclaimed last week.
“Flubs are rubbing some Republicans the wrong way,” the Times went on, “… the embarrassing moments are piling up, and some veteran Republicans are beginning to wonder whether the cumulative effect weakens the party brand.”
The article quoted Ken Duberstein, a former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan who endorsed Obama in 2008 and is a go-to interview for liberal reporters who want a Republican who’s eager to break Reagan’s 11th Commandment and bash fellow Republicans.
“It’s an animal house. It’s a food fight,” he said. “Honestly, the Republican debates have become a reality show. People have to be perceived as being capable of governing this country, of being the leader of the free world.”
It is often taken for granted by media elites that this is a weak Republican field. But is it really? Most of them look like experienced statesmen compared with past Democratic presidential lineups.
Are we really supposed to believe that a lineup of Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is less credible than the Democrats’ 2008 group, which included (former Alaska Sen.) Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards?
Are the most embarrassing moments during the campaigns of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain really worse than those of 2004 Democratic primary contenders Howard Dean and Al Sharpton?
There is a clear double-standard when it comes to the consequences of a political gaffe. For a Republican, one misspelled word—“potatoe” (Dan Quayle)—can all but end a career.
This could never happen to a modern Democrat. Barack Obama has had numerous moments just as cringe-inducing as Rick Perry’s or Herman Cain’s recent well-chronicled lapses. They’ve typically occurred when Obama’s teleprompter has broken down or when he’s been caught off-guard by a rogue questioner at one of his normally carefully choreographed pep rallies, er, townhall events.
When Rep. Michele Bachmann misstated where the Revolutionary War began, it supposedly revealed her profound ignorance and unfitness for office.
But when Obama incorrectly stated that his parents met at the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march (Obama was born four years before it took place), it was largely dismissed. An Obama spokesman explained that Obama was merely speaking “metaphorically,” and Obama was left unscathed.
If a gaffe happens at a campaign event and nobody wants to hear it, does it still make the nightly news?
Most gaffes are overblown. When Bachmann confused the birthplaces of John Wayne Gacy and John Wayne, the media went wild. But nobody could seriously believe that it was anything more than an innocent misstatement.
The same is true of Obama’s 2008 campaign remark that he had visited 57 states. Nobody thinks Obama doesn’t know there are 50 U.S. states.
But then there are the more serious errors that reveal something deeper about a candidate, which the media and voters should pay attention to.
Cain’s awkward response to a reporter’s question about Obama’s handling of the revolution in Libya was important because it reinforced the view of Cain’s critics that he is insufficiently knowledgeable about foreign affairs.
In the same way, Obama’s 2008 remark at a San Francisco fund-raiser about Midwesterners clinging to guns and religion reinforced the image of him as a condescending secular elitist. Obama’s refusal to wear a flag lapel pin in the initial months of his 2008 campaign raised the idea of him as less patriotic than other candidates.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 statement about having to evade “sniper fire” while on a trip to Bosnia as first lady in 1996 was much more than a “misstatement,” as her campaign claimed. It was a complete fabrication that reinforced the idea of the Clintons as habitual liars who will do and say anything to get elected.
By focusing on the Republicans’ gaffes, the media can distract the public from the Obama administration’s ongoing incompetence and corruption, evident in its continuing mishandling of the economy and the ongoing Solyndra scandal.
Rick Perry’s 53-second brain freeze and Herman Cain’s “Libya moment” were certainly difficult to watch. But they will be nothing compared to the agony of four more years of Barack Obama.