6 Famous Political Blunders (That You Remember Wrong)
Every election season, you can count on the media to jump on every gaffe, gaucherie, and grammatical mistake a candidate makes in the lead-up to Election Day. Because Americans have the right to read funny stories which bring low the mighty and make us feel better. But for every legitimate slip (like Rick Perry's "Oops" or Jim Webb telling the world that he enjoys killing people) there are trumped-up gaffes meant to slake our insatiable thirst for calling politicians dumb, but in context were nothing at all.
Donald Trump Didn't Mock Vets With PTSD
About 371 Donald Trump scandals ago, headlines ev-er-y-wh-e-r-e reported that he had gone on stage and dismissed veterans with PTSD as weak. It occurred during an event for combat vets on October 3, and immediately after, people with knowledge of PTSD took the opportunity to say that PTSD sufferers are good, honorable folks who need better healthcare, not being called a bunch of pussies by a hate-mongering reality show host.
No one doubted the story, and not just because for any random horrible statement, there is a greater-than-50-percent chance Trump has said it. This was, after all, the guy who said John McCain wasn't a hero because he got captured, because capture means failure. It plays right into the existing narrative.
The narrative being "This guy is a gigantic douche Cheeto."
That's why reading what he actually said is all the more surprising:
"When you talk about the mental health problems when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of folks in this room have seen many times over, and you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it, and they see horror stories, they see events that you couldn't see in a movie, nobody would believe it. Now we need a mental health help and medical, and it's one of the things that I think is least addressed, and it's one of the things I hear -- like your question -- one of the things I hear most about when I go around and talk to the veterans.
"So we're going to have a very, very robust, very very robust level of performance having to do with mental health. We are losing so many great people that can be taken care of if they have proper care."
"And it looks like I have put you all to sleep. How 'bout them emails?!"
The remarks aren't exactly eloquent, and contain none of the specific proposals you might want from someone running for president, but they clearly don't aim to insult veterans. The controversy came purely from people pulling out the "... you're strong and can handle it, but a lot of people can't" line and omitting the part where he demanded more help for those same people and called them "great." If clumsy wording implies one meaning but is clarified moments later, it's dishonest to keep pushing the former.
But don't take our word for it. Ask the guy whose question Trump was responding to, former Marine staff sergeant Chad Robichaux:
"I think it's sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump's comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda. I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them."
"I believe he even sent in a couple of box tops."
So why bother clarifying the comments of a guy most of you think is a dick anyway? Because this bullshit makes it impossible to talk about the issues. With every news article jumping on Trump's "gaffe," there was no room to mention that he was responding to a policy question with a real policy answer which people might want to talk about. Robichaux asked him if he would consider moving past government agencies in treating PTSD and try religious solutions. Trump's reply (before launching into those remarks): "Yes, I would."
But instead of discussing whether or not that would work, we got the inaccurate representation of "Trump sure still is a dick!" on one of the few occasions when he wasn't. Oh, and now you've given his supporters room to say that his other "gaffes" are probably also maliciously taken out of context.
Mitt Romney Didn't Say He Liked To Fire Workers
As we're going to see throughout this article, manufactured gaffes spread the fastest when they fit the candidate's public image. Here, the general strategy against Mitt Romney was to paint him as a classist rich white guy -- which, to be fair, wasn't hard to do to the man most likely to have profited from firing your dad. So it was pretty damaging when he appeared to tell a crowd in New Hampshire "I like to fire people."
"Oh, so now you're cool with it?!" -- Mitt Romney, 2016
That simply isn't the kind of thing you can say while running for office, especially when you look like an even richer Shooter McGavin. Except, if you look at his words in context, that's not what he said at all. (We're starting to see a pattern here ...) First of all, Romney was speaking at an event about healthcare, not jobs or the economy. He was talking about wanting the freedom to choose healthcare providers (in a rebuttal to Obamacare), which is a much more nuanced policy position than "Fire the poor and burn their jobs to heat my mansions!" His full quote makes it clear what he meant:
"I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn't give me a good service that I need, I want to say I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me."
"For example, the first private yacht cleaning company I had didn't bother scrubbing under the rudder. Can you believe that?"
He was in fact saying something that was pro-consumer, not pro-business. If you extend the quote to include the very next five words, it completely changes the meaning. Sure, the use of the word "fire" is a little unusual when referring to a company providing a service -- nobody says they're going to "fire" their internet provider -- but it was more than clear what he meant. If he had merely phrased it as, "I'd like to be able to cancel Time Warner if they don't provide good service," a third of the room would have carried him out on their shoulders and made him their king.
Obama's "You Didn't Build That" Was Clearly About Infrastructure
During a 2012 campaign stop in Virginia, Obama made the biggest gaffe in his career when he said of American businesspeople "You didn't build that." Everyone knew that this was yet another example of the secret Marxist shitting on the very foundation of American enterprise. He was telling business owners that their hard work and personal sacrifices didn't count for squat -- everything is mutual property to be distributed to the masses.
Of course, his then-opponent, Mitt Romney, was quick to call out this remark, calling it "insulting" to great American innovators like Steve Jobs, who founded Apple, Henry Ford, who created the Model T, and Papa John, who discovered how to trick people into thinking that what he made was pizza. There was even an entire day of the Republican National Convention based around the theme "We Did Build It!" That slogan left the viewer free to fill in "it" with anything they liked -- except, of course, the government-subsidized stadium they were all standing in.
"Well, technically, a Chinese company built this sign."
The clip haunted Obama for months. He had blasphemed against the gods of American business and private property, and those gods are wrathful. Or at least, it appeared that he did. If you look at the full context of the quote, he wasn't talking about people not deserving credit for their businesses. He was praising the things without which businesses couldn't function -- roads, bridges, and a public education system which saves you the trouble of having to teach your employees how to read.
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet."
"If you were successful ... we ... allowed you to thrive ...
You've got a business the ... government ... could make money."
-- Barack Obama
If you have a memory longer than that of a goldfish, you realize the "that" in "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that" doesn't refer to the business, but to the roads and bridges he'd mentioned two seconds earlier. But as always, no one watches the whole thing -- right-wing outlets were happy to edit it down to the incriminating bit and trust that viewers would never go looking for the full clip.
What percentage of voters do you think took the trouble to hunt down the context? Five percent? We'll never know, but even that feels high.
Bush "Ignoring 9/11 To Read To Schoolchildren" Was Exaggerated At Best
Michael Moore's blockbuster documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (which grossed an astonishing $222 million worldwide) was the first time many people saw the video of George W. Bush hearing the news of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. It happened while he was at a public appearance at a Florida elementary school, reading The Pet Goat to a bunch of children. According to the movie, Bush -- whom America already thought of as a childlike doofus -- ignored the world-changing news and chose to instead stay in story time for another 20 minutes.
Damn, if only we hadn't elected such a bibliophile.
To many critics, it was the perfect encapsulation of everything that was wrong with Bush. He was an inexperienced moron who was useless in a crisis. It's clear from this footage that what he should have done is ... um ... huh. Well, if you think about it, it's hard to see what he could have done differently.
Since he already knew about the first plane striking the World Trade Center (it happened before he sat down, but at the time appeared to be an accident), this was his realization that "Oh shit, this is for real, and I'm not gonna be able to coast through this 'presidency' thing for the next four years." According to Moore's narration, Andrew Card, the chief of staff, whispered in his ear that the nation was under attack, and Bush froze because he didn't know what to do.
But what none of us see on the tape is that Bush was responding to instructions flashed to him on a legal pad from his press secretary, who had more knowledge of the situation and was advising the president not to react. The instructions read: DON'T SAY ANYTHING YET. He was working hard to keep his cool for a reason.
"Wait ... do you think we'll still have recess?"
Besides, imagine the sitting president, in front of a bunch of news crews and a classroom full of children, hearing something whispered in his ear and yelling "Oh shit!" before running out of the room like a freshman caught in his girlfriend's bedroom.
Remember, this was a terrorist attack. It's designed to cause terror; that's why they call it that. A video clip of the president looking alarmed, surprised, or panicked gets played in history classes 200 years from now. And each time, it will be presented as Al Qaeda's end zone dance: The moment America was shaken to the very upper echelons of power.
Don't get us wrong, there are plenty of things to criticize in the Bush presidency. But it's the easily shaken dumb guy who lets himself get captured on camera quickly hustling out of the room, muttering urgent questions to his aides and making a bunch of children think a zombie apocalypse has broken out. Keeping a poker face in that situation is much harder.
"Don't fart. Don't fart. Oh crap, do they smell it? Blame it on the fat kid ..."
That's what professionals do. Listen to the air traffic controllers working during the hijacking. They are 100-percent calm, almost blase. But that's what it looks like from the outside when someone is rationally handling the unthinkable. Or maybe Bush wasn't surprised because he had arranged the attack himself! JET FUEL CAN'T MELT STEEL BE--
A Federal Official Was Fired For A Racist Comment She Didn't Make
In 2010, there was a big controversy when Breitbart, America's number-one source for closeted white supremacy presented as news, posted a video that seemed to prove the reality of their wet dream: reverse discrimination. In the video, Georgia State Director for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Shirley Sherrod is seemingly telling a story about how she once refused to help a white farmer because of his race. If a racist website complaining that black people are racist seems weird to you, you are overthinking everything to do with Breitbart.
There were immediate calls from Fox News, the NAACP, and others for Sherrod to resign, because regular racism is "a few bad apples" not worthy of our attention, whereas a single instance of reverse racism is national news. Sherrod did resign ...
... but after that, the full video of the speech came to light, clearly showing that the story had the complete opposite meaning.
Sherrod had told the group about overcoming personal prejudice, not succumbing to it. She worked hard to save the farmer's land after all, like a goddamn poster child for equality and burying the hatchet.
"And this has opened my eyes to what a dick Andrew Breitbart is."
As a result of the false accusations, the NAACP, the head of the USDA, holy crap Bill O'Reilly, and even Obama apologized. Sherrod was offered a new position, which presumably included the world's only "Sorry we didn't take your word over the word of that ACORN video guy" Hallmark card. She declined them all, but she did sue Andrew Breitbart, who settled out of court.
"Sooooooooo ... you guys saw the full video, huh?"
Not that she got to rub it in Breitbart's face -- he died before the court case was settled. And a proud legacy you have left behind, good sir!
Dan Quayle's Comment About "Learning Latin To Communicate with Latin Americans" Was Made Up By The Media
Vice President Dan Quayle was the George W. Bush of the late '80s -- a wacky gaffe machine. For example, he once argued with a 12-year-old about the correct way to spell "potato." Yet one of his most famous brain farts was the result of some truly bullshit reporting.
Rhode Island Representative Claudine Schneider told some other Republicans that she and Quayle were at an event at the Belgian Embassy when she received a compliment on her French fluency from Quayle. He supposedly went on to say that he "was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people." Get it?
Even his official photo looks like he knows someone is making fun of him.
Of course, she ended the conversation by saying she was joking, but amazingly, a ton of respected journalists ran with the story as completely true. Keep in mind, this was back in 1989, before our news evolved into "unsubstantiated things someone might have heard once."
Newsday said that, "all of Washington was telling and retelling the apparently true story of how Quayle remarked to Rep. Claudine Schneider that he wished he'd studied Latin more diligently ..." The Chicago Tribune quipped that, "a language fumble by Vice President Dan Quayle apparently has a congresswoman red-faced in embarrassment." Newsweek and Time both fell for it, with Newsweek even expressing "glee over Dan Quayle's recent bloopers." Who cares that the sole source of the quote was a person stating it wasn't true -- making fun of Quayle was too much fun to resist. Just like harmless old Donald Trump, right guys?
Oh, and remember that potato thing we mentioned earlier? Misleading at best. It turns out the teacher had spelled potato with an "e" on the flash card, and none of Quayle's aides noticed the error either. Hey, did you know Dan Quayle has a law degree, and that you need to know how to spell all kinds of shit to get one of those?
His mom probably even hung it on the fridge.
It doesn't matter. Serving in office is like being on a reality show; if the producers decide they need you to be the douchebag roommate, that's how it's going to come out in editing. The public wants to be told a story.
You know all those facts you've learned about psychology from movies and that one guy at the party who says, "Actually ..." a lot? Please forget them. Chances are none of them are true. Take the Stanford Prison Experiment, the one famous psychology study people can name. It was complete bullshit. Funny story actually, it turns out that when you post flyers that say, "Hey, do you wanna be a prison guard for the weekend? Free food and nightsticks," you might not get the most stable group of young men. So join Jack O'Brien, Cracked staff members Dan O'Brien and Michael Swaim, and Psychology Professor Martie G. Haselton of UCLA as they debunk Rorschach tests, the Mozart effec,t and middle child syndrome, so soon you can be that person at the party who says, "Actually ..." Get your tickets here!
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