After pondering the worst running mates ever I began to ponder on the wonder of the gaffe, and how many politicians they seemed to effect. A largely modern invention (now that the candidates are in the spotlight more), a minor slip up can derail a campaign, or have absolutely no effect at all.
NOTE: This list does not include gaffes from debates, as they will be included in a separate list
1. Howard Dean’s scream
Howard Dean’s two second scream (roughly transcribed as ‘byah’) is hardly the most offensive, foolish or silly thing that is said on this list. Yet of all the gaffes you will see, perhaps none was more damning that Dean’s scream, which lead to his address being called the “I Have a Scream” speech.
Dean had been the frontrunner in the Iowa caucus for several months, battling with Dick Gephardt for the polling lead. However, as it came closer and closer to election day that Dean and Gephardt camps became more and more invested in negative campaigning, which traditionally has been a big taboo among Iowa voters. John Kerry and John Edwards surged in the polls that night, and Dean finished a disappointing third in the Iowa caucus. Still, at the time Dean was still polling well nationally, and still had a chance at the nomination.
That is until he addressed his supporters in Iowa. Dean came out and gave a triumphant and upbeat speech, deflecting the suggestion that his finish, despite losing hearty levels of support in the weeks leading up to the caucus vote, was not a disappointment. As he continued, he began to rattle off the upcoming primary states, becoming more animated and less Presidential by the second, until he let out his infamous scream.
The scream overshadowed the results of the primary, and Dean’s already dwindling numbers plummeted. He would attempt to make a recovery before New Hampshire, and did surge some before the primary, but not enough to mount a serious challenge to Kerry. Less than one month after his infamous speech, Dean would drop out of the race. He would go on to win only one primary, in his home state of Vermont.
CNN later admitted they may have overplayed Dean’s speech and the scream, and issued a public apology. In all, the major news networks played the clip a reported 633 times in the four days following the Iowa caucus, not including talk shows and local news. The incident would be mocked almost immediately by late night talk show hosts, including Conan O’Brien and David Letterman. Dean went on to become Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
2. Dan Quayle can’t spell
Another candidate for the most infamous gaffe in American politics has to be then-Vice President Dan Quayle’s “Potatoe gaffe”. Quayle had never been viewed as the most intelligent of politicians, making frequent misstatements or speeches that involved confusing wording or phrasing. Yet his most infamous gaffe came at what should have been an easy publicity stop.
Quayle was at the Munoz Rivera Elementary School in Trenton, New Jersey as a judge for the spelling bee. After 12-year-old William Figueroa correctly spelled ‘potato’ on the chalkboard, Quayle, consulting the notes provided to him by the school, incorrectly added an ‘e’ to the end of the word. While Quayle would later state that he was uncomfortable with the answer, he decided to trust the written material provided by the school.
Little did Quayle know that the local newspaper in Trenton had a hole to fill on the front page of the paper. The paper managed to grab an interview with Figueroa, who called Quayle an idiot. The story was picked up almost immediately, and a staffer for David Letterman invited Figueroa onto the program. Figueroa was more polite to Quayle this time around, but was charming and funny and the story continued for several more news cycles, reinforcing already entrenched beliefs about Dan Quayle.
“It was a defining moment of the worst kind imaginable,’’ Quayle would go on to write in his autobiography. “Politicians live and die by the symbolic sound bite.’’
3. Michael Dukakis rides a tank
Michael Dukakis will be the first person to tell you he did not run a very good campaign against George H.W. Bush in 1988, and even admits that he may have started the chain of events that led to the election of George W. Bush. The Dukakis campaign in the general election made a number of unforced errors, from not responding to criticism from the Bush campaign to a debate question that theorized the rape and murder of Dukakis’ wife at an attempt to evoke an emotional response to a death penalty question.
Still of the Dukakis campaign’s many blunders, a failed photo-op on a M1 Abrams Tank lives on in infamy. Based on a campaign appearance by Margaret Thatcher, Dukakis, in an attempt to draw attention to his support of increases in production of traditional armament, such as tanks, Dukakis visited the General Dynamics Land Systems in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
However, once the photos and videos were made public, it was clear Dukakis had made a grave error. The Bush campaign used photos and video from the photo-op in campaign ads, suggesting that Dukakis would not make a good commander-in-chief. Dukakis had served in the military, but was still mocked for the silly nature of the photos, and, while it certainly wasn’t the single moment that ended his campaign, it was one of many nails in that coffin. To this day “Dukakis in the tank” is shorthand for public relations outings that backfired.
4. “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job”
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit, FEMA head Michael Brown asked for a private moment with the President where he could explain that they had not adequately prepared for the level of disaster seen after the hurricane hit, and that things were far worse than he had originally planned. During the meeting, however, a press aide for the President came over and turned the meeting into a photo-op. It was here that Bush delivered his now famous assessment of Brown’s job as head of FEMA, an assessment that was undermined by the reality surrounding them.
It was later revealed that Brown was woefully under-prepared for the damages caused by Katrina, and, while he had worked hurricane relief prior to the events, he was not ready for the challenges facing him after the Katrina disaster. E-mails released after the events show Brown trading e-mails on trivial subjects, such as a replacement dogsitter or his wardrobe at press events, while ignoring e-mails from staffers about low supplies of water and ice and inadequate medical facilities for days.
Eventually the head of the Coast Guard would take over the operation, and Brown would resign, ten days after President Bush had praised the quality of work Brown had done. By that time it was clear the devastation seen in the gulf far outweighed the expectations the government had prior to the storm, and FEMA and the U.S. Government was slow to respond.
5. George Allen calls some “macaca”
George Allen was widely expected to defeat Jim Webb in the Virginia U.S. Senate race. However Webb had been having one of his staffers, S. R. Sidarth, as a tracker on Allen’s campaign. At an event which was being filmed, Allen pointed out Sidarth to the crowd, referring to him as “macaca” and invited the crowd to welcome him to “America and the real world of Virginia.”
While Allen claimed that he had simply made up the word ‘macaca’, the phrase sounded extremely similar to the French word “macaque”, which is used as a racial slur against African immigrants in some European cultures. Allen claimed he had no knowledge of the origins of the word, though some people questioned it when combined with the second half of his statement and Sidarth’s Indian ancestry, and Allen’s mother’s French Tunisian descent, where the term is popular.
The gaffe thrust Allen into the national spotlight and, when combined to other issues the campaign face, led to an erosion of support. Allen’s once dominant poll numbers had slid, and Webb had made serious gains in support, bringing what was once viewed as a insurmountable lead for Allen to giving Webb a shot at an actual victory. Three months later, Webb secured a narrow upset victory over Allen in one of the closest battles of the 2006 election season.
6. Trent Lott praises Strom Thurmond
Then-Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott was asked to say a few words at the 100th birthday of Senator Strom Thurmond. Thurmond, who had served in the Senate for over 50 years, and is best known for holding the record for the longest filibuster in Senate history, his 24 hour, 13 minute filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Previous to all of that, however, Thurmond had run for President in 1948 as a ‘Dixiecrat’, largely opposing the proposed platforms of the Democratic Party to enact Civil Rights and end segregation. While Thurmond has always claimed he is not a racist, he simply supports state’s rights, he was quoted as saying at a rally in 1948 stating: “all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”
When Lott spoke at the party, he made a brief speech about Thurmond saying in part, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” Lott’s statement was heavily criticized as being opposed to desegregation and the Civil Rights gains made for African-Americans.
The story lasted longer in the news cycle than usual, due to high interest in the case by bloggers. Eventually, some of Lott’s own history supporting segregation in his college days came to light and Lott announced that he would resign his leadership post in the Republican Party. He had been expected to be named Senate Majority Leader just a few weeks later.
7. Joe Biden invites handicapped man to stand
Joe Biden is known for being a blunt, outspoken person who has had to put his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion. He caused the White House to move of marriage equality at a quicker pace than anticipated, following a statement by Biden attacking the Defense of Marriage Act, and he infamously quipped “this is a big fucking deal” as PPACA was passed.
That said, these are things we’ve come to expect from Biden, and neither of them was particularly shocking to those who were aware of Biden’s history. However, one incident with Biden stands out and being exceptionally regrettable, even for someone as gaffe-prone as Biden. At a campaign even as Obama’s running mate, Biden invited his long time friend Chuck Graham to stand for some recognition. The only problem? Graham is paralyzed and had been in a wheelchair most of his life.
Perhaps Biden’s years of blunt, unfiltered speech had been advantageous for him in that moment. Unlike many of the other members of this list, Biden managed to play the moment off to limited embarrassment. He invited Graham’s supporters to stand on his behalf and evoked a round applause from the crowd.
8. Michele Bachmann’s Waterloo
Michele Bachmann’s campaign strategy hinged on an early victory in the Iowa caucus to jump-start her campaign. Bachmann worked diligently to build up her Iowa roots, which led to a surprising victory in the Ames Straw Poll. Bachmann had hoped to maintain that momentum through the caucus, and giver her campaign the boost it would need to become viable on a national level.
However, almost immediately after the Ames straw poll Bachmann made a series of increasingly disastrous gaffes. First, Bachmann endorsed conspiracy theories that linked vaccinations to mental retardation. Later she called John Quincy Adams a ‘founding father’, despite the fact that he was eight when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
None of her gaffes were nearly as embarrassing as her gaffe at a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa. Bachmann, still trying to play up the ‘local’ support, decided to invoke the legacy of the actor John Wayne, whom Bachmann stated was from Waterloo. While the actor John Wayne was not from Waterloo, (he was born in Winterset, some three hours away). However, Waterloo, Iowa was the birthplace to another famous John Wayne: John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer and rapist. The gaffe blew another serious blow into Bachmann’s already dwindling credibility. She would go on to finish a disappointing sixth in the Iowa caucus, and suspended her campaign the following day.
9. Ronald Reagan outlaws Russia
Ronald Reagan liked to have a little fun before his radio address, frequently making a humorous statement during his vocal warmup and level check. On On August 11, 1984, Reagan was preparing for his weekly radio address over National Public Radio. That day Reagan was talking about a new law that would allow religious groups to meet in public schools. However, during his sound check he joked with the audio technicians.
My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
While it was not the first time Reagan had jokes before the recording, the President’s humorous aside was later leaked to the American public. Needless to say, Reagan’s joke did not go over well in the U.S.S.R. After word of the statement got out, the Soviet Far East Army was placed on alert, and the order was not recalled until 30 minutes later.
10. Almost everything Sarah Palin has ever said
To be honest, you could fill a list of these ‘gaffes’ with things said by Sarah Palin. The list of facts she has either misrepresented or simply gotten wrong is immeasurable. In less than four years in the national spotlight, made more factual misstatements or otherwise embarrassing errors, her continued popularity remains a functioning riddle. Subsequently, no single Palin gaffe would qualify for this list, but they collectively must be included.
Among Palin’s gaffes:
- She falsely claimed that Paul Revere warned the British during his famous ‘midnight ride’, and when given a chance to correct herself, she doubled down on her incorrect statement. She would then try and vilify the reporter who asked her an open question.
- Responded to a question on a survey about the phrase ‘under God’ on the Pledge of Allegiance stating “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.” The Pledge was written in 1892 and the phrase “under God” was added in 1954.
- Claimed that Susan B. Anthony opposed abortion, when Anthony made absolutely no known statement on the subject.
- Claimed that Democrats moved the phrase “In God We Trust” to the edge of U.S. coins, a change actually made in 2005 under a Republican controlled Congress and approved by George W. Bush.
- Claimed that Sputnik bankrupted the Soviet Union.
These are simple, verifiable facts that Palin has gotten incorrect. Yet, Palin has not admitted to any of these errors. Palin tends to deflect direct criticism to her as media bias or attempt to over-explain her way out of admitting any misstatement or error, as evidenced by this famous clip of her speaking with Charlie Gibson.
Please validate your account to contribute content.
Preview Your Response
- The Ten Biggest Gaffes In Modern Amer... is starting to get hot on Twitter Tweet It