Chances are if a politician is speaking, he or she is trying to string words together that are likely to strike a chord with whatever audience happens to be at hand.
Do politicians ever believe the words they’re saying? Probably. It must happen from time to time.
While a lot of the words that come out politicians’ mouths are unimaginative (if you recall, President Obama’s original campaign slogan was “Yes We Can”), others can be downright stupefying.
There are moments of unintended greatness where politicians say something that’s either incredibly misguided or incredibly stupid, totally by accident. These gaffes are what some politicos live for. Let’s take a look at six of the best gaffes in recent memory:
1. “Chuck, stand up, let the people see you.”
Anyone who knows anything about Joe Biden knows that he is a man who is all too prone to sticking his foot in his mouth. In 2008, then-vice presidential candidate Biden was at a campaign stop in St. Louis when he tried to get the audience to recognize the work of state Senator Chuck Graham (D-Columbia). Biden asked Graham to stand up in order to be recognized by those in attendance. The problem? Graham, a paraplegic, is confined to a wheelchair. The vice president quickly corrected his remark, telling the people to stand up for Chuck instead. They did.
2. “We bomb Russia in five minutes.”
Everyone has to test out a microphone before going forward with a live speech. President Ronald Reagan learned that the hard way. Prior to giving a weekly radio address in 1984, Reagan joked about outlawing Russia before saying that the U.S. was going to commence bombing it within five minutes. While the press corps and staffers in attendance found the The Gipper’s off-the-cuff remarks quite funny, the same could not be said about Reagan’s political foes and other Americans, who thought the comment was insensitive and made in poor taste.
3. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
If Hurricane Katrina never happened, chances are not that many people would know who Michael DeWayne Brown is. Appointed the director of FEMA under President George W. Bush, Brown was in charge of helping restore normalcy to New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana following the unprecedented 2005 storm. Nearly 10 years later, that city is still not the same – a testament to the chaos that unfolded after Katrina hit. Still, shortly after the storm came and left, Bush famously complimented Brown in a quote that will live on forever.
4. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Yes: an educated man who ascended the ranks to be elected to represent his congressional district uttered those asinine words. U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R) was actually running for a Missouri senate seat against Claire McCaskill (D) when he said those words on television in 2012. At the time, Akin actually served on the House Science Committee. The worst part about this whole situation? Nearly 40 percent of Missourians still voted for Akin.
5. “I can’t, the third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
It’s amazing that ignorant and/or easily-flustered people can actually manage to climb the political ladder. Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) fits nicely into that category. During a Republican presidential debate in 2011, Perry was talking about three government agencies he would do away with if elected president. The problem? He couldn’t remember all three of them. For those keeping score, Perry wanted to eliminate the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, and the uh, the uh, the um, wait for it, wait for it, the Department of Energy.
6. The entity that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
When they’re written in a thousand years, the annals of human history should have an entire chapter devoted to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who is pretty much a gigantic gaffe himself. Whether admitting to smoking crack, calling a journalist a pedophile, getting drunk and threatening to kill someone or telling reporters he had “more than enough to eat at home” after being asked if he was sexually harassing his staff, Ford is the gaffe machine that keeps on giving. To think: After all these scandals, the guy is still mayor of Canada’s largest city. And he’s running for reelection. If you’re interested in being entertained for the next 24 minutes, you might want to check this video out.
Politicians are certainly not strangers to controversy. From a skeptical perspective, you have to wonder how much of what these people say is actually what they believe, or if they approach speaking with political motivation in mind every time they open their mouths.
Listening to politicians pontificate can be brutally miserable. But every now and again, they say something so memorable that you just have to scratch your head and wonder. Do any of these measure up against George HW Walker’s famous tax-related “read my lips” quote? You can decide for yourselves.
At the end of the day, you have to figure that if some of the most powerful men and women in the country are prone to these kinds of missteps, the rest of us aren’t so bad off after all.