Political candidates sometimes say inexplicable things. For example, recently Barack Obama said that “the private sector is doing fine” sending some on the right into epileptic fits that were half acrimony and half nirvana.
One thing about gaffes is attempting to discern what they really are. Just a slip of the tongue? Saying the opposite of what was intended by mistake? The accidental disclosures of true feelings? The perplexing result of being a bit too clever with arguments? Or just plain and simple “fuck my mouth” moments? Each gaffe needs to be explored to hopefully determine exactly which might be the case.
Obama tried to walk back his “fine” comment by saying he meant the private sector wasn’t the problem with the economy. When that didn’t pan out, he tried to frame it as a comment about “good momentum.” Finally he admitted that it was “absolutely clear” the private sector was not fine. I’m still a little confused about the whole thing and what he was really trying to say. Either way, some on the right were at the ready to rip his comment to shreds.
So I decided to explore some other moments in recent gaffe history.
I recently heard someone lament how Obama has made the federal government bigger. Mitt Romney himself said that Obama has “exploded” the size of the federal government. I had a sneaking suspicion about this, so I went looking for a graph*.
Well, well, well. Obama is the worst thing since sliced bread. You mean to tell me he’s done the same thing as everyone else before him? Holy shit! That’s one killer of a point. Looking at this graph a reasonable person would infer that Obama is just another piece of overall trend where it really really doesn’t matter who occupies the White House or even their political party.
To me this is a great argument in favor of those who believe that presidential elections really don’t offer much of a choice. (See Launch the Mutant Now video.) This is especially true if you are greatly concerned about the ever increasing size of the federal government.
Pop Quiz: Raise your hand if you think the identity of the next occupant in the White House will make any difference in the size of the federal government. Raise your hand if you think Obama will make it smaller. Now Mitt Romney. Interesting results. Interesting. Now this half of the room raise your hand. Okay, now the other half. This two-thirds. That one-third. Two-fifths. Three-fifths. Sorry. I lost my mind there just for a moment. But that’s okay for me!
Pop Quiz, hotshot: What can a president directly do about the size of government? Can he wade in like John Wayne and cut personnel rolls? Can he sign executive orders reducing pay and benefits? Can he swing in like Rambo without a jockstrap and eliminate entire departments? Can he pick up the special red phone on his desk and call someone who will cancel the $750,000 being spent to build a soccer field at Guantanamo Bay? Can he even pick up a single piece of trash?
Hypothetical: A person runs for president on a campaign full of promises to shrink the size of the federal government. The person gets elected. The person, being totally sincere about their promises, wields an axe like Abraham Lincoln going after vampires. My question for you is this: What does this president actually do to keep those promises? What powers within his/her purview lead to success in regards to the size of the federal government and what does that success actually look like?
I mean, it would be pretty crass to fling an accusation like “biggest government ever” at someone if that person couldn’t actually do anything about it, right?
A Special Abyss Prediction: If Mitt Romney wins in 2012 the federal government will continue to get bigger. Duh.
Enough about that. What else? How about Vietnam? As a preppy bully with pockets full of family money, Mitt Romney protested in favor of the war in Vietnam. Holy shit. Who even knew such a thing even existed? And here we have a finalist for the White House a practitioner thereof. You can’t make shit like this up.
But wait. There’s more. After protesting in favor of the war, Mitt Romney then sought and obtained four deferments of his military service. The first was an educational deferment. The other three were granted by the Mormon Church, which was also strongly in favor of the Vietnam war, so that Romney could go on a “mission” to France.
Wait. What? Churches have the ability to grant military service deferments to their own members? From things they are personally in favor of? Like I said, you can’t make shit like this up. Real life is far too wacky.
My point here is that this is all kind of like a super-gaffe. (Give me partial credit here. I’m trying to stay on topic.)
Fast-forward to 2012. The contest for the “leader of the free world” comes down to the two best opponents the United States can produce. In the grandest of traditions the opponents can arm wrestle to decide the winner. Of course, Romney, at age 65, refuses. Obama has got 15 years on him. Even so, it would still probably be too close to call.
Instead, they chose the other option. Engaging in a rousing game of “I Know You Are But What Am I?” This is also sometimes referred to as, “Bring On The Gaffes.”
Lampooning: “Wake up, America! Do we really need a president who spent a little too much time at Harvard?” This question paraphrases The Great Oracle Known As Mitt Romney. Wisely asked, sir! Especially in light of the fact that you spent more time there than Obama. Oops. Gaffe.
Black Photo Ops: Fine then. I’ll just schedule a speech in this here shuttered factory. Just look at it! All closed down with no workers and shit. What a travesty! This will teach ’em all a thing or two as I talk about my ability to create jobs. Wait, what? This factory closed down under Bush before Obama took office? Oops. Even I can see that makes it hard to pin the damn thing on Obama. And that’s really saying something. Gaffe.
Overpopulation: We need a way to show the American voting public that Obama is out of touch. I know! Shut up, advisers. What the hell am I paying you for, anyway? I know what I’m doing. Obama is out of touch! I know this because “corporations are people!” Oh shit. I just did it again, didn’t I? Walk it back, walk it back! I’ll fix it. “I’m unemployed.” Oh shit. Gaffe.
I could go on, but I think the point has been made with my usual style, grace and subtlety. I have a flair for the lightest touch. Party at my house where we can all drown our sorrows about the unthinkable disaster of Obama personally making the federal government bigger. Damn, and it was all so against the odds, too.
* Specifically I looked for a graph showing “size of federal government.” Of the many results to choose from, none really show exactly what I was looking for. This graph, showing “size” as “measured by spending” was what I eventually selected. I just wish it wasn’t so ambiguous and showed more of a noticeable trend.