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Not Just Todd Akin: The 10 worst political gaffes of the past decade

Here’s the final entry in our weekly summer post series, “The Pitch.” (We’ll bring this back at some point, we promise!) This post, written and research by Matthew Keys, examines what we’re calling the ten most-prominent political gaffes of the last decade or so. Follow Matthew on Twitter here.

From zero to infamy in 30 seconds: Before last week, Missouri Senate candidate and current Rep. Todd Akin didn’t have a national profile. He looked like he might take down Claire McCaskill thanks in part to changing demographics in the state. But thanks to a half-minute comment on the nature of abortion, Akin is down as much as ten points in a recent poll. He felt the wrath of the gaffe. And he’s not alone. Gaffes have taken on a life of their own in modern political coverage. So with that in mind, SFB contributor Matthew Keys (who you might know from his epic Twitter account) has thrown together a list of the worst gaffes of the past ten years. Which is the worst? Find out after the jump.

10. John McCain becomes a zombie

The above photo, snapped by Reuters photographer Jim Bourg, shows John McCain reacting after nearly walking through the wrong exit on stage after a presidential debate in New York. The picture, eventually dubbed the “McCain Zombie” photo, achieved viral status on the “Internets” (scroll down to number 5). (photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters) source

9. Sarah Palin’s American history lesson

In 2011, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had everyone speculating that she would throw her hat into the race for Republican presidential nominee. Her “One Nation” bus tour only fueled that speculation, but it was a campaign stop in Boston, Massachusetts that caused the “lamestream media” to shift focus away from her non-campaign and onto American history. Needless to say, we did some digging, and Paul Revere warned the colonists that the British were coming, not the other way around. source

8. Joe Biden lauds the Health Care Reform Act

The vice president is known for having the occasional bout of foot-in-mouth. His most notable gaffe — and the one that will likely become synonymous with his term — was when he was caught on an open microphone playing up the importance of the passage of the Affordable Care Act during the president’s signing of the bill into law. Biden’s historic “big f—king deal” moment was aired live by nearly ever cable news outlet in America and will forever be synonymous with the signing of the historic health care bill. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) source

7. Mitt Romney responds to a heckler

While campaigning for votes in the Iowa straw poll at the state fair in August 2011, now-presumptive Republican nominee for president Mitt Romney dropped his infamous “corporations are people” line in response to a heckler who suggested one way to balance the budget and keep things like Medicare was to raise taxes on them. Michele Bachmann wound up winning the straw poll a few days later. source

6. Oops.

  • It’s three agencies of government, when I get (to the White House), that are gone: Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? … I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Oops.
  • Rick Perry’s “Brain Freeze” moment at CNBC’s Republican National Debate in November 2011 became the hallmark for the rest of his presidential nominee campaign. To this day, we still aren’t quite sure what the third agency was. Anyone? Anyone? source

5. President Bush pluralizes the World Wide Web

  • INTERNETS (noun, plural): Where the rumors are, according to two-term former President George. W. Bush.

During a 2004 presidential debate in St. Louis with then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Bush addressed the “rumors on the Internets” that the U.S. government would bring back the draft. Bush went on to say that the all-volunteer military worked. Though this use of the word “Internets” has been most attributed to Bush, it was not the first time he used the word: During a 2000 debate with former vice president Al Gore, Bush suggested placing filters on the “Internets” at schools and libraries to keep children from viewing pornography or violence.

4. President Obama claims you didn’t build that

Politicians can sometimes forget things like hot microphones (Biden, see number 8), American history (Palin, see number 9) and “the third one” (Perry, see number 6). In this case, President Barack Obama forgot the mainstream media has access to editing machines. Speaking off the cuff at a campaign event in Virginia, Obama meant to send the message that if a business succeeds, the reason for that success is one part the business creator and one part the people who built the infrastructure to support the business (like roads and bridges and the like). But his impromptu line “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that!” became the isolated quote that ran on cable news and in political attack ads alike. It was a stern reminder that politicians of the 21st century should choose their words carefully. source

3. Todd Akin’s own party turns on him

  • If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.
  • Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri who is currently running for the U.S. Senate, made his comment while affirming his anti-abortion stance on a local television program in St. Louis. One day later, Akin apologized for his comment, adding that the study he drew his opinion from was flawed and that he meant to say “forcible rape.”  Akin decided to stay in the race for Senate despite calls from politicians, including Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, to withdraw. source

2. Anthony Weiner tweets his junk

  • first New York Congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweets what was meant to be a private photo of a bulge in his underwear on May 27, 2011. The link was removed quickly, but not before a handful of people saw the photograph.
  • then After the photo is exposed by recently-deceased blogger Andrew Breitbart, Weiner claims in interviews with the media that his Twitter account may have been hacked. Bloggers, rushing to Weiner’s aid, noted irregularities regarding the photo.
  • finally He ‘fessed up. Weiner admitted to sending explicit messages with six women over three years. He initially said he would not step down from Congress, but on June 20, 2011, he handed the House of Representatives his letter of resignation. source

1. Howard Dean screams the states

  • 21states Dean screamed following the 2004 Iowa caucus
  • causeAfter coming third in Iowa, the former Vermont governor fired up his supporters at a rally by proclaiming “we have just begun to fight.” During his speech, Dean enthusiastically told the crowd his campaign was going to 13 states. Then, as the crowd cheered, he delivered the infamous “Howard Dean yell.” He wasn’t done; he named seven more states.
  • declineIn his book “The Revolution Will Not be Televised,” former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi noted that, while the campaign was optimistic following the so-called “Iowa meltdown,” the emotion didn’t translate into numbers. Instead, the 24-hour news cycle isolated Dean’s infamous scream and looped it endlessly in news and commentary reports. source

» And things got worse. In the following New Hampshire primary, Dean would fall 12 points behind rival John Kerry, who went on to become the Democratic presidential nominee. From that point on, Dean was done. His gaffe had cost him a shot at the White House. Months of momentum, lost with a single moment repeated ad infinitum. That’s what a gaffe can do.

Research and writing by Matthew Keys, a journalist working for the Reuters news organization in New York and a ShortFormBlog contributor. Editing and presentation by Ernie Smith, who you might also know as a huge Dan Deacon fan.

August 27, 2012 // 22:31 // 2 years ago
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