Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
September 12, 2014
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Decoding political gaffes: Take foot. Insert into mouth. Repeat.

Cringe worthy, embarrassing utterances

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A regular DecodeDC feature that decodes political phrases. This week we look at the term “political gaffe”.

You know a political gaffe when you hear one. Cringe worthy, embarrassing, it’s that one line that makes you shake your head and think, “Oh man, they are in for it.”

And typically the press makes sure of it.

When you think of great gaffes, your mind might turn to Sarah Palin saying she could see Russia from Alaska.

Or Sarah Palin giving a speech with words clearly written on her hands.

Or Sarah Palin failing to remember the name of any newspaper she reads.

OK, you may just think of Sarah Palin but, in her defense, most politicians are no strangers to the gaffe.

The official Webster’s dictionary definition of a gaffe is a “social or diplomatic blunder.” Politicaldictionary.com goes a bit further:

“An unintentional comment that causes a politician embarrassment. The term often refers to a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say because it is politically damaging.”

Politicians always seem to find new ways to get their feet firmly into their mouths. There’s the unintentional comment made in front of a live microphone or camera—like former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s47 percent comments.

Or comments made without any semblance to reality—like President Barack Obama’s comments two years during the recession that the private sector “is fine.”

But perhaps the most well-known gaffes are the ones that politicians really don’t want you to hear, where a politico  unintentionally—gasp!—slips into saying something honest.

This kind of gaffe is deemed the Kinsley gaffe after journalist Michael Kinsley’s great description of it in 1984:

“It used to be, there was truth and there was falsehood. Now there is spin and there are gaffes. Spin is often thought to be synonymous with falsehood or lying, but more accurately it is indifference to the truth. A politician engaged in spin is saying what he or she wishes were true, and sometimes, by coincidence, it is. Meanwhile, a gaffe, it has been said, is when a politician tells the truth — or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head. A gaffe is what happens when the spin breaks down.”

We’ve put together some  some of our favorite political gaffes below

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney introduces his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan

Sen. Barack Obama says he visited 57 states

President George W. Bush’s “fool me once” brain freeze

Do you remember a political gaffe that was particularly cringe worthy? Share it with us on our Facebook page or on Twitter @DecodeDC using the hashtag #politicalgaffe.