The first thing we must realize is that there are Gaffes and then there are gaffes. The problem, or the fun, in discerning the difference is the reality and crux of the argument. The way we should judge the difference between gaffes is whether a gaffe deserves to be capitalized or simply passed by left with all un-capitalized letters. Then there are those rare and often repeated gaffes that are all capital letters, italicized, underlined, and flashing neon red and are immortalized. Some of these are simply lies such as Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” or “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” which he stated before he ran successfully for President, or a more recent one for our younger readers, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” spoken by President Clinton.
The first property one need analyze of any given gaffe is simple, is it true or is it a lie, and if it is a lie, how severe a lie or stretch of the truth is the statement. The bigger the lie, the more massive the gaffe, especially if it is a lie that can be recognized by everybody. The above gaffes fit the lie model. The next property is was the statement disparaging or hurtful of people you had no call, reason or need to insult. Romney’s London Olympics gaffe, “The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” is a perfect example of this type. Then there are those gaffes which are technically true but so against logic and the common belief. President Obama’s gaffe stating, “Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own,” is an example of this kind. There are likely as many traits to gaffes as there are gaffes, but these are some of the major properties. There is a final property which all gaffes must contain in order to qualify. A Gaffe must be an offense in some manner or perceived as such by the person hearing it in order to be a gaffe. This means that gaffes are very personal. This begs a question, who gets to decide what is a gaffe and what is not?
To be truthful, we each decide for ourselves which statements are gaffes and which are simply unpleasant truths or commentary. Let’s compare two recent “gaffes” made by our two main Presidential candidates. We have President Obama’s gaffe stating, “Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own,” and we have Mitt Romney’s gaffe stating, “It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.” Both statements technically have a kernel of truth at their core but are interpreted to be false by some segments of society and are thus considered gaffes. Those who support Israel having Jerusalem as their capital city as they define it will not believe Romney committed a gaffe while those who are ardent believers in the fact that government is an integral partner in all we do will not believe that President Obama committed a gaffe. So, gaffes are extremely personal and it can be said that one man’s gaffe is another man’s core belief. Often, what makes a statement into a gaffe is not so much what was said but how what was said was worded. If Romney had claimed, “Jerusalem, Israel’s proclaimed capital,” or President Obama had stated, “government has its place in all things,” then they likely would have passed with a lot less scandalous indignation. Still, the main component in both of these gaffes is whether or not they will matter to each individual in the long-run. It is likely that Obama supporters will not have seen a gaffe serious enough to change their vote while Romney supporters will pass his gaffe off as a truth which some object to and will still vote for him. So, in the end, a gaffe needs to have a lasting effect or be so notable that they are universally accepted as a true gaffe, a rare gaffe indeed, to become a permanent gaffe in our lexicon.
The sad truth is that the initial determination of a gaffe has been relegated to our news cycle and the press. So, gaffes will be dependent upon where you get your news just as much as what was said and who said it. A gaffe that the New York Times will use as its top of the fold headline is very likely not the same gaffe as the Washington Times would have as their top of the fold headline. The true source of gaffes would have a top of the fold headline which included both gaffes from the New York Times and the Washington Times. Gaffes are very slanted and often carry a huge political component making determining gaffe from rallying cry a matter of pure politics. This has been made obvious by the number of conservative outlets beating the “You did not make that” drum endlessly since the President made that comment while the “Great London Olympics Insult” has filled the liberal airwaves. So, go on out there and rate your gaffes and maybe we can make this into the fun game it is for the presstitutes who live and die on quotes they can transform into the embarrassment known as a gaffe.
Beyond the Cusp