On March 23, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were understandably excited about signing into law a health care reform bill they had campaigned on and endured a marathon slugfest to pass through Congress in their first 13 months in office. After introductory remarks, an overjoyed and loose-lipped Biden whispered, "This is a big f***ing deal," into the President's ear as he turned the stage over to Obama. The exchange, which was loud enough to be picked up by the microphone, quickly made its way onto cable TV and into the blogosphere. The notoriously gaffe-prone Biden later apologized for the blooper and kept a good sense of humor about it. Organizing for America — the remaining political arm of Obama's '08 campaign — even started selling "Health Reform is a BFD" t-shirts at its online store. Health care reform is likely to remain one of the defining moments of Obama's presidency and in this viral age, Biden's blunder will likely have a similarly long shelf life.
2. Harry Reid's Bad Delivery of Good News
In the midst of a recession and the toughest re-election battle of his career, Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor to herald a better-than-expected unemployment report. Under the Democrats' stewardship, he tried to argue, the economy in February 2010 lost just 36,000 jobs, compared to 651,000 in the same month the prior year. But Reid's well-known predilection for poor phrasing led to one of the more sound-bytable misstatements of his long career. "Today is a big day in America," he beamed. "Only 36,000 people lost their jobs today." Although Reid's words were God's gift to Republican ad makers, his opponent proved just as rhetorically maladroit. Reid won re-election slamming Sharron Angle's every verbal miscue along the way, and lived on to gaffe another day.
3. Michael Steele's Short-Lived Afghan Withdrawal
RNC Chairman Michael Steele has committed more than a few gaffes since assuming the post in January 2009, but his most infamous flub came during a Connecticut fundraiser in July, when Steele told the crowd that the war in Afghanistan was "a war of Obama's choosing" and "not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." The remarks were both at odds with reality — George W. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan in 2001 — and at loggerheads with his own party's establishment, which overwhelmingly supports a continued military presence in the country. After a hail of friendly fire and calls for his resignation from the likes of prominent conservatives such as William Kristol, Steele released a statement reaffirming his support for "success in Afghanistan."
4. Gibbs and the "Professional Left"
In the heat of August, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs lost his cool. Incensed by liberal criticism of the Obama Administration for not pushing its legislative initiatives hard enough, Gibbs vented to a reporter that the so-called "professional left" were implacable ideologues who, judging by their obliviousness to political realities, "ought to be drug tested." After a cry of outrage from more than a few Democrats, Gibbs admitted that he had expressed his frustrations "inartfully" and called for a truce. But with Republican gains in Congress that could force Obama further to the center, tensions between the White House and the "professional left" may only be beginning.
5. Jan Brewer Draws a Blank
The opening statements of debates afford candidates the opportunity to deliver rehearsed introductions without the pressure of unexpected questions or interruptions. But during a September 1 forum, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, apparently struck by a debilitating bout of brain freeze, struggled to get through the most cursory of opening remarks. As she fumbled to explain what she had accomplished in office, Brewer lost her train of thought completely. After more than 10 excruciating seconds of silence, the governor managed to stammer, "We have did what was right for Arizona." Despite her less than eloquent delivery, voters seemed to agree that she was right for Arizona — Brewer was re-elected by a wide margin.
6. Christine O'Donnell Flubs the First Amendment
For all her talk about being a "constitutional conservative," Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell seemed more than a little fuzzy on the First Amendment during an October debate with opponent Chris Coons. As the Democrat argued that public schools should only teach evolution, not creationism, O'Donnell lashed out against Coons for "how little" he knew about the Constitution. As the moderator tried to move on, O'Donnell circled back to the exchange and incredulously asked Coons, "You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?" Coons responded with the relevant section of the Constitution while the crowd, mostly students and legal professionals from debate host Widener University Law School, broke into gasps and laughter.
7. Martha Coakley's Unforced Error
Running afoul of local sports fans is one of the cardinal sins of politicking. It's doubly blasphemous in Red Sox Nation. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was once considered a lock to win the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. But after a stretch of anemic campaigning and missteps, the Democrat went down in defeat at the hands of Tea Party-fueled upstart Scott Brown. The pinnacle of Coakley's bungling came in a January talk-radio interview when, after dismissing Rudy Giuliani as a fan of the New York Yankees (the Sox's archnemesis), she ascribed the same loyalties to legendary MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, another Brown booster. Schilling, he of the bloody sock, hallowed hero of Fenway who led the Sox to their first World Series title since 1918, is anything but a Yankee fan. In a separate interview with the Boston Globe, Coakley scoffed at the notion that she should be devoting more of her campaign to retail politics; "Standing outside Fenway Park? In the Cold? Shaking hands?" she asked incredulously. Those big league whiffs inspired Massachusetts voters to send Coakley to the showers.
8. Sharron Angle's Ethnic Eye Test
Sharron Angle's 11th hour push to overcome Nevada Senator Harry Reid was defined by her blunt and controversial appeal to illegal immigration hawks. In ads portraying her opponent as soft on the issue, the Republican featured images of dark-skinned men wearing bandanas sneaking across the border to join gangs, which drew cries of racism from Latino groups. Angle's attempts to defend the ad campaign hardly helped matters. In an October 15 meeting with Hispanic students, Angle explained that she never intended the men in the commercials to be explicitly Latino. Just to prove her colorblindness, Angle told the room full of Latino youths: "Some of you look a little more Asian to me." The crowd was taken aback, as was the electorate; Hispanics turned out in big numbers and voted overwhelmingly for Reid.
9. Obama Plagued by the Middle East
As eloquent as Barack Obama often is, anyone who does that much public speaking is bound to lapse into incoherence at one time or another. The President found himself in just such an oratorical pretzel during a January town hall event in Tampa, Florida. Asked about U.S. support for Israel and tensions with the Palestinians, Obama, perhaps distracted by a rambunctious crowd, began by not-so-sagely noting, "The Middle East is obviously an issue that had plagued the region for centuries." In fact, it's done more than leave Obama tongue-tied; he's struggled all year to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze.
10. Palin's North Korean Allies
In late November, not long after tensions on the Korean peninsula exploded in artillery fire from the North, Sarah Palin took to Glenn Beck's radio show to express her concern that the White House would be weak-kneed in the face of another national security crisis. "Obviously," she intoned, "we gotta stand with our North Korean allies." Obviously, the North is a communist military dictatorship and the South has been under American protection since the Korean War. As Palin later pointed out, she merely misspoke the one time, correctly identifying South Korea as an ally in other parts of the interview, and she is far from the first politician to misplace a proper noun or two. But it should come as no surprise to the former governor that the echo chamber (or "Lamestream Media" as she likes to call it), which has elevated her every Tweet, would start a feeding frenzy over her Korea miscue.