Most times in politics, how-you-say-it more important than what-you-say. Whether this is a benefit or a disadvantage of our political system, I will leave to you, but one thing is for sure: “optics” is key.
This year, the mics were on and the talking heads were talking. A lot. 2012 was an extremely important election year, and it was full–simply full–of its own political gaffes. Fred Shapiro, an associate librarian at Yale Law School, wrote that “debate remarks and gaffes actually seemed to play an important role in the ups and downs of the election campaign and may even have affected the ultimate outcome of the election.”
Using multiple sources, Google “studied an aggregation of over one trillion searches (or queries) that people typed into Google Search this year” and concluded that the most searched-for political gaffes of 2012 were:
1. “Big Bird”
On October 3rd, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, faced off in the election’s first presidential debate. While most pundits believe that Romney–passionate, aggressive, and well-spoken–bested Obama in this debate, Romney’s gaffe about cutting funding to PBS hurt his chances on election day.
Jim Lehrer, the moderator for the debate, asked both candidates, “What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?” Romney responded:
I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one.
Romney’s lighthearted jab at Lehrer, a long-time employee of PBS (since 1973!), sparked a huge fire. In general, Romney’s response provoked two responses: while some voters did not appreciate Romney’slack of seriousness, others lambasted him for threatening to cancel Big Bird–a pseudo-symbol of American, public education.
From everything to television advertisements to mailing campaigns, the Obama Campaign capitalized on the gaffe, arguing that it was both flippant and insidious.
For example, one of the Obama Campaign’s 30-second spot claims that “one man has the guts to speak the name” of the greediest business executive / criminal of them all: Big Bird. “Big, yellow, a menace to our economy. Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about. It’s Sesame Street.”
In addition, the Obama Campaign’s website had a landing page specifically designed to raise money from the gaffe. The title screamed, “Save Big Bird! Vote Democrat.”
Google puts this gaffe at #1. The entertainment-factor of this gaffe definitely helped it reach the #1 spot in Google’s study. While in a heated election season, who doesn’t want to see funny memes of Big Bird?
2. “47 percent”
At a May 17th private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Floirda, Mitt Romney stated:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. …These are people who pay no income tax. …and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Mother Jones, a far-left leaning news and opinion source, released the audio file earlier this year.
To many, it seemed that Romney was not only dismissing his chances with nearly half the electorate, he was criticizing them. They were the irresponsible freeloaders. They were the ones who won’t clean up their act.
What was worse for Romney was the private nature of the event. When the audio clip was released, the American people believed that they saw the true Romney: a Romney that makes fun of them behind their back.
Google puts this gaffe at #2 for number of searches, but TIME Magazine puts it at #1.
3. “Binders full of women”
In the second presidential debate on October 16th, Mitt Romney stated, “We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet [in Massachusetts]. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Attempting to show that he (and the Republican Party) was informed and deeply dedicated to women’s issues, Romney sounded more out of touch than ever. “It contributed to an image of him as being somewhat out of touch and maybe particularly out of touch with issues related to women,” Shapiro said.
Coming in at #3, Romney’s comments sparked numerous memes and videos. The website http://bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com/, for example, mocks Romney’s comment with a clever array of pictures. Not surprisingly, the site features a congeries of visuals of women in binders.
4. “Airplane Windows”
At a fundraiser of Beverly Hills, Romney stated on September 22nd, “When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem.”
Throughout the campaign, the Obama Administration effectively painted Romney as a devious plutocrat, out of touch with the needs of the average American citizen, and Romney fell right into the trap. Speaking in Beverly Hills (of all places), Romney communicated that he was scientifically inept about the luxuries that he supposedly takes granted.
5. “Legitimate Rape”
Finally, Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin said in an interview on August 19th:
If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
In an election when social issues seemed to be the defining issues, Akin fell right into his political opponents’ trap. Not only did he show himself scientifically ignorant, he showed that extremity of his position. Within hours, fellow Republicans sought to distance themselves from Akin and his comments.