Obsessing on gaffes is lazy journalism
We should be less concerned about minor things politicians do accidentally than major things they do on purpose.
One candidate is old and makes verbal flubs.
The other candidate is old, makes verbal flubs, faces 91 felony counts and wants to be a dictator.
If you focus only on the age and the verbal flubs, the two candidates are about the same, right? In fact, the one who doesn't face 91 felony counts has a brain that’s three years older than the other one, so the “younger” guy is better, right?
Gaffes are momentary mistakes. Major policies and long-term behavior are much more important ways to measure our politicians.
Where do they stand on abortion? On immigration? On confronting foreign dictators? On prescription drug prices?
These are important issues, but they’re often complicated. Covering them might force the news media to interview experts, read reports and study statistics. Gaffes, on the other hand, are gifts to lazy journalists. Just catch a politician in a gaffe and show it every hour for a full day. No research required.
This obsession with verbal missteps reflects a basic flaw in the media’s idea of what a campaign is for. It’s not the national spelling bee. It’s not an obstacle course. It’s supposed to be a forum for candidates to discuss the issues that matter to voters – to describe their vision for our country.
And besides, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have track records as president. If Biden is really as mentally soft as the right-wing propaganda industry purports, why is the economy in such good shape? Why was Biden able to work so well with the Europeans to confront Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? How was he able to take extraordinary action to help settle the auto workers strike? How did an infrastructure bill get passed?
I’m not saying politicians’ gaffes don’t matter at all. I’m saying they don’t matter much. When Trump had trouble with his TelePrompter and talked about Revolutionary War airports, it showed he wasn’t paying enough attention to what he was saying. It was embarrassing, but of minor importance in the grand scheme of things.
It was far more serious when Trump said over the weekend that he was willing to abandon our NATO allies and “encourage” Russia to attack them if they don’t spend as much on defense as he wants. And It was far more serious during Trump’s presidency when he ordered migrant children to be separated from their parents and then deported the parents and lost track of them. Those things are unforgivable. So let’s get our priorities straight.
Here’s another example. It was bad when Trump confused Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi. But it’s more appalling that Trump made that mistake while repeating the same old lie blaming Pelosi for Jan. 6. His outrageous falsehood is designed to mask his own clear role in that shameful and deadly assault on democracy.
As for Joe Biden, sure, he gets things wrong. Would he win on “Jeopardy”? Doubtful. But is he going to fight for women’s right to control their own bodies? Most certainly.
Think of it this way: We should be less concerned about minor things politicians do accidentally than major things they do on purpose.
And it’s not like Biden and Trump have a lock on the gaffe market. Biden’s flubs have dominated the headlines lately, but they aren’t the only ones. Haley, age 52, referred to the terrorist attack on “September 10th” when she meant the 11th. House Speaker Mike Johnson, age 52, talked about U.S. “support for Iran” when he meant Israel. Fox News host Jesse Watters, age 45, criticized Biden’s mental acuity and then introduced his next guest as “South Carolina Gov. Kristi Noem.” She’s from South Dakota.
Also, not all gaffes are created equal. It’s one thing for Biden to name the wrong country once in an otherwise fully coherent discussion of peace efforts in the Middle East. It’s another thing for Trump to keep repeating the false notion that you need an ID to buy groceries or claiming that the left is plotting to rename the state of Pennsylvania. There are gaffes, and there are complete breaks from reality.
But again, the public and the media shouldn’t spend a lot of time scoring verbal flubs on a scale of 1 to 10. This presidential campaign is not a gaffe-a-thon. It may well be the most important election for this country’s future since the Civil War. Let’s start acting like it.