Famous Political Gaffes and Blunders

June 28, 2008

Here are my favourites from British and American politics.





Who can forget the Florida classroom scene in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911? Moore affirms that Bush was informed about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on his way to the elementary school.  In the film we see him in the classroom sitting in with the children. When told that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center and that the nation was under attack, Bush continued reading The Pet Goat (a children’s story contained in the book Reading Mastery II: Storybook 1, by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner) to the kids, and, according to Moore, he went on for nearly seven minutes.




On January 10 1979 hapless Prime Minister Jim Callaghan back from a summit in Guadeloupe was asked  by a reporter about the “mounting chaos” as a result of the  famous “Winter of Discontent”, during which there were strikes by trade unions demanding larger pay raises for their members. Callaghan replied: “I don’t think other people would necessarily share the view that there is mounting chaos.” But when the story appeared on the front page of The Sun under the headline “Crisis? What Crisis” everyone assumed that the headline reflected what the PM had actually said. In May he was roundly defeated in the election by Thatcher and the rest is history.




            In the U.K. former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had what Matthew Parris has described as “a long and inconclusive war with the English Language. In The Political Animal Jeremy Paxman claims that before being accepted as transcribers to the Parliamentary record the Hansard, applicants must listen to one of Prescott’s speeches and write down what they think he was trying to say. So, try this one for starters:

On the other hand, when I look at the urban cities and I look at how we use our money, there are issues where the need to buy issues, quite frankly, and it’s bought at a price and a very discounted price, which we all agreed to be doing, but then it’s sold at a very high price back to the state when they want to do something about improvements. Well, that’s costing us literally millions of pounds.”

U.S. President Warren Harding also had a poor grasp of the English language Yet he insisted on writing his own speeches, with predictably disastrous results. He once commented:

“I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved.

            Sometimes presidents are the victims of their translators. In June 1963, John F. Kennedy stood at the Berlin Wall and declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which translates as “I am a cream bun.” In December 1977, Jimmy Carter gave a speech in Poland which included the sentence, “I want to know the Polish people.” When this was rendered into Polish, the word “know” was mistranslated so that Carter was quoted as having said, “I want to have carnal knowledge of the Polish people.”

            When he was Vice-President of the United States, George H.W. Bush caused widespread offence when, on being shown the gas chambers at Auschwitz, he remarked: “Boy, they were big on crematoriums, weren’t they?”  




I can still remember future Tory leader William Hague as a 16-year-old making a rousing speech at the Tory party conference. He was never able to shake off his image as a young fogey. His efforts to counter this were, alas, to cause more ridicule. Soon after becoming Conservative leader in 1997, Mr Hague took to donning a baseball cap with his name embroidered on the front, and then visiting the Notting Hill Carnival with fiancée Ffion. He also boasted about  his drinking exploits as a teenager -14 pints a night apparently. The reaction of the tabloids could hardly come as a surprise. The Mirror came out with “I was Britain’s biggest boozer,” and the Sun called him “Billy Liar.”




            Neil Kinnock, Labour leader from also deserves a couple of mentions. During one seasonal seaside stroll for the cameras the “Welsh Windbag” tripped and fell into the water and had to be hauled to his feet by wife Glenys. More damaging though was his jubilant fist waving at Labour’s 1992 election “victory” rally in Sheffield. Only days away from a general election, Mr Kinnock believed he was home and dry. Labour though somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. On the day of the general election, The Sun ran a famous front page featuring the headline: If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights. This loss was largely because of income tax but the brash, American-style rally certainly didn’t help.




            Within two hours of the hijacked planes flying into the Twin Towers and The Pentagon, Jo Moore, a New Labour special adviser sent an email to a colleague at the Department of Local Government, Transport and the Regions explaining that this would be an excellent opportunity to hide bad news: “Today is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”




Bush 41’s Vice-President Dan Quayle most infamous blunder occurred at an elementary school spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey, on June 15, 1992. Quayle had to sit and read a number of words from some flash cards and the kids would then go up and spell them at the blackboard. 12-year-old William Figueroa duly went up and wrote potato on the board. Quayle looked at the blackboard, then at his flash card (it had an incorrect spelling), and proceeded  to correct the boy: “You’re close, but you left a little something off. The e on the end.” So William, against his better judgment and trying to be polite, added an e’’ All those assembled in the classroom burst into a spontaneous round of applause. Quayle said that he began to realize something was up at a subsequent press conference when he was asked by a journalist to spell the word potato. Figueroa was interviewed and said that  the experience had made him believe all the talk about the vice president being “an idiot.’’ The Democratic candidates certainly exploited the incident; Figueroa was flown in to deliver the pledge of allegiance at the Democratic National Convention that summer. Quayle was never able to live it down and Clinton and Gore went on to win the election in November. What is William Figueroa up to these days? In August 2004, a New York Times reporter caught up with him. It turns out that he became a high-school dropout with a child of his own by the age of 16. By 24, he’d had 3 kids and was working at Wal-Mart.

My Favourite Links #12

June 28, 2008

This week’s link is Word Spy.  It is one of the most popular sites on the web for finding neologisms that have appeared multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, websites and other recorded sources. Words come with a definition, an example citation, earliest citation, notes and related words. You can check by month, subject and they have a top 100. Here are a few examples to test you. Look up the answers on the site.


  1. BlackBerry prayer
  2. Boyzilian
  3. Brand slut
  4. Butt bra
  5. Celebutard
  6. Freeconomics
  7. Wal-Mart effect
  8. Wikification



My Media Week 28/06/08

June 28, 2008

Spiked has a feature about eco-warrior George Monbiot. This should give you a flavour of it;

Not many moons ago, Monbiot was looked upon by many people as a green-ink eccentric, who was probably given a newspaper column on the same basis that friends of the Marquis de Sade smuggled scraps of paper and pots of ink into his cell in the Charenton insane asylum: because if he’s kept busy writing, he won’t go utterly off his nut. (The chasm-shaped difference between the Marquis and Monbiot, of course, is that the former wrote some brilliant stuff that nobody was allowed to read, while the latter writes inane copy that one can hardly escape.)  (ARTICLE)



Julian Baggini has written about The dilemmas that force us to compromise our morals. (ARTICLE)



Melvyn Bragg’s programme In Our Time discusses the mighty Arab conquests of the 7th century. (PODCAST AND STREAMING)



The Bottom Line This BBC programme features Evan Davis in conversation with 3 or 4 business leaders. This week they look at  youth marketing and email. (PODCAST AND STREAMING)






Movie Monologues #1

June 28, 2008


Gordon Gekko in Wall Street


Well, I appreciate the opportunity you’re giving me, Mr. Cromwell,

as the single largest shareholder in Teldar Paper, to speak.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America, America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!

All together, these men sitting up here [Teldar management] own less than 3 percent of the company. And where does Mr. Cromwell put his million-dollar salary? Not in Teldar stock; he owns less than 1 percent.

You own the company. That’s right — you, the stockholder.

And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents, each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can’t figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents.

The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated.

In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you.

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.

Greed is right.

Greed works.

Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.

And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.