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Tony Grist

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Mis-speaking [Mar. 26th, 2008|09:41 am]
Tony Grist
When Obama called his grandmother a "typical white woman" that was a genuine example of mis-speaking. I'm sure he didn't mean to sound so dismissive. What he aimed to say was she had typical views, but the adjective slipped out of its proper place in the sentence and located itself elsewhere- and he was left with a mini-crisis on his hands.

And when he announced to a flabberghasted audience that 10,000 people had just died in a tornado strike in Kansas- when the actual death toll was 12- that was- well- I'm not entirely sure what that was: he was tired, it had been a long day, he'd misheard something an aide had whispered in his ear. Whatever it was that caused the mis-speak, it wasn't anything that particularly redounded to his discredit; it wasn't a lie; it was just a little side-slip into the surreal.

I'm having greater difficulty putting a benign spin on Clinton's claim that she came under fire at Grozny airport. I know memory can play you tricks because my own memory is none too brilliant these days- but if I found myself remembering traumatic incidents that could be proved never to have happened I think I'd be worrying about my mental health. Being shot at is a life-changing experience; it isn't something that becomes a little fuzzy with time. Unless you're suffering from Altzheimers you know whether you've had that experience or not. Someone fired an air rifle in my direction once; it's indelible. No, this wasn't a simple mis-speak (I'm coming to hate that word); It was a construct, presumably agreed in advance between Clinton and her speech-writer- designed to big up her reputation as an international stateswoman and confer some sort of ersatz warrior glory- which would come in handy if and when she faces McCain. But it was stupid claim- because it was so easy for her enemies to check and falsify. Silly woman- she just went and swift-boated herself.

Politicians lie. It's what they do. I don't want to suggest Obama is cleaner than Clinton; I believe he's said all sorts of things that don't check out- about his relationship with that sleazy guy back in the hood, for example-  but he hasn't yet screwed up the way Clinton has screwed up over Grozny. The thing about Clinton's mis-speak is it's so televisual, so meme-worthy. Already there's a clip on YouTube that says it all: first the self-aggrandizing speech, then the footage from the airport- featuring the reception committee she says wasn't there and the little girl she stooped to embrace. It's a killer, it really is- and if her candidacy continues it's going to get played and played and played.

As lies go it wasn't a bad one- it was a bit of puffery; it didn't start a war- but the trouble is it's not a lie that can be obfuscated by a lot of lawyerly talk. She can burble all she likes about mis-speaks- and all her opponent has to do is run the footage. There are no bullets, she doesn't run for cover; instead she smiles and greets and dawdles. Seeing is believing. Nothing but nothing can cloud the clarity of those pictures.

[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2008-03-26 12:59 pm (UTC)

Grozny? + artists

Grozny is in Chechnya I doubt she
went there... wasnt it in Bosnia?

with politicians the only sort of benign
thing I could compare it too immediately,
and I dont really find myself liking either
of these candidates or the republican one
much either, but with hilary clinton apart
from being self serving I can think of
performing artists I have met who tend
to embroider and recreate events as they
tell about them, things become exaggerated
more colorful more interesting in a way
perhaps it could be something like that?
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[User Picture]From: margaretarts
2008-03-26 02:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Grozny? + artists

Yes, Bosnia; just found the news report here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3depGF5E-0

Weird how Hillary didn't just massage the facts but created new ones. As you say, poliphilo, these statements were so easily refuted, even by the reporter (Andrea Mitchell) who went with Hillary in '96 on that same trip.

Yes, Obama needs to watch his step very carefully and not mis-speak, but his heart and head are in the right place.

It would be nice if the Democratic candidates just had a snack with graham crackers and juice and colored together for a while to some happy music, then came back in about two weeks, refreshed and ready (finally) to stop sniping and focus on the win.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-26 03:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Grozny? + artists

You're quite right. It was Tuzla airbase in Bosnia. All I can say in my defence is I mis-spoke.

Maybe it's a story that grew in the re-telling, but I understand she was reading from a script, so it wasn't an off-the-cuff mistake
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-03-26 03:10 pm (UTC)
I don't know about the UK, but in the States race is still a highly charged issue, no matter how much people try to deny it (the right tends to deny racism in society, the left racism in themselves, and neither side is being honest). Imagine the uproar if a white politician referred to someone as a "typical black man" - enough said.

I really don't care that Obama's reverend might hold anti-American or racially controversial opinions, or that Obama himself is as guilty as anyone of stereotyping someone based on gender or race. After all, we all do it to some degree or another, and to deny it is the height of self-delusion. So I do not see these social gaffs (and that's all they are, I believe) as something that will have a significant impact on my vote this November. But from the standpoint of pure politics, Obama is not endearing himself overly well to the majority white vote in America, a demographic that, right or wrong, does not react well to either blunt national critique (it's seen as unpatriotic) or negativity toward whites (for the boomer generation, at least, it brings up ugly memories and fears of past racial discord).

The mark of a good statesman is partly a question of whether one can sidestep these potential landmines, and/or mitigate the damage. It will be interesting to see how well Obama weathers the storm.

As for Clinton - I think you're spot on. Her capacity to lie is no greater than any other person seeking office, but in the age of YouTube she should know better than to do or say anything that contradicts video. It feels as though this is just one more nail driven into the coffin of her candidacy, and it's getting almost ghoulish watching the media vultures hovering around the corpse. Something is going to have to give in the next month or so.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-26 04:10 pm (UTC)
Point taken. A British poltician would have been roasted too. Difference is there aren't any black men or women within snatching distance of the top jobs in British politics.

I suspect Clinton has made herself unelectable with her airport remark. There's no way she's going to make us forget those pictures. Now's the point where she should conceed defeat and declare her support for Obama. The longer this process goes on the more damaged the Democratic candidate is going to be.
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From: algabal
2008-03-26 05:38 pm (UTC)
Race in America is a subject of which it is almost impossible to have an intelligent discussion in the political or media sphere despite constant calls for one. For example, witness the feigned "outrage" that resulted when Hillary claimed that without Lyndon Johnson, the 1964 Civil Rights Act never would have been passed. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of history knows that this is true.

But Obama claimed that this was an attempt to "downplay" the importance of Martin Luther King. Talk about dishonest!
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-26 04:41 pm (UTC)

Grandma, typical white person

A prudent and fair man would have left his grandmother, the woman who raised and supported him, out of it. He put her in danger. Recently a mob marched to her home, burning an effigy of her. Obama's comment was not only unwise, but stupid.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-26 07:07 pm (UTC)

Re: Grandma, typical white person

I didn't know that. I'd assumed- without really having thought about it- that his grandmother was dead. Using her like that- to make a cheap political point- was an act of betrayal.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2008-03-26 05:31 pm (UTC)
The picture of poor downtrodden Jeremiah Wright Jr is something that, as a Philadelphian, I'd like to address. His father, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Sr., was one of the first two African Americans to receive an advanced degree from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, not terribly far from his church, in 1949. His mother rose to assistant principal at Girls High, the "elite" public high school for girls in Philadelphia (public=taxpayer-funded here in the U.S.), the one that the high achievers went to. Young Jeremiah himself was a student at Central High School, the "elite" public high school for boys. Grace Baptist Church, his "home" congregation when he was growing up, has a website here:


Being black in Philadelphia was no picnic in th 1950s and the 1960s, but there was more opportunity here than Mr. Obama's defense of Rev. Wright would indicate.

The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. is not mellowing with age. See this article from the current issue of The Trumpet, the publication of Trinity Church:


I don't think that "typical white person" remark was unintentional, either. Obama reads his big speeches off a teleprompter and that speech was surely fine-tooth-combed by his campaign staff. I suspect that he and his handlers calculated that the line would resonate with one portion of his audience and fly under the radar of the other. It worked precisely the opposite of what I think were their calculations.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-26 07:47 pm (UTC)
It's a little off at a tangent, but Wright's twisting of history really gets up my nose. The Romans weren't Italians, they didn't run an apartheidt empire, and crucifixion was execution after due process of law and not a lynching. Someone also ought to bring it to his attention that the Romans were completely colour-blind and that a number of their emperors (including I believe the great Hadrian) were Africans.
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From: msjann65
2008-03-26 06:41 pm (UTC)
I still like her better than him!
As for "coming under fire", that has been happening to her every since her husband took his first oath of office as President. The press has been after her ever since. It turned me off back then, and it still turns me off. I arouses my sympathy for a woman whom I believe will be an excellent president. I am much more concerned over other issues - Reverend Wright, for example. Like Mrs. Clinton said, "We cant choose our families, but we do choose our pastors."
By the way, shades of sexism! Mrs. Clinton is almost always referred to as "Hillary" in print and otherwise, while Mr. Obama is almost always referred to as "Obama". I have NEVER seen him referred to as "Barak".
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[User Picture]From: margaretarts
2008-03-26 07:15 pm (UTC)
I agree that the media sometimes calls her Hillary to downplay her equality on the political playing field, and that's shameful in the 21st century. But as a woman not trying to be sexist, I even notice myself calling her Hillary, too. The reason I do it (and probably one reason it's done in the media) is to distinguish between Bill and Hillary. If someone said, "Clinton was stumping for the rancher vote in Texas today," it would be unclear which Clinton. One equalizer, I guess, would be to call all the candidates by their first names, including John.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2008-03-27 06:45 pm (UTC)
Very interesting...

Clinton said, laughing, that "when things were too dangerous to send the President, they'd send his wife."

A pundit said, Haha--like they'd send his wife and only child under sniper fire because it was too dangerous for him.

I am so very burned out about all the "burbling," Tony.

And--I will admit this here--I HATE HER PANTSUITS.

I have an Obama bumper sticker on my car.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-27 07:43 pm (UTC)
This long drawn out process of selection is a real ordeal for everyone concerned.

Clinton is almost totally devoid of charm. I offer that as an observation rather than a judgement. Charm, after all, has nothing to do with judgement or competence.
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[User Picture]From: mokie
2008-03-28 07:35 pm (UTC)
She didn't misspeak. She said it distinctly, and more than once. When she was called on it by someone else who'd been there, she made a point of huffily repeating it ("Now, that's what happened"), and when she was called on it, she got snarky with the reporters asking questions ("Come on, guys, this is nothing").

Memory is an iffy thing, not a videotape as much as it is a murky crystal ball. I wouldn't fault her for having misremembered events, though I would fault her for not having one of her people go back and re-check before she gave a speech about it, and I fault her for her pissiness about being called on it.

But taken in tandem with her past aggrandizing, her belittling of Obama in terms of experience (she doesn't have all that much herself--she wasn't the President, she was just married to him) and her attitude after being caught, I don't think she misremembered, I think she just outright lied and didn't expect to be caught.

And I don't want someone that dumb anywhere the big nuclear red button.
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