Famous Obama Gaffes

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The word ‘gaffe’ has been derived, most probably, from the French root ‘gaffe’ meaning ‘clumsy remark.’ Ernest Hemingway used the word ‘gaffe’ in the sense of an iron hook with a handle to land big fish in his Nobel Prize winning novel The Old Man and the Sea. A political gaffe refers to an error made unintentionally but publicly by a politician. A Kingsley gaffe is applied to a situation when a politician unintentionally reveals the truth which is usually not in his or her favor. Gaffes are the tactless, social, or political blunders or remarks which are mostly taken care of during election campaigns but, ironically, they appear most prominently and most frequently to the disadvantage of one or the other contestants, like the gaffes which appeared during the 2012 presidential debates of Romney and Obama. Elections heat up the environment so much that even kids cannot remain uninfluenced. An NPR viewer, Elizabeth Evans, while in a grocery store, she asked her four-year-old child Abigail why she was crying? She said, ‘I am tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney.’ It is proverbially known that ‘to err is human,’ but perhaps to forgive is not always a human trait, and gaffes are those unforgiving words.



On the Daily Show With John Stewart, Obama commented on the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya just before the third and final debate which was to focus on foreign affairs, saying, ‘When four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.’ The comment was taken as a gaffe, and many politicians of high stature reacted against it. John McCain said on Fox News, ‘Even from someone like the President, who has never known what these kinds of tragedies are about and the service and sacrifice that people make, it’s still just ” I can’t even get angry’¦ It’s just so inappropriate.’

2.   An  Obama Gaffe, ungaffed

An Obama Gaffe, ungaffed
An Obama Gaffe, ungaffed

The second debate of the 2012 presidential election was of crucial importance and a must-win case for Obama having performed so poorly in the first debate. In view of the ‘Not Optimal’ gaffe, Romney intended to utilize the opportunity and expressed his concern over the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya killing the ambassador Chris Stevens. It was opined by Romney that he had not done enough to protect the Americans. Romney accused Obama of taking as long as two weeks to declare the attack as a terrorist action.  In an instant response, Obama invited him to ‘get the transcript,’ whereupon the moderator confirmed that the President was right. This shifted the balance in favor of Obama to the great embarrassment of Romney.

3. Bill Clinton, ‘Secretary of Explaining Stuff’

Bill Clinton, 'Secretary of Explaining Stuff'
Bill Clinton, ‘Secretary of Explaining Stuff’

Former President Bill Clinton delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, U.S. He defended the President’s records in his popular style. In appreciation of Clinton’s oratory, Obama said at a St. Petersburg, Fla., rally that Clinton ‘made the case as only he can.’ It is said that Obama jokingly added that Bill Clinton should be named ‘Secretary of Explaining Stuff.’

4. Avoid Aggression

Avoid Aggression
Avoid Aggression

Prior to starting with his first debate, President Obama had been advised to avoid aggression in order to maintain his lead. He was a little too receptive and a bit too overly cautious. He delivered sort of an academic speech and replied to the question in a stereotypical, cold composure. Contrarily, his opponent, Romney’s speech, was full of energy, and his stance was quite aggressive. Consequently, Obama lost his first debate on account of his unimpressive body language and on account of the demonstrated gaffe.

5. ‘You Didn’t Build That’

'You Didn't Build That'
‘You Didn’t Build That’

On July 13 of the 2012 Presidential election year, Obama delivered a speech at a firehouse in Roanoke, Virginia. Defending against the Republican opposition to his economic plans he said, ‘Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own ‘¦If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help’¦If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.’ His speech was maliciously edited and handpicked words ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that’ were quoted out of context and in isolation. Careless selection of the words, however, cost him heavily. And only after two weeks he said, ‘Of course Americans build their own businesses. Every day hardworking people sacrifice to meet a payroll, create jobs, and make our economy run.’

6. ‘Fifty’¦Seven States’

According to Reuters, on May 9, 2008, while addressing a crowd in Beaverton, Oregon, Obama said, ‘It is wonderful to be back in Oregon. Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states. I think there’s one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii, I was not allowed to go even though I really wanted to visit, but my staff would not justify it.’  Most of the friends of Obama considered it only a slip of the tongue while a few maintained that he intended to say ’47 States.’ Opponents projected the gaffe as total ignorance, and some even made a far-fetched connection with ’57 Islamic States.’

7. Obama’s ‘Sweetie’

Obama's 'Sweetie'
Obama’s ‘Sweetie’

Stopping at Detroit during the election campaign, Sen. Obama was asked by a female reporter, Peggy Agar, ‘Senator, how are you going to help the American autoworkers?’ Obama spontaneously replied ‘Hold on a second, Sweetie. We’ll hold a press –‘ In fact, he pointed towards a planned question-and-answer session. Opponents, however, misinterpreted projecting the remark as sexist and insulting. In fact, it was not  Obama’s word ‘Sweetie’ which offended her as she said that she was not upset for being called a ‘sweetie,’ but ‘I felt more offended that he didn’t answer the question.’

8. A Breathilizer

A Breathilizer
A Breathilizer

Explaining his point of view and policy regarding healthcare, Obama said ‘Everybody knows that it makes no sense that you send a kid to the emergency room for a treatable illness like asthma. They end up taking up a hospital bed, it costs you. They just gave, you the same treatment early, and they got some treatment and a breathalyzer, or inhalator–not a breathalyzer. I haven’t had much sleep in the last 48 hours.’ Not recalling the exact word, Obama coined ‘Breathilizer’ probably from ‘breathalyzer’ or ‘breath analyzer’ used for alcohol testing. Immediately after realizing that the word was probably non-existent, he coined another new word ‘inhalator’ for ‘inhaler.’

9. Fallen Heroes’¦I see them

Fallen Heroes'¦I see them
Fallen Heroes’¦I see them

Addressing people on a Memorial Day, President Obama said, ‘On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in…in the audience here today–our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.’ How could he have seen the dead among the audience present before him? Obviously, he confused the Memorial Day for Veterans’ Day, the latter being distinguished from the former in that the Memorial Day is observed in remembrance of the military personnel who died on a battlefield or from the wounds received therefrom. Veterans Day, on the other hand, is observed to honor the living persons who served in the war.

10. A Nancy Regan Thing

A Nancy Regan Thing
A Nancy Regan Thing

During the first press conference of  President elect Barack Obama, a reporter asked him if he had met ex-presidents. Having first said that he had met all the living, ex-presidents, he added jokingly, ‘I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any séances.’ Nancy Reagan; wife of the 40th President Ronald Regan, was ridiculed when a former chief of staff revealed that in connection with the President’s schedule, she consulted an astrologer. Obama apologized to Reagan, afterwards ‘for the careless and offhanded remark.’


The way a paparazzi, a freelance photographer is after exploiting photographs of celebrities, many press reporters exploit, with a malintention, the words, especially a politician’s slip of the tongue. Depending upon their affiliations, people handle the gaffes differently. Those with the originator try to either justify or rectify the damage done to the goodwill of the originator. Some become judgmental while there are others who try to exaggerate in order to avail themselves of the opportunity and gain some political leverage.

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