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So. Barack Obama said something that was awkward, and although it wasn’t substantially false, or substantially different from things he has said over the years, or from things that other people have said over the years, he’s getting shit over it.


That’s part of the process. We find out who is good at campaigning by watching them campaign. Chris Dodd is a good candidate on paper, but the proof of that pudding was in the eating, and they spit him out like a toddler spits out the foodstuff that he liked just fine yesterday, for crying out loud, and now what the hell is he going to eat?

Er, where was I? Oh, yes. Fine, I have no problem with people giving him shit about this stuff, and I think he’s getting over it pretty well, which to me is the last bit of showing that he’s capable of running a decent general election campaign. But made me think about gaffes and mistakes, and campaigns and all.

My diagnosis is that (like Harold Dean’s confederate-flag-decal moment last go-round) this particular mistake was the result of having a well-thought out idea and then repeating it in slightly different form over and over again for months and months and months. Eventually, you will hit on a way of expressing it that connotes something terrible and unintended. Instead of saying that a lot of voters have (bitterly) given up on the ability of politics to make an actual difference in their economic lives and therefore vote on non-economic issues (bye-the-bye what Dr. Dean was on about as well), he says that voters non-economic preferences are themselves the result of their economic bitterness. And, you know, it’s not like that’s false. It’s just that it wasn’t what he meant to say. Which you can tell from the hundred other times he said it.

The safe thing, of course, is to always say the same thing the exact same way, but (a) that’s a bit boring over the years, particularly for an intelligent man who likes rhetoric and words, and (2) you risk a reputation for robotically repeating the same things over and over, which won’t necessarily be better than having to deal with the occasional gaffes.

I don’t believe that mistakes of this kind reveal the inner thinking of the candidate. I don’t necessarily believe in the inner thinking of the candidate, and to the extent that the candidate has inner thinking, I don’t know that it makes any difference. But combine natural political haymaking with the desire to be in on something, and such moments are analyzed in detail for what they reveal. I don’t think they reveal much.

I don’t think that Stephen Hadley really doesn’t know the difference between Tibet and Nepal. That’s a mental block moment, not fundamental ignorance (although it’s possible that George Stephanopoulos is fundamentally ignorant, either of the world or his job). The HuffPo calls it a "horrendous gaffe", and it is, in the sense that it’s a very public error, but I don’t see any reason to take it at all seriously.

But, you ask, what about John McCain’s errors, particularly his frequent statements that Iran is training and supplying Al Qaeda in Iraq? Well, in all honesty, I don’t think that the specific errors in Q&A pressers are very important. I think it’s possible to go to his actual prepared statements for things that are either similar or worse; basing a vote or a persuasion campaign on the accidental stuff seems silly to me. But yes, my gut tells me that those errors are revealing, that his mistakes lift the veil on a vast sea of ignorance and metaphor mixing. But I don’t trust my gut. My gut knows I don’t like the man. If my gut thought I didn’t like Barack Obama, my gut would tell me that the bitter thing proved that he couldn’t be trusted as the nominee. My gut is loyal, but my gut’s perception of the universe is not the universe.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,