Even in a non-presidential year, politicians and officials say damaging things they regret. Here are the best gaffes of 2013, ranked.
12. President Obama: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it."
What was said: Over the course of the 2012 campaign, and until it became obvious that in October that the core assertion was subject to debate, Obama assured Americans that their health care plans weren't at risk from Obamacare. Except, it turned out, for the many, many plans that didn't meet the Affordable Care Act's policy requirements.
The ranking, explained: There's no question that Obama's claim was misrepresentative; there's also no question that it did significant political damage to the president. But! On Thursday, Politifact named it "Lie of the Year," and a lie is not really a gaffe. It's intentional.
11. Harry Reid: "Why would we want to do that?"
What was said: At a press conference during the shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked about his insistence on fully funding government employees in lieu of piecemeal funding for individual projects. "If you can help one child who has cancer," CNN's Dana Bash asked, "why wouldn't you do it?" New York Sen. Chuck Schumer jumped in, contrasting employees with the National Institutes of Health, "Why put one against the other?" Reid continued the thought: "Why would we want to do that?"
The ranking, explained: Republicans seized on Reid's comments — because Schumer's interjection was off-mic and hard to hear. It sounded like Reid was saying "Why would we want to do that?" in response to "why wouldn't you" help a kid with cancer — which would be a gaffe. But this wasn't a gaffe; it was politics. The misleading nature of the implication hasn't kept Republicans from using it against Reid to this day.
10. Erick Erickson: Traditional gender roles yield "the most well-adjusted youth in society."
What was said: Eternal blowhard Erick Erickson went on Fox Business Network to assert that "we are supposed to applaud feminists who teach women they can have it all," when "the male typically is the dominant role" in nature. Then Fox News' Megyn Kelly lit into him. "Who died and made you Scientist-in-Chief?" Then she pointed out that he was wrong.
The ranking, explained: Erickson would never admit that he was wrong, especially to a woman, so this is a gaffe that bore no repercussions. Plus Erickson is an eternal blowhard, so this is to be expected.
9. Martin Bashir's Sarah Palin comments.
What was said: MSNBC's Bashir compared Sarah Palin's (dumb) comments equating the debt and slavery to the actual practices of slavery, suggesting that she deserved similar punishments to those applied to slaves. Including, according to his history studies, defecating in their mouths.
The ranking, explained: Martin Bashir isn't the most important person in the media. But the comments cost him his job, making them a pretty significant gaffe.
8. Louie Gohmert: "Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels."
What was said: Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has made a number of odd comments over the year / his life (including rising to the defense of his asparagus). During an appearance on C-SPAN in April, though, he topped them all. "We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border," he said. "We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic when they are radical Islamist." There is zero public evidence for this, and probably zero evidence in private.
The ranking, explained: Gohmert is known for holding extreme views, which modifies this somewhat. But only somewhat.
7. Phil Gingrey defends Todd Akin.
What was said: Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin became a pariah in political circles in 2012 when he declared that in a "legitimate rape," a woman's body had ways "to try to shut that whole [pregnancy] thing down." It was the sort of comment that Republicans rushed to distance themselves from.
Except for Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, who in January stuck up for Akin's pseudoscience.
[T]he fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart.
The ranking, explained: Defending Todd Akin — particularly with an only slightly better argument — is not a great political decision.
6. The NTSB intern who approved the Asiana Flight 24 flight crew names.
What was said: When San Francisco television station KTVU called the National Transportation Safety Board to verify that the names of the crew of the plane that crashed in San Francisco on the Friday before Memorial Day, they got an intern. The intern confirmed that, yes, the names included the obvious racist jokes at right.
The ranking, explained: It's not clear how KTVU got the names or why the intern lost his (or her!) job. It was deeply embarrassing for KTVU, and Asiana threatened to sue.
5. Hillary Clinton: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
What was said: Before she left the State Department, House Republicans took the opportunity to get Hillary Clinton on the record about the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. Clinton didn't do her 2016 campaign any favors by dismissing the question of what prompted the attack.
Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they go kill some Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?
The ranking, explained: Benghazi was not then the rallying cry that it has become for the right. Now, as we've noted, the failure to prevent Stephens' death has become the main critique of Clinton's entire tenure at State. Her brusque rejection of a Congressional question about the events of that night may be one of the earliest gaffes in presidential campaign history.
4. James Clapper: "The most truthful, or least untruthful" answer.
What was said: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the director of national intelligence and the head of the country's spying systems, was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden if the NSA was collecting any information on Americans. "Nope," Clapper said, in essence, leaving Wyden, who knew about the NSA's massive surveillance infrastructure, baffled. When the Edward Snowden leaks began, the rest of the country learned that Clapper had lied, prompting him to offer an awkward explanation to NBC News: it was "the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner" in which he could answer.
The ranking, explained: When he knew that Wyden couldn't publicly contradict him, Clapper was happy to lie under oath. When the truth became obvious, Clapper could only offer the most terrible, or least ungood, excuse possible.
3. Marco Rubio reaches for his water.
What was said: Too many things, as the Florida senator's mouth got increasingly dry. Tapped to rebut Obama's State of the Union address, Rubio had a chance to impress America. But then he got thirsty, and without breaking eye contact with the camera, reached for a small bottle of water.
The ranking, explained: It was weird and funny.
2. Steve King: "They’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes."
What was said: Iowa Rep. Steve King, echoing Gohmert's well-considered concerns about immigration reform, made one of the oddest declarations in recent political memory.
Some [immigrants] are valedictorians, and their parents brought them in. For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.
What made this particularly ridiculous was that King then proceeded to defend his comments, offering, among other things, an attempt to show data for the valedictorian / cantaloupe calf ratio.
The ranking, explained: King's comments came as the prospect of immigration reform was being discussed in the House. He reflected the often inexplicable opposition of the far-right wing of the Republican Party, which eventually resulted in the House not passing any immigration legislation.
1. The shutdown.
What was said: So many things.
There was Rep. Randy Neugebauer demanding a park ranger apologize for closing the World War II memorial and then getting yelled at by a guy in a bike helmet. There was Rep. Pete Sessions telling another person at the memorial that, "we're not French; we don't surrender." (At the World War II memorial.) There was Ted Cruz's not-a-filibuster. There was that guy knocking over the podium. There was Rep. Blake Farenthold telling Wolf Blitzer about the intern who had to go get a vacuum.
It was really all terrific stuff — which added up to a massive black eye for the Republican Party. The shutdown itself was a gaffe.
The ranking, explained: An entire political party tanking its poll numbers to historic lows is a gaffe of the first order. Their only consolation? See #12.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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