Gaffe Track: The Jeb 'Gaffe' That Wasn't

David Becker / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Jeb! Bush

The “gaffe”: Bush in Iowa, as reported by Talking Points Memo: “We should not have a multicultural society. When you create pockets of isolation, and in some cases, the assimilation process has been retarded, it’s wrong. It limits people’s aspirations.”

The defense: This isn’t a gaffe, no matter what Jeet Heer says. Some folks were upset that Bush had used “retarded,” a no-longer-favored term for developmental disabilities. But the context in which he used it was the most basic, literal sense of the word: “slowed.” (Zack Beauchamp explores this at more length and is right on.)

Why it matters (or doesn’t): It doesn’t matter a whit to Bush. But this is a cautionary tale for a press that is all too often eager to spot and make hay of candidates’ “gaffes.”

The moral: He who declares a gaffe first, gaffes worst.