Gaffe Track: Hillary's Freudian Slip on Prisoners and Presidents

Mark Kauzlarich / 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: Hillary Clinton

The gaffe: Speaking on Friday at an NAACP banquet in South Carolina, Clinton said she would help ex-convicts’ employment chances by preventing employers from including a check box where applicants must disclose any criminal record. “I will take steps to ban the box so former presidents won’t have to declare their criminal history at the very start of the hiring process,” she said.

The defense: It’s pretty clear she meant to say “prisoners,” not “presidents,” but then you knew that. Besides, when’s the last time a former president had to apply for a job?

Why it matters (or doesn’t): Slate calls it a Freudian slip. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, wasn’t convicted of any crimes, but he was impeached by the House. And Hillary Clinton’s State Department email is at the center of several investigations— though there’s no evidence that any of them is aimed at criminal misconduct on her part.

The lesson: Don’t give voters any reason to remember what happened in the 1990s. It’s Whitewater under the bridge.