I find it interesting that sometimes a single idle word can destroy a political career, while at other times politicians have recovered from a faux pas.
Back in the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter remarked that sometimes it is desirable to preserve the “ethnic purity” of a neighborhood. To some that sounded racist, like an endorsement of segregation. Candidate Carter recovered by saying, “I meant ethnic heritage.”
Some politicians are so famous for slips of the tongue that, like Yogi Bera (“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”) they are given a pass. Purists cringe when they hear the pronunciation nuc-you-ler, but it never cost George W. Bush a vote. Dan Quayle was quoted as saying, before a trip to Latin America, “I wish I had studied Latin harder in high school.” He was ridiculed, but his lapses like that, or inability to spell potato, are probably not what cost him and George H. W. Bush the re-election.
Jesse Jackson’s political ambitions were hurt by a careless ethnic slur. Trent Lott was forced to resign when he made a flattering comment at Strom Thurmond’s one-hundredth birthday party. He said if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 the nation might have been spared “all these problems.” He forgot that Thurmond had run on a segregationist platform; and some journalists fluent in Southern speech detected a veiled euphemism in the cirumlocution “all these problems.”
The most striking case of a careless word derailing a promising career was Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech. He was not undone by a racial slur, or in fact by a word that offended anyone. It was the rising intonation of his “Yeah!” at the end of a geographical litany, that seemed undignified. For his exuberance, he was ridiculed into oblivion.
Maybe Michelle Obama simply left out a word. Maybe she meant to say, “I’ve never been as proud of my country as today.” Will she recover? Evidently the remark didn’t hurt her husband in the elections yesterday.