RSS
The worst political gaffes of 2011
Only one GOP candidate will get to face off with Obama in 2012's general election. But plenty participated in 2011's contest for biggest goofup
Sure, Michele Bachmann had her fair share of public blunders in 2011, but so did President Obama, Newt Gingrich, and just about every other presidential candidate.
Sure, Michele Bachmann had her fair share of public blunders in 2011, but so did President Obama, Newt Gingrich, and just about every other presidential candidate.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
A

fter long months of speeches, town halls, cable news segments, newspaper interviews, and a seemingly endless string of debates, the Republican presidential hopefuls (and the Democratic incumbent) have had plenty of chances to stick their feet in their mouths in 2011. Of course, they didn't disappoint. As the year draws to a close, we remember 10 of the most memorable political gaffes of 2011:

1. Michele Bachmann: The Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery
In January, the Minnesota congresswoman said "we know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." Then in June, Bachmann doubled down on her claim that the slave-owning authors of the Constitution worked to end slavery, citing the efforts of John Quincy Adams — who was 9 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. "I hate to be a stickler for reality," said Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, but "to use the possible beliefs of a 9-year-old boy as evidence that the Founding Fathers 'worked tirelessly to end slavery' is simply absurd on its face."

2. Newt Gingrich: The GOP budget is "radical... right-wing social engineering"
The GOP hopeful nearly killed his campaign in its rollout May weekend, telling NBC's Meet the Press that Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) controversial Medicare-voucherizing plan was "radical," adding that "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering." Republicans were "outraged" by Newt's kneecapping of the GOP plan, said Steven Hayward at PowerLine. Gingrich's "face plant on Meet the Press" suggests there's "something fundamentally wrong with him."

3. President Obama: What year is it again?
Obama visited Britain's Westminster Abbey in May and left a touching note in its VIP guestbook: "It is a great privilege to commemorate our common heritage and our common sacrifice." Then, inexplicably, he backdated his entry by three years, to "24 May 2008." The White House "is pleading jet lag, but c'mon," said Allahpundit at Hot Air. With hope and change all but gone, "it's only natural for a man to revert to thoughts of his glory days when everything around him is falling apart."

4. Bachmann: Confusing John Wayne and a serial killer
"John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa," Bachmann said in June during her official campaign launch, in the city of her childhood. "That's the kind of spirit that I have, too." The only problem, commentators quickly pointed out, is that the actor John Wayne was born a few hours away in Winterset. Waterloo's John Wayne was John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer who dressed like a clown and raped and murdered 33 boys and men in the 1970s. This "hilariously inept comment" is what she gets for "tempting fate by launching her [campaign] in a place called Waterloo," said James Fallows at The Atlantic.

5. Sarah Palin: Paul Revere warned the British
Palin hadn't formally taken herself out of the 2012 race yet when she launched an apparently political bus tour of historic sites in June. During the trip, Palin said that during his famous midnight ride, Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere warned "the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells." It's bad enough that Palin "bollixed up the account of Paul Revere in such an obvious and excruciating fashion," says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. But what's creepy is that she stuck to her guns, and her fans reacted to her "perfectly predictable gaffe by trying to edit the Wikipedia entry on Revere to align it with Palin's ramblings."

6. Rick Perry: Ben Bernanke is guilty of "treason"
The Texas governor was a little late to the race, but "he made a valiant effort to catch up in his first week on the trail" in August, said David A. Graham at The Daily Beast. The gaffe that "many commentators felt crossed the line from baffling or humorous into downright scary" was when Perry said it would be "treasonous" for the Federal Reserve chairman to keep up his loose monetary policy. "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," Perry said, drawing rebukes from both the Left and Right.

7. Obama: Riding in a Canadian-made U.S. jobs bus
The president took a shiny new black bus across the Midwest in August to promote his plan to bring new jobs to America. Unfortunately, as the New York Post "gleefully" pointed out, Obama's bus was mostly built in Canada. The Post dubbed Obama "Canucklehead." And you have to admit, said Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, "buying two buses from a Canadian company while promising to create jobs in the U.S. is the worst kind of optics imaginable."

8. Mitt Romney: "Corporations are people"
Romney didn't soften his image as a Wall Street corporate raider when he told a heckler at August's Iowa state fair: "Corporations are people, my friend... Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people." Okay, "we think we understand what Mitt Romney meant," said Frank James at NPR. But "he gave his Democratic opponents an early Christmas gift by uttering those words," making "their goal of pushing the narrative that he is a tool of corporate America much easier."

9. Perry: "The third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops."
The Texan was already losing altitude due to widely panned debate performances when he had an "epic" memory lapse at a November face-off in Michigan, coming up with only two of the three federal departments he would try to eliminate: "Education, the, uh, Commerce, and let's see. I can't. The third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops." Oops, indeed, said Nolan Finley in The Detroit News. Perry is "the worst debater since Dan Quayle," and after this "stunning" extended meltdown, he's "toast."

10. Herman Cain: "I got all this stuff twirling around in my head"
Drawing unflattering comparisons with Perry's "oops" moment, Cain had his own "baffling" brain freeze while speaking on camera with the editors of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Asked an open-ended question about Obama's Libya policy, Cain replied: "OK, Libya. [pause] President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Gadhafi. I just wanted to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say, 'Yes, I agreed' or 'No I didn't agree.' I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason — nope, that's a different one. [pause] I gotta go back and see. I got all this stuff twirling around in my head." That "supergaffe" should be a dealbreaker, said Hot Air's Allahpundit. Or, I guess we'd be alright "as long as President Cain never gets a phone call at 3 a.m."

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week