The Young Gaffer

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings may recall Sam Gamgee’s father, the Old Gaffer, whose cliche wisdom Sam would often and annoyingly recall while on the road with Frodo. Michelle spots the Young Gaffer in Barack Obama, writing about an extensive list of mistakes Obama has made on the campaign trail:

All it takes is one gaffe to taint a Republican for life. The political establishment never let Dan Quayle live down his fateful misspelling of “potatoe.” The New York Times distorted and misreported the first President Bush’s questions about new scanner technology at a grocers’ convention to brand him permanently as out of touch.

But what about Barack Obama? The guy’s a perpetual gaffe machine. Let us count the ways, large and small, that his tongue has betrayed him throughout the campaign …

Some of the gaffes Michelle notes belong in the “potatoe” file, silly mistakes that could be attributed to exhaustion or misspeaking. Obama mixed up Sioux Falls and Sioux City last week, which I might do if I ever bothered to go to either city. His inability to count states also could fall into this category, although he’s now muffed this twice. Had Quayle done that, there may have been calls for his impeachment.

Most of the rest show more serious deficiencies in Obama as a candidate:

In fact, these don’t really qualify as “gaffes” in the sense of momentary lapses in memory or factual recall, which all of us make. They represent deliberate positions intended to gin up support on the basis of obviously erroneous allegations. The Kansas tornadoes were used to criticize the emergency response record of the Bush administration, but instead recalled the worst of the hysterical assertions made during Hurricane Katrina. The Selma fib was designed to claim descent from civil-rights movement leadership as a means of ending a sense of alienation from black voters who discern between slavery descendants and more recent immigration from Africa. Obama’s assertion that the US had a shortage of Arabic translators in Afghanistan was part of an argument that blamed the stalling operations in Afghanistan on the Iraq War. And minimizing the Iranian threat in Oregon played into the minds of those who think that the Bush administration is the biggest threat to world peace.

None of these are in the same “potatoe” league as Quayle’s highly-publicized missteps. These are mistakes with a purpose. The Young Gaffer may or may not know any better, but he’s banking on the American voter not knowing any better this fall.