In a spin over the mis-speaks of leaders


POLITICAL gaffes – humorous or serious — are favourite satirical targets, especially in the west where the media will jump at the slightest opportunity to poke fun at their leaders’ public speaking blunders.

World leaders have, at one time or another, said things that made them the butt of jokes. The public presumption is that people holding high office are well-schooled and do not make silly conversational mistakes. The truth is they all do.

While to one group, some gaffes are harmless, to another, they can be embarrassing or even offensive. Sensitivity is, after all, a culture thing and different societies react differently to different situations.

Of all the gaffes, those of US leaders are best documented.

Republic vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin is known for her oratorical flub-ups. Explaining why Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience, she misfired: “As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where – where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border.”

In her biggest gaffe yet, Palin, asked how she would handle the latest flare-ups between the two Koreas, replied: “But obviously, we’ve got to stand with our North Korean allies.”

George W Bush takes the cake for malapropisms and ineptness of the gab.

He once said: “We’re concerned about Aids inside our White House – make no mistake about it.”

Another time, he miscued: “I’m honoured to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.”

Other Bush fumbles include (a) “It’s in our country’s interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm’s way” (b) “I don’t particularly like it when people put words in my mouth, either, by the way, unless I say it” and (c) “I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq” .

Barak Obama, for all his eloquence, is not gaffe-proof. After joking about Nancy Reagan having séances in the White House, he called her to say sorry when the media pointed out that although she had consulted astrologers, she did not “hold conversations with the dead”.

While campaigning in Missouri, vice president Joe Biden called on State Senator Chuck Graham to “stand up” despite the latter being wheelchair-bound.

Down Under, Kevin Rudd, running for office in 2007, told a TV show: “If you were my age, you would be a nerd. And if I was your age, I’d be a geek. It’s a generational thing. And if you’re  in between, you’re a gerd or a neek.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron is not immune either.

On a-meet-the-people tour about Iranian nukes, he said:

“I think Turkey will be a good political influence because they can help us solve some of the world’s problems like the Middle East peace process, like the fact that Iran has got a nuclear weapon.”

Downing Street leapt into damage-control, explaining that the PM “mis-spoke”. Political analysts suggest Cameron might want to improve on his geopolitics before he gets a reputation.

Earlier in the week at PKR’s 7th National Congress, its president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail described her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as a ‘God-sent’ leader.

It’s debatable whether her claim fits the mould of a gaffe.  More likely, it was an over-blown tribute.

Observers felt it was over the top linking support for Anwar to some divine decree.

In urging the PKR president to come to terms with reality, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin wondered how she could make a claim “that does not reflect her husband’s behaviour.”

Even her daughter, newly-elected PKR vice president Nurul Izzah, has declared PKR should be a party of principles and not personalities.

Assistant Minister of Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip pointed out that Dr Wan Azizah’s claim is only a ploy to detract from the party’s election turmoil.

“It’s hard for ordinary people to swallow,” he said.

And last week, as a crime-prevention measure, the Sibu Municipal Council suggested amplifying Mozart’s classical masterpieces in the streets of the town.

The rationale is that the soothing effects of the maestro’s music will ‘tranquillise’ the criminal mind, hence helping to slash the crime rate.

Gaffe or not, the idea may have worked in a western culture that reveres the 18th Century Austrian composer but will a society of largely oriental musical persuasion readily dance to the same tune?

No harm finding out. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.