5 Strangest Things Said During U.S. Presidential Debates

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Our topic for today is rather well explained by the subject line alone, so we’re not going to spend too much time setting the stage for you. Indeed, each of these odd utterances was muttered on a stage that needs little explanation: they were said in the context of competition for the highest office in the land by men and women who genuinely thought they would make a good Commander in Chief of the United States of America. Hoo boy…

We’re going to provide precious little context for you, because that will make these quotes funnier. Is that fair? No. But the Bully Pulpit is ours, so we make the rules!

5 Admiral James Stockdale: “Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician.”

And our last nod today will go to a moment from a Vice-Presidential debate. Admiral James Stockdale probably meant to cast himself as something of a maverick, a man from outside the Washington game, a man ready to shake things up! But instead, he came across as sincerely meaning what he said, free of nuance, when during a 1992 debate he asked “rhetorically”: “Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician.” No, and looks like you never will be… but the more power to you. It’s a dirty sport, old boy. Lots of mud in that game.

4 W.J. Clinton: “I’m not going to raise taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for the programs I’ve recommended.”

Even the Big Dog, Bubba himself, W.J. Clinton, occasionally turned against himself when speaking. During a 1992 debate he inadvertently threw fuel on the GOP’s anti-tax, anti-Dem argument when he misspoke, saying: “I’m not going to raise taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for the programs I’ve recommended.” Probably shouldn’t have told people you wouldn’t pay for things you said you’d do… especially when you would actually be Mr. Magical Deficit Fixer himself!

3 President Ford: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

President Ford said this next quote in 1976 while debating against President Carter, who didn’t hold that title yet but was, sped along his way thanks to moments like this. Maybe in his head Jerry meant something different, something a bit more nuanced, but what he said, thirteen years before the Berlin Wall came down and fifteen years before the official dissolution of U.S.S.R. was… “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” I think what he meant was: “There IS Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and that sucks. But maybe, just maybe, I can sort of make it suck less?”

2 Mitt Romney: “They brought us whole binders full of women.”

Mitt Romney gets the second spot with this quote that was ill-advised and ill-worded in context, the context being a 1-on-1 debate against President Obama. And out of context? Just lovely, Mitt: “They brought us whole binders full of women.” And you promptly retired to your bedroom with it, ey, Mittens? Romney was a master of meaning well (ish) and saying stupid during the long, long run up to the 2012 election. Fortunately for him — and for BHO — no one was around with even less drivel flowing from their mouths.

1 Mr. Rick Perry: “Oops.”

We have to lead off with a true gem of wisdom spoken by a man who, while he fell short in his political ambitions, still retained the governorship of one of the nation’s largest states both by population and size, the eloquent Mr. Rick Perry: “Oops.” Though I must say, regardless of where your political sentiments lie, it is rather painful to watch a man implode his political future in the space of a single utterance.

Closing Words
Indeed, we in America have a rich history of our politicians saying things that, seconds later, they wish they had not said. Fortunately, we also have transcripts and recordings and whatnot of all these gaffes, thus that we never forget them!

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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