To re-paraphrase an old Donovan song, it “must be the season of the gaffe,” and it’s growing as old as the song itself locally and nationally.
I’m not the first to point this out. Matthew Pulver recently wrote about the media’s obsession with gaffes in Salon.com. But the reporting of so-called verbal gaffes committed by politicians often misses the point. Are they miscommunications corrected by a simple apology or, more likely, are they statements of belief and value systems?
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican Party, all have made the news recently for supposedly miscommunicating ideas, and the local and national media has seized on them voraciously.
Here’s how it works: A politician says something controversial. The media reports it. The politician’s opponents demand an apology or ridicule what the politician said. The media reports it. The initial politician then issues some type of clarification or apology. The politician’s opponents claim that it isn’t enough. The media reports it. Then another politician gaffes it up, and the cycle repeats itself.
The next presidential election doesn’t happen until 2016 so I will go out on a limb and forecast a lot of gaffe reporting awaits us in the future. Must be the season of the gaffe.
On the local level recently, Fallin made news when she appeared in front of reporters to not know the three branches of government. That was followed by an Oklahoma Republican Party Facebook post that compared people on food stamps to animals, which created a tremendous amount of controversy. Both made national news. Fallin, to my knowledge never clarified her statement. The chair of the Oklahoma GOP, Randy Brogdon, apologized after a storm of criticism.
In each case, however, the main issue seemed to get lost in the reporting.
As I argued earlier, Fallin most likely knows the three branches of government include the executive, judicial and legislative. Here’s what she said that caused the media firestorm:
You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.
The media, of course, focused on how she clumsily described the branches of government. But it was her main point that deserved more discussion. Her point basically was that Oklahoma voters, not a court, should be allowed to decide the fate of the Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. As you know, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 2 the monument must be removed from the Capitol because it violates the state’s constitution.
But the very purpose of the judicial branch of government is to uphold laws and constitutions while protecting those people with minority viewpoints from tyranny and mob rule. Fallin is expressing a deep-seated philosophical viewpoint about the rule of law, and her refusal to remove the monument and her basis for it should be the focus of scrutiny.
The media also seized on a cruel Facebook post by the Oklahoma Republican Party. Here’s the text of that post, which has since been removed:
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."
Thus ends today's lesson in irony ?#OKGOP
Another gaffe? Well, Brogdon sort of apologized and the post was removed, but the point is that there are many, many people in Oklahoma that possess misinformation about people who receive food stamps. They close their minds to studies and basic financial information that prove the vast majority of people who receive assistance are actually in dire need of help.
Should we let voters decide every issue, even if it’s discriminatory against another group of people? Should we allow children to go hungry or even starve to death in this country because they “will grow dependent on handouts . . .”? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Who cares if Fallin knows the three branches of government or whether Brogdon is truly apologetic? What matters is the substance (or lack thereof) of their narrow viewpoints.