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Illustration by Gregg Bender/The Journal Gazette

HALL of LAME

Outrageous gaffes through the years have earned these politicians dubious spots in the ...

Illustration by Gregg Bender/The Journal Gazette

Many politicians talk a lot, and nearly all of them have probably said something they wished they could take back.

Some can be career defining. U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP candidate for Missouri senator, will always be remembered for explaining why rape victims supposedly seldom become pregnant. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said.

Some can be career wrecking. Albion native Earl Butz was forced to resign as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1976 after making a demeaning racist joke to entertainer Pat Boone that was overheard on a commercial flight.

And some can be heavily criticized but eventually forgotten. After the 1993 raid on the Texas compound of David Koresh resulted in the deaths of 91 people, former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder said, “The only law that they clearly established (Koresh) broke that I can see so far is he had sex with consenting minors. Do you send tanks and government troops into the large sections of Kentucky and Tennessee and other places where such things occur?”

Here are some other notable political gaffes.

Earl Landgrebe was a third-term Republican Indiana congressman during the Watergate hearings of 1974, and one of President Richard Nixon’s staunchest defenders. As evidence against Nixon became more damning, Landgrebe dug in his heels and made perhaps the most memorable statement uttered during the Watergate hearings:

“Don’t confuse me with the facts. I have a closed mind.”

He was defeated in 1974 – though, to be fair, 1974 saw a Democratic rout at all levels of government.

Howard Dean’s gaffe wasn’t really words but a single, guttural, multi-syllable scream he made in celebration of his third-place finish in the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 2004. Late-night comics and Internet jokesters had a field day with what later became known as Dean’s “I Have a Scream” speech. The scream was at least partly blamed for his defeat in the New Hampshire primary – where had had led by 30 percentage points – and Dean withdrew from the presidential race in mid-February after losing in Wisconsin.

James Stockdale was the running mate of third-party candidate Ross Perot in 1992 when he delivered perhaps the worst performance ever in a debate for nationwide office. His opening line – “Who am I? Why am I here?” – wasn’t so bad in itself, but Stockdale’s performance throughout the debate made viewers believe he didn’t really know the answers to those questions.

President Obama’s remarks earlier this year have been taken completely out of context, but that doesn’t stop his opponents from referring over and over to a brief part of his campaign speech in Roanoke, Va.:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The words preceding that statement showed Obama’s true meaning – but the damage was done.

Vice President Dan Quayle went to Trenton, N.J., in 1992 to highlight a city program that delivered an anti-drug message and had a latchkey program where adults watched children until their parents arrived.

Quayle was to read words from flashcards that students would then spell. After a 12-year-old spelled p-o-t-a-t-o, Quayle corrected him. “You’re close, but you left a little something off. The ‘e’ on the end.”

He and President George H.W. Bush were defeated less than five months later.

Warren G. Harding was elected president in a landslide in 1920, and his corruption-riddled administration is on many lists as the very worst in history.

Eighty years before George W. Bush gave the world Bushisms, Harding so badly mangled the English language that literary figures mocked him. Writer H.L. Mencken called Harding’s use of the language “Gamaliel- ese,” after Harding’s middle name, Gamaliel. Harding was fond of using the word “normalcy” instead of “normality” – possibly an inspiration for Will Ferrell’s made-up Bushism, “strategery.”

Sample Harding quote: “I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved.” Harding died during his third year in office.

State Rep. Bob Morris of Fort Wayne took the occasion of a routine legislative resolution honoring the Girl Scouts on their 100th anniversary and turned it into an indictment of the Scouts.

In a letter to fellow lawmakers earlier this year, Morris wrote that “abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” and that “Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles.”

Morris, a Republican, garnered national attention for Indiana – and not in a good way. Though he faces Democrat Lee Jordan in November, he is still favored to win the heavily GOP district.

President Gerald Ford was the first sitting president for “Saturday Night Live” to skewer, and he gave the show plenty of fodder.

In 1976, before the Berlin Wall came down and as the Cold War was still raging, Ford said in a televised debate with Jimmy Carter that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

True today, but it certainly wasn’t in 1976. The moderator gave Ford a chance to correct or clarify his statement, but Ford went on to say that Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia were not under Soviet influence.

Ford lost the election, and though some say the debate was pivotal, his pardon of Richard Nixon weighed heavily in his defeat.

President Bill Clinton told the nation emphatically that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Problem was, he also told that to a grand jury – and wound up being only the second president to be impeached. Like Andrew Johnson 130 years earlier, Clinton was acquitted by a one-vote margin in the Senate trial.

Clinton left office with the highest approval rating of any departing president and left his successor a budget surplus.

President George W. Bush. Where to begin? Given Akin’s troubles – and the debate over health care – perhaps with this quote from 2004:

“Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.”

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email, twarner@jg.net.

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