Gaffes of presidential candidates

By Jay Kim

A couple of months ago, President Obama told an audience of small
business people that they did not accomplish their success alone. He
implied their success would have been impossible without enormous help
from the government, emphasizing that without large-scale infrastructure
such as highways, railroads and harbors, built by the government, the
U.S. could not have become the top economic power in the world.

The reply from small business people was that without the hard work and
entrepreneurial spirit of American small businesses, their success would
not have been possible. The president was highly criticized for trying
to downgrade the success of small businesses as a governmental
achievement, despite the inefficiency of an administration that has
accumulated deficits. This was Obama’s gaffe as a presidential
candidate.

Last week Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, made a
bigger gaffe. The problem is that a candidate cannot take back such a
gaffe. Since correcting the statement, claiming that it was not his
intention, only pushes a candidate into a deeper hole, he should just
move on after giving a simple and clear apology. A prolonged apology
hurts the candidate’s leadership. Repeating an apology three or four
times is the end of a presidential dream.

Romney said: 47 percent of American people were too dependent on the
government; America was taking the wrong path if the government took the
role of redistributing the money that people worked hard to earn.
Furthermore, Romney even said that almost half of Americans did not pay
any federal income tax and they believed that society should be
responsible for their poverty and that the government should help them.
Even many Republican members of Congress poured criticisms on this
remark.

Romney’s remark was intended to express the anger of some Americans
against people who eat away at the taxes others have paid, while not
paying a single penny of income tax, and who demand benefits from the
government. Instead, this explicit comment made many American people
angry.

Romney’s popularity, which was almost neck and neck with Obama’s in this
presidential race, has taken a serious hit from this gaffe. The Obama
campaign is excited to concentrate tenacious attacks on the 47 percent
comment from Romney. Fortunately, there will be plenty of opportunities
for him to recover, since there are still 45 days before the Nov. 6
Election Day.

President George H. W. Bush made a notorious blunder as a presidential
candidate. It was his guarantee: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” This
remark was criticized by so many political commentators as “the worst
political blunder’’ or “the most destructive political blunder in the
history of American presidential election.’’ At the end of June of his
inaugural year, Bush had to make an announcement that taxes had to be
raised for enormous budgetary deficits, and many of the press derided
him with “Read my lips: I lied.” Four years later Bush’s reelection was
almost a certainty but was crushed by Bill Clinton, then a newcomer on
the nationwide political stage. Until now, Bush’s blunder was the
biggest blunder in the modern history of America. One gaffe can last a
long time, even as long as this.

The presidential candidates in Korea haven’t made any serious gaffes
until now. Rather, their aides have made more mistakes. It is still a
long way to go until the Dec. 19, Presidential Election Day here. Nobody
can predict what sort of blunders candidates may make during an
upcoming debate among the three candidates. Political commentators and
reporters will not miss the smallest blunder by a candidate, and such a
mistake can be overblown to become fatal.

It is more likely that candidate Ahn Cheol-soo will make a blunder. The
reason is that unlike the other candidates, Park Geun-hye and Moon
Jae-in, Ahn does not have much experience in politics and has not been
tested in debate during any primary. Ahn should prepare fully to avoid
any blunders.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the
Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s
website (www.jayckim.com).

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