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Anatomy of a Gaffe: McCain Adviser's Quote Exposes Pattern

Anatomy of a Gaffe: McCain Adviser's Quote Exposes Pattern

Controversial statements on the campaign trail are sparking a lighting-quick trend, the standard cycle of apology becoming an expected, relay-race reflex. Here's the most recent example: Charlie Black, a top adviser to John McCain, has apologized for this passage in a profile on McCain in Fortune magazine:

As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," says Black.

As is usual in the current political climate, the problematic statement, that a terrorist attack would be an advantage to McCain, was followed quickly by an apology from the source, with Charlie Black saying:

I deeply regret the comments. They were inappropriate. I recognize that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration.

The next step in the pattern follows the distancing by the candidate, with McCain saying:

I cannot imagine why he would say it. It's not true. I've worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America.

With his campaign officially seconding that emotion. To see what happens next,


Then, Act III of the modern political gaffe-gate, the rival's response and analysis. The Obama campaign says:

The fact that John McCain's top advisor says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a 'big advantage' for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change. Barack Obama will turn the page on these failed policies and this cynical and divisive brand of politics so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose to finish the fight against al Qaeda.

It's a pattern fast becoming a foregone conclusion. Oops, Shun, Spin. Does the expectation of this progression, dilute the impact of the initial event? Does it neuter the apologizing and distancing by the candidate by its omnipresence? Are apologies in politics too numerous and quick to count? In this case, was the initial statement inaccurate or offensive?


Join The Conversation
nadiap nadiap 9 years
I'm not surprized by the comment. I'm sure they'd let it happen just like they let 9/11 happened. Remember when Condi Rice said they had NO idea 9/11 would happen. The congressman asked her to read the title of the report that had been given to them months before 9/11. She read with a straight face Osama Bin Laden and Alquuata plan to attack the US. Now doesn't that sound very vague to you too.? lol. All the documentaries I've seen so far seem to indicate that the Iraq war has increased recruitment of young men into terrorists groups against The US more now than pre-9/11. (but you know what they say. "one man's terrorist is another man's hero") I recently heard a reporter asked King Bush if he knew where Bin Laden was. He smiled and said he didn't know and wasn't really worrying aboout it. Funny I thought this whole war started on the pretext of "hunting down those terrorists and make them pay for 911"; oops but he had to do that little detour in Iraq where nearly a million Iraquis and over 4,000 American soldiers had to die. Today we heard how the oil of iraq is being secured by big western oil companies in "no Bid contracts" & will be finalized by the end of the month. I'd say the real mission of this war is about to be accomplished. In addition to Condi Rice maybe Bush, Cheney, & Rumsfeld will get a tanker named after them too. Won't that be special?
mazdagirluk mazdagirluk 9 years
The tomato salmonella outbreak was a small terrorist act (terror of eating tainted tomatoes, not what is now commonly referred to as "terrorism")- and it did seem to help McCain. *sarcasm* I don't think what his aide said was a big deal. Just a publicity stunt to remind Americans he thinks a Republican can protect us more than a Dem. Which is silly since 9/11 was on GW's watch.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
9/11 occurred under a Republican administration. However, the relevant groundwork was laid--and not effectively thwarted--under the Clinton regime. Whether you like Bush or not, there hasn't been another attack on American soil since 9/11. I believe that another Democratic president will signal to our enemies that we've lost out will to fight back. 02/26/93 - NYC - the first World Trade Center bombing 11/13/95 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - car bomb at US military headquarters 06/25/96 - Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - truck bomb at Khobar Towers military complex 08/07/98 - Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - Two simultaneous bombs at US embassies 10/12/00 - Aden, Yemen - USS Cole incident Actually, there's a page at infoplease that has a thorough list of bombings against Americans.
stephley stephley 9 years
That's putting a lot of faith in the length of our attention spans and in their long-term recruiting abilities. And I think most of the scenarios we come up with give them too much credit for creativity and organization.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
By waiting, they condem us to 4-8 more years of what if-ing ourselves.. just my thought, but I'm not of that mindset. :)
stephley stephley 9 years
I was wondering about the logic of waiting to strike under a Democratic president. What would be the gain for the terrorist. No one is running as a pacifist, despite what some people like to claim.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
And in re: to the comment, I would say that it's probably true, although I would also argue that the incident would just serve as further evidence that the policies of the Bush administration failed to make America any safer. As for predicting a terrorist attack under a Dem presidency, that doesn't make much sense. They attacked on 9/11 when Bush was pres.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
"So, they hope that something they believe will help their campaing won't happen? That seems illogical, doesn't it?" I'm sure there are many things that would help the McCain campaign win that no one on the McCain team would ever want to happen. Like, honoring him with the presidency posthumously etc.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
I agree, the remark is absolutely true, but way too much reality for most of us head-in-the-sand types to deal with. Therefore, it was probably better left unsaid. Most voters either already know it, or will completely misunderstand the statement. If McCain's elected, I think we'll be okay for national security during his term: No major attacks on US soil. If Obama--or any of the leading Democrats, I don't want to personalize this too much--are elected, I expect an attack before the end of 2009. With at least triple-digit casualties.
True-Song True-Song 9 years
The statement is true, but it comes far too close to saying he hopes it would happen. Why say something like that? I'm also sick of the apology dance. I swear candidates are making people do stupid stuff just to get the chance to denounce it.
brookrene brookrene 9 years
I dont think there will be an attack until after the president is decided. Why would terrorists want to unite us all to vote for the man to go and wipe them out? They'll wait until the new prez is sworn in for sure, i could see it happening within 2009. It will be interesting to see how either candidate would take care of it. While i feel more secure if mccain were in the white house, because he has the knowledge of the military and how it works, i dont believe either would go to the extremes needed. Obama would want to go and find them and try to talk them out of being bad. and quite honestly, i feel that while mccain would be rougher, i cant imagine that either could take care of an attack in such a way that is essential to our well-being.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Me too, Jilli. That's what I was trying to say too. Only with more vitriol.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
yes jillness, you're right. THATs what i was trying to say. thanks.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
The Republicans have been playing this card for years, even if this is the first time they have come out and said it. It has NOTHING to do with McCain...the same strategy was used to bolster confidence in Bush vs. Kerry. There is a reason we only get security risk warnings during the 6 months around elections. The security struggle has become more about US elections than the safety of US citizens.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
According to CNN, Hillary Clinton first brought this prospect up in August of last year. Intersting.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
In my opinion the initial statement was accurate and I was not offended in the least. If people are offended by the truth than they are embarrassed by their own perceptions and actions. It is a fact that because of Sen. McCain’s history in the military, the Senate, world affairs that in regards to security response Americans do feel a sense of security when it comes to this aspect of Sen. McCain. Now the question it appropriate to mention in a campaign? Well if it's the truth its appropriate enough for me. Having said that I believe that the American voter needs to use their common sense. If there is a terrorist attack Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama would certainly respond with a wrath that would make your head spin. Sen. Obama is no shrinking violet when it comes to defending America. He has said time and time again that if he were President he would have chased Osama Bin Laden to the ends of the Earth until he caught him. So when we hear statements like this from Mr. Black which are true about the voter perception we then have to put things into perspective for our selves and use a bit of reason.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
I think that considering that Iraqi provincial elections are in October we're more likely to see an increase in violence there around that time to try to sway our election. Thats just much easier than attacking here and it can serve as a powerful tool to scare people into voting a certain way.
piper23 piper23 9 years
In a way though, wouldn't a terrorist attack within the next 5 months look bad on the Republicans? Afterall, there's a Repulican in the White House right now.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I disagree. I don't think we will have an attack on US soil until after the election. Unfortunately, all we can do is wait and see.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
whoa i think my comment was misconstrued. yes, he's saying what everyone's thinking -- but that doesn't make it ok. i was actually referring to democrats and others who believe we are going to see some kind of military action and/or terrorist threat/attack in the next 5 months that will "scare" america into submission during the election. if you think that's crazy talk -- it worked in 2004!! and i think there are a lot of people who would NOT feel safer in a country where john mccain was president. for example: if we were attacked, it sure seems like "president mccain" would go berserk and start bombing every country within 100 miles of the middle east. that's horrifying to me.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
It's only illogical to a raccoon... :innocent:
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
*campaign, obviously.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
So, they hope that something they believe will help their campaing won't happen? That seems illogical, doesn't it?
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I don't see the comment as a "I hope this happens" but more of a "In this situation." I agree with you Nica, that Barak would probably step up to the plate if this happened. I also think that the public perception is that McCain could've done a better job, because of his military experience. I don't necessarily agree with that perception...
nicachica nicachica 9 years
:rotfl: @ Rac!
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