Top 10 political gaffes

03 March 2012 By Lawyers Weekly

At Folklaw we love a good list, and with an election campaign currently chugging, or stuttering along, what better source of entertainment is out there? Inspired by David Barker, the Liberal…

At Folklaw we love a good list, and with an election campaign currently chugging, or stuttering along, what better source of entertainment is out there? Inspired by David Barker, the Liberal candidate for the western Sydney seat of Chifley being disendorsed for suggesting a victory for Labor would take Australia "closer to the hands of a Muslim country", Folklaw thought it was a good time to reflect on 10 of the best political gaffes of the modern era.

1. You spell potato, I spell potatoe: During the 1992 US presidential campaign, Republican vice-president Dan Quayle went to a school in New York where a warm and fuzzy photo opportunity awaited. Sitting in on a spelling bee, a student wrote "potato" on the blackboard, to which the vice-president said "you are close, but left a little something off, the 'e' on the end". The student then politely added it. The Democrats won the election in a landslide, with Bill Clinton running on the slogan "It's the economy, stupid". The player and occasional saxophanist couldn't confirm with Folklaw whether the slogan was aimed at Quayle.

2. I can see Russia from my house: Folklaw has always had a soft spot for the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. From chanting "drill baby drill" at Republican conventions (now an unfashionable chant since BP "spilled baby spilled" in the Gulf of Mexico) to her fondness for guns and likening soccer moms to pit-bulls. However, our favourite Palin moment occurred when she was trying to prove her foreign relations bona fides while running for vice-president, and was asked for her thoughts on the current confrontation between Georgia and Russia. Palin responded: "They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska."


3. September 11 is a good day to bury bad news: While most people took a break from work in New York on 11 September 2001 to try to understand just what was going on, a British spin doctor was slaving away. Within two hours of the terrorist attacks, Jo Moore sent an email to workers at the Department of Local Government, Transport and Regions in the UK that said: "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury." Remarkably, she kept her job (she did prove she could work through a crisis) until she resigned in 2003 after it was alleged she was part of a group that attempted to bury more bad news in the wake of the death of Princess Margaret.

4. Phony Tony : Many an Australian politician has succumbed to the wiles of the ABC interviewer "red" Kerry O'Brien. To add gristle to the mill that the red reference is not just a comment on his hair colour, O'Brien coaxed out of Tony Abbott the following startling admission in May: "I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say, but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark. Which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks. "While some admired the truthfulness of a politician telling us what we already know, that sometimes they fudge the truth a wee-bit, the Labor Party quickly labelled Abbott as "Phony Tony".

5. The Oxley Moron: Pauline Hanson continues the red haired theme and is an example of when a gaffe can be good for your career. Hanson was the Liberal Party endorsed candidate for Oxley, but was disendorsed when she made offensive comments about immigrants and aborigines. She won the seat as an independent, and a career was born. She later founded her own party, spent time in jail after a group called "Australians for honest politics", founded by Tony Abbott questioned her entitlement to funds from the Electoral Commission. After appearing in Dancing for the Stars, and not appearing in scantily clad photos in The Sunday Telegraph, the self proclaimed patriotic Australian scarpered for the UK, where she now lives as an immigrant.

6. Caught with your pants down: Malcolm Fraser was famous for wandering around a Memphis Hotel without any trousers in 1986, but as he had left politics at the time he doesn't make our list (we just like recounting the story). However, the Republican Senator Larry Craig was still a very active member when he was busted by an undercover cop for lewd conduct in a male restroom in 2007. Initially proclaiming he was the victim of "a wide stance" and was picking up a piece of paper from the floor, he later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

7. Silly old bugger: Bob Hawke, the former world speed record holder for drinking a yard glass of beer, once had an eight year hiatus off the booze as Australian Prime Minister. While campaigning in Whyalla, South Australia, in 1989, a pensioner by the name of Bob Bell told him that "you get in a week than I do in a year". Hawke responded by calling Bell a "silly old bugger". One wonders what Bell would think of the 80 year-old Hawke now getting out and about in blue corduroy suits and telling anyone who would listen (approximately 11 people) about his "special love" for biographer and wife Blanche D'Alpuget. Not to be outdone, Hawke's former mate Paul Keating once told a protesting student to "go get a job". Problem was, there weren't too many to choose from after the recession we had to have.

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8. The bigoted lady: What started out as a trip to the shops for a pensioner in the recent UK election campaign made headline news for all the wrong reasons for former British PM, Gordon Brown. On a carefully managed spontaneous day out to meet the punters, 65 year-old Gillian Duffy got in the PM's ear to have a wee chat. Back in the safety of his car, Brown was overheard admonishing his advisers for the "disaster" and exclaimed "whose idea was that"? He then called Mrs Duffy a bigot. Brown was alerted to the fact that his comments were picked up by the media, and Mrs Duffy no longer thought he "was a nice man". Brown later invited himself around for a cup of tea, but the pensioner refused to stage a public shaking of hands with him. Brown and the Labour Party were roundly defeated.

9. The mobile blues: In 1987, Jeff Kennett showed just what a witty turn of phrase he had when he recounted a phone conversation with John Howard to Andrew Peacock. Kennett was the Victorian Opposition leader at the time, and John Howard was the federal Liberal Party leader. Howard had called Kennett to congratulate him on the good showing of the Libs in a by-election that day, but Kennett wouldn't have a bar of it. Kennett told Peacock that he called Howard a very rude swear word, and told him he felt better for calling him that very rude swear word. For the most part Peacock placated Kennett, and persuaded him to not to "drop a whole bucket on the lot of them". Kennett proved he was a gent after all signing off by asking Peacock to "give my regards to your good lady". When Howard got wind of the little chat, he sacked Peacock from his front bench. Kennett survived to be the Victorian Premier a few years later.

10. I'm buggered: The man with the biggest thighs in rugby league, ever, was at a loose end after hanging up the boots. "Chicken George" decided to run as an independent for the ACT seat of Molonglo at the 2001 state election, but in the press conference to announce his candidacy, he resigned after 28 seconds, with the immortal lines "I'm buggered, I'm sorry". With that he was off, never seen to be moving forward again. He has since coached Queensland to five successive State of Origin victories, providing vindication of that decision.

Top 10 political gaffes
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