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On this date in 1984, President Ronald Reagan, known as the “great communicator,” made one of the rare gaffes of his political career. While warming up for a radio address, Reagan said:
My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
At the time Reagan was running for re-election against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, and the President’s faux pas resulted in a temporary dip in his poll numbers. However, Reagan won the November election and went on to continue his get-tough policy towards Russia. Ironically one of Reagan defining moments came in later comments about Russia; in 1987 he visited the Berlin Wall where he famously commanded: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (1).
Some might argue that the most glaring faux pas in presidential history was committed by President William Henry Harrison at his inauguration on March 4, 1841. Ignoring advisers who told him to wrap up against the cold, he proceeded to give the longest ever inaugural address (one hour and forty-five minutes) and died from the resulting chill one month later of pneumonia.
The focus here, however, is on verbal faux pas (French for “false step). Based on this criteria, Harrison’s gaffe doesn’t quite qualify; his speech was long (10,000 words), but today no one quotes any of his slips of the tongue. One gaffe that does qualify, however, was one by President George W. Bush. When making his successful run for president in 2000, he said:
Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning? (2)
Today’s Challenge: Foot in Mouth Faux Pas
What is the best way to recover from a verbal gaffe? What advice would you give a public figure or anyone who has said something that they wish they hadn’t? In an age of social media and online communications everyone, not just presidents or other public figures, is more susceptible than ever to verbal or written gaffes. Write a brief Public Service Announcement (PSA) that gives clear, concise advice on what should be done in the event of a gaffe. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results. -President Calvin Coolidge