Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker, and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.
Was it a flub or fib? A slip or a flip-flop? Maybe a gaffe?
Voters judging the presidential candidates must dig through a growing list of imprecise utterances these days to determine whether the remarks should be taken seriously.
Even the smallest quips make it to the Internet and cable-TV, and many need deciphering.
Flub — a mistake, almost always innocent in nature. When Mitt Romney said, "I've been married to the same woman for 25 — excuse me, I'll get in trouble — for 42 years," it was a flub. If Anne Romney doesn't hold it against him, voters aren't likely to either.
Gaffe — similar to a flub, but usually worse. In Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born, Michele Bachmann said, "John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too." But the John Wayne from Waterloo was John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.
The actor was born in Winterset, Iowa. This gaffe may have signaled Iowans that Bachmann's roots were shallower than she claimed.
Freeze — a mental shutdown, a "brain freeze." Few campaigns have featured a more dramatic example than Rick Perry's painful attempt during a nationally televised debate to name the third of three federal agencies he'd close if elected. A few days later, he poked fun at himself in a campaign ad, and then declared, "If you want a slick debater, I'm not your guy."
However, it wasn't the degree of slickness that troubled voters about Perry; the freeze helped solidify the notion that he was underprepared and ill-equipped for the presidency.
Slip — an unplanned utterance, a "slip of the tongue." If it's benign, it's a flub, but if it inadvertently provides insight, it's a true slip. Romney's spontaneous offer to bet Perry $10,000 (about what he said in his book regarding healthcare) was a slip because Romney could have made his point by saying, "I'll bet you 10 bucks." By placing the ante at 10 grand, he heightened concern about whether such a wealthy politician can relate to ordinary citizens.
Fib — a premeditated statement that is false, similar to a lie, but crafted to qualify as truth on technical grounds. Newt Gingrich has been challenged repeatedly about the work he did for Freddie Mac that paid him roughly $1.6 million.
Gingrich insists it wasn't "lobbying," according to the strict legal definition of the term. But it's a fib in the opinion of many on Capitol Hill who know Gingrich exerted his influence, no matter what you call it.
Dodge — avoiding a question by giving an unrelated answer. In a CNN debate, Ron Paul was asked if Gingrich and Romney should "return" money they made from Freddie Mac (one for services, the other as a shareholder). Paul said: "That subject really doesn't interest me a whole lot. The question is, what are we going to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It should have been auctioned off right after the crash came."
Moderator Wolf Blitzer never demanded an answer, allowing the dodge to succeed.
Flip-flop — Changing one's position, usually in a way that signals political calculation rather than a true change of heart. Romney is branded as a flip-flopper for revising his positions on abortion, healthcare, guns and immigration, among others.
But all the candidates have flipped and flopped at times. Gingrich, for example, was an outspoken advocate of the so-called individual mandate for health insurance — and now says he's vehemently against it, presumably because that's what his voter base demands.
Misstatement — if it's corrected immediately, it's likely to be a slip, but if it's corrected later, it's a misstatement. Romney said repeatedly that he would end "Obamacare" by executive order on his first day in office. After numerous challenges, he finally conceded that only Congress could repeal the law. Did he misspeak, or was he misinformed?
The worst political snafus come about when a candidate slips, dodges and then claims to have misspoken — all on the same issue. Romney told CNN that he was not concerned about the "very poor" because they have an ample safety net. Asked to clarify, he repeated the slip, making it a gaffe. A few hours later, he tried a dodge by saying his remarks had been "taken out of context." The next day he claimed that he "misspoke."
In the current campaign, the war of words is producing many casualties.
Columnist Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He is also the long-time host of “Candid Camera.” He can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His columns are distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.