On our way to school this morning, my son and daughter were arguing over who said what. My son told his sister that she is acting like a politician and uttered, “I am not mistaken, I was misquoted.” I almost ran off the road it was so funny. It reminds me that you cannot hide from your comments in this day and age. They may be taken out of context, but they have been recorded somewhere, so you cannot disown them.
Last year, Charles Barkley, the former basketball player and current sports analyst, got some flack for what appeared in his book. His classic response was he was “misquoted.” To which the reporter replied, “But Charles, it is your autobiography.” Of course, we learned that Charles did not write his autobiography, but he least could have read it first.
Doonesbury is one of my favorite comic strips. In my paper, it sits right above Dilbert another favorite, which is a neat two for one reading. For about a week, Doonesbury was lampooning presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his inability to remember the hazing incident in high school. As the story goes, Romney and other students were offended by an effeminate look on another high school boy. So, they took it upon themselves to hold him down while they cut his locks. To this day, Romney’s co-conspirators are mortified and shamed by their past actions. One actually saw their victim a few years ago and apologized profusely. It goes without saying the victim remembers the incident.
Which leads us to Romney, who cannot recall the incidence and referred to it as high school hijinks. I have written in an earlier post the failure to remember is as bad as the incident, since he is now an adult. At age 53, I can remember all the dumb ass things I did in my life and I feel remorse if I offended someone. Since I try to do the right thing, I cannot always remember those, as they far outweigh my misdeeds. But, I can make a list of infamy very quickly and tell you how bad I feel even today.
Doonesbury had an appropriate field day with Romney’s lack of memory on this. My favorite remark was when Romney was lampooned for not being able to remember a “hate crime.” I would have felt much better about Romney if he owned up to his mistake and said this was an occasion where I screwed up in my youth and I feel horrible about it. It would have been even better, if he had reached out to the individual. And, I don’t want to let him off the hook for his hijinks either. While I did dumb things in my youth, I was never part of group that physically tormented one person.
While we are on Doonesbury, I was reminded the other night about their most famous lampooning that of George H.W. Bush, which went on for the rest of his political career and was even applied to his son. I was watching the HBO documentary “Reagan” which is quite even-handed and, as a result, quite good. The first act of George’s that started us down the path of misquoting is he is caught on video referring to Reagan’s economic plan as “Voodoo Economics” when he was running against Reagan for the GOP nomination. After becoming his Vice President, he was later asked about these comments. He said on video that he never said that. The documentary shows the footage of him doing so. As a sidebar, he was correct as Reaganomics did not work except for the wealthy.
If that were not enough, later during Reagan’s worst episode, the Iran-Contra affair where Reagan actually did something illegal and could have been impeached, Bush said he was not in certain meetings and did not have anything to do with the affair. The testimony and meeting notes showed that he was. Note, Reagan and Bush survived because Oliver North fell on the sword for his commanders and took the heat. So, Doonesbury started portraying Bush as a disembodied helmet. When he spoke, the words were evoked from underneath the helmet. To this day, if the senior Bush is included in the comic strip, he is referenced in this manner.
One of my favorites, though, are the immortal words of Senator John Kyl when he was caught in an erroneous comment about Planned Parenthood last spring (I believe it was last year). When his incorrect comments were pointed out to him, he said something close to don’t misinterpret what I say as a factual statement. I had to re-read this line three times because he is in essence is saying I am lying.
I know I have hit on several Republicans. I don’t dislike Reagan or the first Bush and I thought they did some good things during their presidencies. I also think Bill Clinton did some great things while he was President, but he uttered one of the most famous statements and then nitpicked it later when it was proven to be false. Bill Clinton will be remembered for two things. He was an effective President. And, he was a philanderer. So, when he stared into the camera and said slowly and emphatically “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” he was lying. When caught in the lie he spent a lot of time nitpicking over the word “is.” To do this day, I still don’t know what he was talking about, but he did have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky in every one else’s book.
Reagan also lied to the American people about the Iran-Contra affair. But, he did come back later and say he was wrong. That won him some Brownie points at least. Clinton never did a full mea culpa at least not to my satisfaction.
Let me close with the recent story about the tragedies going on in Syria. The ambassador for Syria was telling a reporter that the government did not have troops in Homs where a massacre was occurring. The reporter listened and said “But your tanks are rolling in Homs” while the footage was being played on the news. What Assad does not realize fully is we can see and hear what is going on. This is not like when his father did the same thing thirty years ago.
We are a world of imperfect people. We do and say dumb things. I am not saying that everyone should tell everyone their dirty laundry, but when it gets out in the open, take your medicine and say “yes, I screwed up.” I am big on context as you may have gleaned from earlier posts. When someone is quoted out of context, they should say “yes, I said that, but here is the context of why I said that.” It is like Newt Gingrich saying he was misquoted when he appeared with Nancy Pelosi on the global warming commercial noting he was wrong about denying global warming. When running for President, he said he really did not mean it when he denounced what he earlier believed. In other words, he double downed on denouncing. So, like double negatives, two denounces make a positive.
So, politicians and leaders, let’s practice our new statements for future use. You will need them.
– “I was wrong and feel terrible about it.”
– “I did say that and hear is why I said that.”
– “I screwed up. I will fix what I have done and will try to do better.”
– “I used to believe that way, but after doing more research and with the benefit of experience, I have changed my position.”
I will like you more if you do. I am sure others will as well.