Oct 6, 2000 — -- When Bill Crawford wonders which clown will be the next president of the United States, he has no doubt America will elect a clown.
The only question is what sort of clown.
After all, Democratic challenger Al Gore once told an audience, “A zebra doesn’t change its spots.” And his Republican rival, George W. Bush, took a beating for telling the folks of Nashua, N.H., “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”
The goofs and gaffes come large and small, and Crawford can’t wait for the next one. It’s a living, and if it’s a bit unfair and ghoulish to live off other people’s mistakes, so what?
“If you record anyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, like we virtually do with today’s candidates, that person is certain to sound like a buffoon,” says Crawford, author of Republicans Do the Dumbest Things (Renaissance Books) and its Democratic companion.
“Just when you think you’ve heard it all, the candidates start talking and the dumb-o-meter pin bounces pretty hard on the register.”
Master Exaggerator vs. Mr. Malaprop
In Crawford’s mind, this year’s election pits the tortured syntax of Bush against the ridiculous exaggerations of Gore. And no matter who wins, the laughs are guaranteed.
Bush’s verbal bloopers have been so frequent, Vanity Fair went so far as to speculate he may be dyslexic. Reading from prepared speeches, Bush has referred to “peacekeeper” as “pacemaker” and argued that America “cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile” rather than “hostage.”
The examples of Bush’s tortured tongue goes on and on.
In South Carolina, Bush got a little philosophical with supporters: “Rarely is the question asked, Is our children learning?”
Debating John McCain, Bush made this point: “I think we agree, the past is over.” He then complained the Arizona senator “can’t take the high horse and then claim the low road.”
Crawford, a Texan, says he doesn’t think the governor of his home state is dyslexic. “How then, would you explain a history of American politicians saying one dumb thing after another?”
Rather, it’s just a case of like father, like son. “I think he just inherited an inability to talk from his dad, who had his share of doozies,” Crawford says.
Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards once described the elder George Bush as having been “born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
When Bush pere assumed leadership of the Republican Party, he reflected on his tenure as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, saying, “We have had triumphs, we have made mistakes, we have had sex.” Bush meant to say, “setbacks.”
Gore misspeaks on occasion, too. After the Chicago Bulls won their sixth NBA championship in 1998, the vice president gushed, “I tell you that Michael Jackson is unbelievable, isn’t he? He’s just unbelievable.” I suppose Michael Jordan also played well.
On the campaign trail in 1996, Gore visited a school in a largely Hispanic section of Albuquerque, N.M., and tried to use a little Spanish. He tried to say “muchas gracias,” (“many thanks”). Instead he waved and told the crowd, “machismo gracias” (“manliness thanks”).
Recently, Gore told an audience, “My mother always made it clear to my sister and me that women and men were equal — if not more so.”
But Crawford says Gore’s real clown potential lies in his propensity for overstatements. “He’ll always be remembered as the guy who said he invented the Internet,” Crawford says. “It falls into a pattern that people associate with him, and now it’s a familiar gag.”
At points, Gore has said he was the inspiration for the best seller Love Story. Though he met the author, Erich Segal, at Harvard, that claim was a “miscommunication,” a spokeswoman says.
“If love means never having to say you’re sorry, then politics means you have to say it all the time,” Gore spokeswoman Ginny Terzano said.
Only a few weeks ago, Gore received the endorsement of the Teamsters union, and he spoke warmly of his working-man heritage. “I still remember the lullabies I heard as a child,’’ he said. Then he broke into song, “Look for the union label …” The only problem was that the song was written in 1975, when Gore was 27 years old.
Clinton, Quayle Both ‘Lose Mind’
You might think Bill Clinton is the consummate public speaker, but at the University of Hawaii in 1992, Clinton told students, “This is still the greatest country in the world, if we just will steel our wills and lose our minds.”
Clinton apparently meant to say “use our minds,” but given the struggles of his second administration, you never know.
Certainly anyone can misspeak if you listen long enough. Of course, some people trip over their tongues more frequently than others. And that brings us to Dan Quayle.
Perhaps you remember his thoughts on geography: “I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix.”
And the environment: “It isn’t pollution that is harming our environment. It’s impurities in our air and water.”
And parenting: “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”
And science: “For NASA, space is still a high priority.”
And on the NAACP: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”
And World War II: “The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history. I mean in this century’s history. But we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century.”
And family planning: “Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.”
And political strategy: “If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure.”
And American history: “I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy — but that could change.”
As Crawford says, “Some guys just make my life easier.”
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature of the U.S. Section. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.