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Politics: Actually, Just a Game of Telephone

“White” vs. “what” vs. “wet” and “black” vs. “blargh": linguistic traps for candidates to avoid. But sometimes a letter will accuse you of bias against Canadians, and only Woodward and Bernstein can save you there.

February 1989

[Chicago Mayor Eugene] Sawyer said at a television taping that he was “shocked” when he heard that Daley told a group of Polish supporters Sunday night (Feb 19) that “you need a white mayor who can sit down with everybody.”

“I might not be the best speaker in the world. . . . I think it’s a desperate position to have taken,” Daley said when questioned about the comment and Sawyer’s criticism. “I have stressed about a mayor reaching out to all of the people.”

February 1989

Daley’s standard line in his stump speech goes: “What you want is a mayor who can sit down with everybody.”

What Daley ended up saying, the aides believe, was: “You want a what mayor who can sit down with everybody.” The word “what,” they believe, sounded like “white.”

February 1989

Though a panel of campaign watchdogs last week reprimanded Daley, their neighbor, for telling a group of Southwest Side Poles that they “want a white mayor,” Samuel Galluzo explained that wasn’t what was said at all."He said, ‘You want a right mayor.’”

March 1989

The major flub of the campaign may not have been [Daley’s]  fault. At a rally before a predominantly white crowd on Feb. 19, Daley was taped saying what sounded like, “You want a wet mayor who can sit down with anybody.” The campaign watchdog group, CONDUCT, believed he said “a white mayor” and censured him for injecting race into the campaign.

September 1991

[Daley] was once embroiled in a flap in his 1989 election campaign about whether he said Chicago needed a “white” or “wet” mayor.

(Above via Eric Zorn.)

August 2011

An edited video that makes it appear as if Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann asked an Iowa crowd, “Who likes white people?” is quickly spreading around the Web. However, if you watch the full, unedited version of the video, it’s clear the Minnesota congresswoman said something very different.

Bachmann made a campaign stop at the Midwest Spirit Christian Music Festival on Aug. 5 in West Des Moines to give a speech about her Christian faith. It was raining during her the appearance, so when Bachmann took the stage, she asked, “Who likes wet people?” referring to the still-damp masses who stuck around for her talk.

January 2012

Formerly surging GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, now struggling, is trying to deny ever saying, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money….”

[snip]

“I’ve seen that quote, I haven’t seen the context in which that was made,” Santorum told Pelley. “Yesterday I talked, for example, about a movie called, um, what was it? ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which was about black children and so I don’t know whether it was in response and I was talking about that.”

[snip]

Mediaite reporter Tommy Christopher made the same point in a post arguing that Santorum had made a garbled sound, something like “blargh,” rather than saying “black.” I listened closely to the tape again, and I continued to hear “black,” but I acknowledge there’s room to disagree.

 

Given the prior history of election-season Rashomon moments that previously claimed Edmund Muskie* and Hillary Clinton, I’m generally inclined to give the accused pols the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, my political consultancy includes rigorous examinations in which candidates are forced to instinctively use the words “caucasian,” “drenched,” and “African-American,” and “huh,” and to never, ever say “something like ‘blargh.’”

On the other hand, candidates are always encouraged to say “Because we have the God of the winds and the rain don’t we?”

* Speaking of Muskie, he was also the target of unproven accusations of… not racism exactly, but something kind of like it:

The Democratic presidential candidate called publisher William Loeb “a gutless coward’ for involving Mrs. Muskie in the campaign and said four times that Loeb had lied in charging that Muskie had condoned a slur on Americans of French-Canadian descent.

You think Michele Bachmann got screwed by selective editing? That’s nothing.

Law enforcement sources said that probably the best example of the sabotage was the fabrication by a White House aide – of a celebrated letter to the editor alleging that Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) condoned a racial slur on Americans of French-Canadian descent as “Canucks.”

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