Today’s topic: Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Well, actually more like Foot-in-Mouth Disease. The former is a legitimate rather common ailment in children under five, evidenced by fever, headache, sore throat, and painful sores or blisters in or near the mouth. The latter is more descriptive than a real diagnosis and is much more often associated with adults who have a tendency to engage their mouths before engaging their brains. As a result, they end up saying things they really didn’t mean to speak out loud. While anyone can suffer from this malady, it’s most prevalent in politicians. And, alas, it seems to have more than occasionally afflicted Joe Biden.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” That’s the most recent verbatim quote from the President when he was speaking in Warsaw, Poland, over the last weekend. There was no doubt about the fact that he was aiming his remarks at one Vladimir Putin, current invader of Ukraine and Czar wannabe.
While that phrase could have been uttered by countless millions around the globe without repercussions, when the President of the United States says it, the words carry just a tad more weight than say, a newspaper columnist. (Shoot, I’ve called Putin “Vlad the Mad,” and no one has complained. I haven’t even heard a peep from the Russian consulate. Shows where I rate, I guess.)
But now Mr. Biden, or rather his White House minions, are having to play the old “What the President meant to say,” game. This in an attempt to pour cold water on the diplomatic firestorm ignited by the nine words in question.
It’s a fact of political life that when you’re the leader of the free world, you really have to watch what you say. The current Oval Office occupant is hardly the only chief executive to pontificate when he should have been silently pondering his choice of phrase. Those of a certain age will probably remember Ronald Reagan testing out a microphone by saying, “We begin bombing in five minutes” in reference to attacking Russia.
Bill Clinton had a rather difficult time trying to explain his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Richard Nixon basically said that when a president does something, it’s not illegal. Barak Obama was once asked on Jay Leno’s show about his bowling game and replied something to the effect that it was like watching the Special Olympics because it was so bad. And even Jimmy Carter caused a stir when in a Playboy interview, he said, “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”
Over the years, Biden has been pretty much a gaffe machine. Back in 2006, he talked about the largest population growth in Delaware coming from Indian-Americans, and noted, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. And I’m not joking.” In 2019, he noted that, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” And in 2020, he had a verbal exchange with a Michigan construction worker about the then-candidate’s stance on guns. Biden suggested the questioner was perhaps full of (generic bovine-derived fertilizer). And then basically challenged him to step outside. Fortunately, aides came to the rescue and separated the two would-be combatants.
The crux of the matter is, if you’re in the public eye, and especially if you’re the U.S. President, you gotta be cool, man, as Mr. Biden might say. You already know you weren’t elected by a landslide. And softball questions from the press shouldn’t be commonplace (even though some news agencies don’t seem to be familiar with any other kind).
Unfortunately, the American public not only wants its president to speak and speak often, but it wants him (or her) to be factual, be truthful, and be in command of the words spewing forth. It’s really not good policy for the White House Press Secretary to have to begin each day by saying, “Let me clarify something.” Given the players on the world stage today, we could all be ducking for cover before the retractions and explanations are offered.
Richard Nixon famously said, “I am not a crook,” and Bill Clinton questioned what the definition of “is,” is. Fortunately, those types of faux pas hurt only themselves. Seemingly seeking the removal of another country’s leader is hardly the same. So, here’s a suggestion for Mr. Biden and really all politicians. If you must ad lib, just have your well-paid staff write a few down for you. Remember “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? Wrong. Just ask Chris Rock about that.
©MMXXII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer