Imagine that John McCain named a young running mate to campaign with him, and this national rookie suggested America had 58 states, repeatedly used the wrong names for the cities he was visiting, and honored a Memorial Day crowd by acknowledging the "fallen heroes" who were present, somehow alive and standing in the audience. How long would it take for the national media to see another Dan Quayle caricature? Let's raise the stakes. What if it was the GOP presidential candidate making these thoroughly ridiculous comments? This scenario is very real, except it isn't McCain. It's the other fellow.
ABC reporter Jake Tapper follows politicians around for a living. On his blog, he suggested Barack Obama has a problem: "The man has been a one-man gaffe machine."
Just in the last few days, in Sunrise, Fla., Obama said, "How's it going, Sunshine?" He did the same thing in Sioux Falls, S.D., calling it "Sioux City." Some of his geographic struggles seem calculated. When asked why Hillary Clinton trounced him in Kentucky, Obama claimed "I'm not very well known in that part of the country ... Sen. Clinton, I think, is much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas. So it's not surprising that she would have an advantage in some of those states in the middle." But Obama's home state of Illinois is more than "near" Kentucky -- it borders Kentucky.
In Oregon, there was a doozy. Obama said of his long campaign, "I've been in 57 states, I think, one left to go." No one in the press made much of this. As former ABC political reporter Marc Ambinder, now with the Atlantic Monthly magazine, admitted: "But if John McCain did this -- if he mistakenly said he'd visited 57 states -- the media would be all up in his grill, accusing him of a senior moment." If you doubt him, remember how most media outlets noted, then underlined McCain's error about al-Qaeda being trained and funded by Iran.
In New Mexico, Obama suggested he was like a young Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense," with the ability to see dead people: "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong." Fallen heroes in the audience? Is this Barack Potatoe Obama? This is precisely the kind of misstatement that Dan Quayle-bashers would run ad infinitum.
But there have also been gaffes on more serious matters. ABC found that campaigning in Rush Limbaugh's hometown of Cape Girardeau, Mo., Obama argued that our military's Arabic translators in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan: "We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then it's harder for us to use them in Afghanistan," he claimed. But Afghans don't speak Arabic; they speak several other languages. That's a lot like McCain's gaffe -- except for the degree of media attention, which in the Democrat's case was virtually nonexistent.
McCain also would have enjoyed more media focus on Obama's completely muddled analysis of South America last week. He told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday that he would meet with Chavez to discuss "the fermentation of anti-American sentiment in Latin America, his support of FARC in Colombia and other issues he would want to talk about." But on Friday in Miami, he insisted any country supporting the Marxist guerrillas of FARC should suffer "regional isolation." This left Obama advisers scrambling to suggest that these two opposing statements can somehow be put together, that he can meet Chavez and isolate him at the same time.
Sometimes, Obama invents Bosnia-sniper-style whoppers about his personal history. In Selma, Ala., Obama claimed that the spirit of hope derived from the civil rights protests in Selma in 1965 inspired his birth -- when he was born in 1961. He also has inaccurately claimed that the Kennedys funded his Kenyan father's trip to America in 1959.
While he was making boo-boos in New Mexico on Memorial Day, Obama also (according to CBS reporter/blogger Maria Gavrilovic) talked about post-traumatic stress disorder by claiming he had an uncle "who was part of the American brigade that helped to liberate Auschwitz," and then came home and spent six months in an attic. Gavrilovic didn't note that the prisoners at Auschwitz were liberated by the Red Army. Obama earlier made the claim on his campaign site that his grandfather knew American troops who liberated Auschwitz and Treblinka (also liberated by the Red Army).
Everyone should grant these candidates a little room for error in the long slog of presidential campaigning. But what about some balance? The same national media that turned Dan Quayle's name into an instant joke are now working over time to present Obama as Captain Competent.