Friday, July 24, 2009

When presidets misspeak

Wednesday night at the end of a hour press conference on the debate over health care, president Obama offered a comment on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. The arrest for disorderly conduct occurred after police responded to a report that two men were attempting to break into the Gates home. It was in fact Gates who had misplaced his keys after return from a trip to China who was breaking into his own home. The charges against Gates were subsequently dropped and Wednesday night president Obama offered this.

Today, president Obama offered new comments today.

Of course, president Obama is not the first president to misspeak. Presidents Nixon and Clinton, in recent history, made what were probably the most grievous missteps with comments on accusations against them. President Obama's comments on the Gates arrest were not near as consequential as Nixon's and Clinton's, but other presidents have similarly misspoken.

President Thomas Jefferson famously "misspoke" when he wrote in the 1798 Kentucky resolutions tat sovereignty rested in the states.

Later, then president James Madison said of Jefferson's ideas, “Allowances also ought to be made for a habit in Mr. Jefferson as in others of great genius of expressing in strong and round terms, impressions of the moment.”

Seventy years later, president Ulysses S. Grant delivered this rambling excuse for ineptitude in his eighth and last state of the union address to Congress on December 5, 1876.

"It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training. From the age of 17 I had never even witnessed the excitement attending a Presidential campaign but twice antecedent to my own candidacy, and at but one of them was I eligible as a voter.

Under such circumstances it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred. Even had they not, differences of opinion between the Executive, bound by an oath to the strict performance of his duties, and writers and debaters must have arisen. It is not necessarily evidence of blunder on the part of the Executive because there are these differences of views. Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit, but it seems to me oftener in the selections made of the assistants appointed to aid in carrying out the various duties of administering the Government--in nearly every case selected without a personal acquaintance with the appointee, but upon recommendations of the representatives chosen directly by the people. It is impossible, where so many trusts are to be allotted, that the right parties should be chosen in every instance. History shows that no Administration from the time of Washington to the present has been free from these mistakes. But I leave comparisons to history, claiming only that I have acted in every instance from a conscientious desire to do what was right, constitutional, within the law, and for the very best interests of the whole people. Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent."

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