Gaffe Track // President Biden’s “alarming” struggle with language

Obnoxiously emblematic of the sad state of political discourse these days were some reactions to a brief moment in President Biden’s recent speech asking Congress for additional aid to Ukraine, in which he referenced the Russian government. He stumbled over the word kleptocracy.


A tweet by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton offered a clip of Mr. Biden trying to get the word right, with the simple comment “Alarming.”

Republican National Committee Press Secretary Emma Vaughn opted for sarcasm: “Bold moves from the White House,” she wrote, “using ‘kleptocracy’ in a Biden speech.”

The always reliable for sober observation (hey, sarcasm is available to us all) commented: “Biden’s brain just broke, again.”

Georgia Congressional candidate Vernon Jones addressed Mrs. Biden, telling her that “this has to end. Stop allowing your husband to be abused. For the love of your family and country, put his health first. Take President Biden home before it’s to [sic] late.”

Misspelling is apparently a lesser crime than mispronunciation.

For his part, after struggling with the multisyllabic word and finally getting it right, Mr. Biden just sheepishly chuckled.

It is well known that the president was a severe stutterer in his younger days, and he worked hard to overcome his verbal tics. One wonders if the recent pilers-on kick people on crutches.

But politics über alles.

Yes, the president has a long, non-age-related history of occasional misspeaking —gaffes, in popular political parlance.

But most people say things on occasion that are unintentionally silly. We just don’t have multiple video cameras aimed at us constantly.

As it happens, many are the elected officials who make amusing errors.

In April 2016, former President Trump told a crowd how “I watched our police and our firemen down at 7/11 down at the World Trade Center.” (Was there a convenience store at the site?) And in 2019, after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Trump referred to “those who perished in Toledo.”

That same year, he told reporters, in reference to the Russian collusion investigation, that he hoped “they now go and take a look at the oranges, the oranges of the investigation”—a probe that, whatever its origins, proved… fruitless.

It was recently revealed that, after the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows: “In our private chat with only Members, several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call for Marshall law.” (Well, General Marshall was heavily involved in martial matters.)

Back to Mr. Biden, though. Even some of his straightforward, if blunt, pronouncements get the “gotcha!” treatment.

Critics ran for the smelling salts in March after Russia invaded Ukraine, when Mr. Biden went off-script at the end of a speech and said, about Vladimir Putin, who has ordered massacres and executions of innocent civilians: “For G-d’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

That heartfelt, if unguarded, statement was somewhat short of a public call for assassination. He could have easily meant (as the White House later explained he did) that Mr. Putin should be voted out of office. But the nine words were loudly decried from the partisan rooftops as a dangerous gaffe.

Mr. Biden’s predecessor in the White House was even blunter, deriding Kim Jong Un as “rocket man” and telling the United Nations that he may be forced to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Were President Biden in fact mentally impaired, as his political enemies relentlessly assert, it is hard to imagine how he manages to so easily fool people in his regular meetings with members of Congress, military leaders, foreign dignitaries, interest groups, governors and mayors.

Or how he managed the timing of some funny lines at the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner, when he said he was glad to be with a roomful of journalists, the only people “with a lower approval rating than I have,” and that it was good to be back after six years during which “we had a horrible plague… followed by two years of Covid.”

I know, he probably didn’t write the jokes himself.

But he delivered them perfectly.

Without so much as a stutter.

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