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The 57 States Gaffe Was No Joke

Like Sarah Palin, I draw some amusement at presidential candidate Barack Obama’s famous mis-state-ment, thinking him insufficiently immersed in American civics as a child raised in Indonesia or wherever. When forced to think in an unteleprompted environment, his unfamiliarity shone through, I thought. OK, on some level I still think that.

But then Brittany Cohan suggested that Obama was only joking about how long the 2008 campaign had been. Her evidence was that he “chuckles after he says it“.

Having looked at the video again, I realized we were both wrong: Obama wasn’t being stupid, but phony.

Here is the transcript, with vocal ticks included:

… uh, because, you know, i-i-it is just wonderful to be back in Oregon, and over the last 15 months we’ve traveled … uh to every corner of the United States. Uh, I’ve now been in fifty … ss-seven? states. I think one left to go. Uh, one left to go — eh, Alaska and Hawaii I was not allowed to go to, even though I really wanted to visit but my staff would not, uh, justify it.

So we have a few notable details here:

  • Obama says “fifty … ss-seven states”.
  • “One left to go”
  • “Alaska and Hawaii I was not allowed to go to”
  • He smirks only after the crowd laughs

Obama doesn’t chuckle at all, but rather grins a bit. And as importantly, the little smirk is not from laughing at his own joke, but in response to the crowd.

The smirk is the typical Obama recovery, pretending that he is in on some joke that he is not. The technique is similar to the way Obama convinces people he’s more intelligent than he is, by simply nodding along and saying they have a good point.

On one level, Obama simply misspoke, which we all do. He started to say “fifty states”, then realized that wasn’t accurate. He finished the sentence by what he thought was saying he’d been in forty-seven states, with one left to go to visit all lower 48. Yet he was too arrogant to think the crowd was laughing at him over missing one word out of the thousands he had already spoken.

And we can tell he is not in on the joke because the correction he tries to make is explaining, to what he sees as a dim-wittted crowd, that it was 48 states in total, not 50, because he was not allowed by his handlers to go to Alaska and Hawaii.  He then catches himself admitting that it is David Axelrod and not Barack Obama who is in control of the campaign, and says “I really wanted to visit but my staff would not, uh, justify it”.  That is, he could not justify it to his handlers.

More precisely, Obama had a moment in which he could have searched his own short-term auditory memory for some mistake on his own part.  Failing that, he could have turned aside to an aide and discovered his mistake, corrected himself quickly, and moved on.  But he failed to do either, because he never admits failure.  So he pretended to be in on the joke. As usual when a person does that, he wound up looking like a worse fool than if he’d just asked what the joke was in the first place.

[Based on a post at Tea Partisan]

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