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Why candidates' gaffe-a-thon is good for us

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 6:12 PM EDT, Tue March 27, 2012
Dean Obeidallah says Romney, Santorum and Obama have presented the media with plenty of gaffe material in recent days
Dean Obeidallah says Romney, Santorum and Obama have presented the media with plenty of gaffe material in recent days
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Candidates, campaigns have been making lots of gaffes lately
  • He says candidates quickly backpedal from gaffes, but the public knows better
  • He says these comments are less gaffes than accurate reads of a candidates viewpoints
  • Obeidallah: We should applaud gaffes as a chance to see who's suited for the job

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He has appeared on Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil" special, ABC's "The View" and HLN's "The Joy Behar Show." He is co-executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and co-director of the upcoming documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- This last week has been chock full of gaffes by our presidential candidates -- a veritable gaffe-a-thon, a gaffe-a-palooza. President Obama and the Republican presidential candidates almost seem to be trying to one-up each other's blunders.

This "March Madness" started off slowly enough last Monday with a small one by Rick Santorum: "I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me."

But then, just days later, the gaffes started flying fast and furious. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney's communication director Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN that he wasn't concerned if Romney was moving to the right on certain key issues during the Republican primaries because, as he put it: "You hit a reset button for the fall campaign. ... It's almost like an Etch A Sketch."

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Only a few hours later, Rick Santorum, armed with an Etch A Sketch, commented that if voters are offered a choice between President Obama and Mitt Romney in this November's election: "We might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future."

And then President Obama joined in. On Sunday, unaware that his microphone was on while he was speaking to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about missile defense treaty negotiations, commented: "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."

If you were a staff member of any of these campaigns, you must have consumed an industrial size bottle of Pepcid AC over the last few days. But for the rest of us in America, these moments are great -- it's just what we need to accurately assess our candidates.

Let's be honest, these comments were not "gaffes" as the media dubs them, but rather, rare opportunities for us to have an unfiltered look at the candidates' character and views on issues.

A gaffe is defined as a mistake: a misstatement of fact, a mispronunciation of a word, a social faux pas. By way of example, President Obama made a classic gaffe by stating a few years ago that he had campaigned in all "57 states," when obviously he meant to say 50 states. Another gaffe occurred when President Obama was in Austria and commented: "I don't know what the term is in Austrian" for "wheeling and dealing." The gaffe being that there is no Austrian language.

And, of course, George W. Bush was the gaffe-anator. His gaffes are legendary. My favorites were his coining of new words like "misunderstimate" or saying, while at an event with the queen of England, that she first visited the U.S. in 1776.

But back to 2012. The so-called gaffes in this campaign are not misstatements of facts or mispronunciations. When the words at issue were uttered, they accurately communicated the candidates' views. The reason the statements were later labeled mistakes, and not at all what the candidate meant, was because of the ensuing firestorm of criticism in the media.

But what do you think is a more accurate gauge of who a candidate truly is as a person: his or her prepared stump speeches delivered over months or a candid, unrehearsed comment on an issue? The answers at the debates, which are regurgitated to us like a bird feeding its baby, or a spontaneous moment when the candidate speaks his mind?

There is not doubt that President Obama meant what he said to the Russian president. Just as Mitt Romney did with his past gaffes like "corporations are people" and "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

And does anyone question that Rick Santorum wasn't being sincere when he remarked that after reading John F. Kennedy's 1960 famous speech about the need to have a clear line between church and state, it almost made Santorum want "to throw up"? Of course he meant this -- after all, this is the same Santorum who has repeatedly stated on the campaign trail that our civil laws and the Bible must be in agreement.

These rare, honest moments during the campaign should not be so quickly dismissed by the media or us as simply gaffes. These comments arguably paint a more accurate portrait of the candidate than any prepared speech they can offer us.

Indeed, we should applaud and savor these gaffes, because it's these very remarks that may ultimately help us decide if the candidate in question is truly the best suited to be elected or re-elected as president of the United States.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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