Mitt Romney has seized on President Barack Obama’s description of the recent anti-American protests in the Middle East as a “bump in the road” to democracy, an offhanded comment that came across as somewhat dismissive of a dangerous situation in the Middle East where the Arab Spring is struggling to gain traction.
Romney, who has been the butt of Democratic jokes after a string of gaffes this election cycle, was quick to point out that the president's statement on CBS' "60 Minutes" was cold and unfeeling and smacked of misguided policies.
"These are not bumps in the road, these are human lives," Romney told a crowd in Pueblo, Colo., before telling ABC News the president’s remarks were “quite revealing” and further evidence of his failed leadership.
In making an issue out of Obama's statement, the Republican challenger was more than happy to deflect some of the heat he's been taking recently from Democrats and Republicans after video footage leaked of him making disparaging comments about the chunk of Americans who do not qualify to pay federal income taxes.
As with many of Romney's gaffes that the Democrats have repeated and turned into televised ads, Obama's statement was taken a bit out of context, although not completely. And for both of the candidates, things that they have said, whether they fully meant them or not, are certainly a possible window into their thinking and their personalities that is not available by listening to them speak in carefully orchestrated utterances on the stump.
With that in mind, here are a few of the telling Obama statements in the past two campaigns that he no doubt would prefer were not made publicly:
Events in the Middle East are “bumps in the road”
Obama made the comments on the CBS show during a larger discussion of whether the recent anti-American protests had made him question U.S. support for governments that formed following the Arab Spring.
“I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance," Obama said. "But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam."
The president was referring to the Middle East’s path to democracy when he made that statement, but in offering what was essentially a diplomat's sanitized view of a very volatile and dangerous situation, he showed disregard for the deaths of the four Americans recently killed by Libyan terrorists as well as the tens of thousands of people dying in the Syrian Arab Spring revolt.
“You can’t change Washington from the inside”
During an interview with Univision last week, Obama said the most important thing he had learned during his first term in the White House is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside,” a comment Romney seized and interpreted as the president’s admission that he failed to follow through on one of this key campaign promises in 2008 – that he would bring change to Capitol Hill.
But the second half of Obama’s sentence broadened his point. The president added that “you can only change it [Washington] from the outside,” referring to the importance of mobilizing the American people outside Washington to drive the political agenda. Certainly, Obama is making a good argument, but at the same time, it does show that the candidate of "hope and change" does not feel as comforted about the second part of his 2008 motto as he did four years ago.
“You didn’t build that”
This statement, made by the president at a speech touting economic development, was essentially the theme of August’s Republican National Convention, during which GOP leaders gleefully claimed that Obama was saying success in business is the result of the government, and not hard-working people. The GOP claimed that the president's words demonstrated his contempt for small-business owners and other “job creators.”
Looking at the context of what Obama said, the GOP didn't get it right; the president was attempting to explain that successful Americans often have help on their path to success. But the president clearly made inartful word choices -- and for that reason opened himself up to criticism.
Here is the fuller statement: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
“Polish death camps”
Last June, Obama, before awarding a Medal of Freedom to the late Polish freedom fighter Jan Karski – who informed Western governments about the Nazi’s horrific crimes against the Jews – inaccurately referred to concentration camps located in Poland as “Polish death camps” rather than “Nazi death camps.”
The misfire caused a minor diplomatic row with Poland, whose prime minister blasted the White House for its “ignorance and incompetence.” Romney made a point of visiting Poland during a summer campaign tour overseas, in an attempt to show how his administration would be more respectful to the Polish government and people.
Obama wrote a letter of apology to the Polish government, where he said the gaffe “was an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth” about Poland’s history.
“They cling to guns or religion”
This comment was made during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, when he was speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco, Calif., and discussing white, working-class voters’ reluctance to vote for him.
“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio—like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. And each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate. And they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or, you know, anti-trade sentiment [as] a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama said.
The fact that Obama told a group of wealthy, liberal donors that blue- collar voters “cling” to guns and religion is clearly stereotypical and patronizing. Obama softened it a bit by urging his donors to not write off any group of people.
“"Now, these are in some communities. You know, I think what you'll find is that people of every background—there are going to be a mix of people. You can go in the toughest neighborhood, you know, working-class lunch-pail folks, and you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you’d think that I'd be very strong, and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing."