Jack Tame: Maybe pre-nomination IQ tests are a good idea

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It was in the town of Florence, South Carolina, that the soon-to-be leader of the Free World uttered one of his earliest and most brilliant oratory blunders.

"Rarely is the question asked," started George W Bush, in a discussion of American education standards, "is our children learning?"

A year later he was the President of the United States.

And oh, how we judged. How we laughed. How we condescendingly traded his astonishing verbal faux pas, smitten in the knowledge that our grasp of the English language was apparently better than that of the most powerful man on Earth.

Speeches, conversations, negotiations and communications are the bread and butter of a US President. And yet Bush's mistakes were so grand as to be almost endearing. Like a jolly uncle at a wedding, he was bumbling, stumbling and vacantly rosy-cheeked. Mid-term I bought a tear-off calendar with a Bushism quote for every day of the year.

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully," was a classic. "They mis-underestimated me," was another.

After four years in office, Barack Obama's words haven't quite matched those of his predecessor.

"Hope" sold T-shirts. "Progress" helped sell his 2008 campaign. But reflecting now, the only thing remotely humorous about "Change" is that rather depressingly for many Americans, not much really has.

Still, as we steam towards November's election, there's a flicker of hope for the calendar-makers of 2013, as politicians across the US individually compete to wedge their respective feet further and more firmly inside their own mouths.

Undoubtedly leading the pack this week was US Congressman Todd Akin, who was asked by a local journalist whether women who become pregnant from sexual assault should have the option of legal abortions.

"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," said Congressman Akin.

The astonishingly upsetting words were unsurprisingly rounded on from all fronts.

"Rape is rape," said Barack Obama, criticising the word "legitimate" as suggesting rape could be anything else.

For others, though, it wasn't only the word "legitimate" that offended, but Akin's scientifically dubious suggestion that rape couldn't cause a pregnancy.

For others still, the offence stemmed from pure policy: the Congressman apparently opposes abortion in all cases.

It was one ill-considered sentence. A handful of words from a Congressman with six terms' experience.

At worst, it may cost the Republican Party control of the US Senate. Such are the power of words.

Of course, the Congressman isn't the only lyrically liable politician not to be thinking on his feet.

"He wants to put ya'll back in chains!" shouted Vice-President Joe Biden at a campaign rally in Virginia last week. Never mind the percentage of African-Americans in his audience, comments most easily interpreted as throwbacks to slavery are never likely to be huge vote winners.

The most frequent contributor to the calendar of 2013 though is undoubtedly Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"Corporations are people, my friend," Romney told a heckler in Iowa.

"I'm also unemployed," he told a group of unemployed Florida residents, despite his US$250 million wealth.

"I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in."

Perhaps he was mis-underestimated.

We do have to remember these are just words. Talk is cheap. But one hopes that before making critical fiscal decisions or considering pre-emptive strikes on Iran, the next President of the United States actually thinks before he speaks.

- Herald on Sunday

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