Conventional wisdom dictates that candidates are best served when they get beyond their campaign slip-ups as soon as possible. Yet, in recent weeks, only John McCain seems to have understood this. McCain’s most embarrassing moment–his incorrect claim that Iran is training al-Qaeda during a news conference in Jordan–quickly evaporated from the news, as McCain acknowledged his error and moved on. Meanwhile, both Democratic candidates have done the exact opposite: their campaigns have responded to fumbles by dwelling on them, keeping their errors in the headlines well beyond their expected shelf-lives.
First came Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she had landed “under sniper fired” during a 1996 trip to Bosnia. When CBS footage of Hillary smiling on the runway of Tuzla airport during that trip immediately discredited this fabrication, she apologized for having “misspoken” and sought to put the affair behind her. Yet husband Bill, continuing his impressive streak of always saying the wrong thing, refused to let the controversy die. Two weeks later, he attempted to use Hillary’s lie to her advantage, arguing that even if snipers didn’t actually fire at Hillary, his wife had shown immense courage in visiting Bosnia at all. Of course, this backfired completely, with Hillary’s distortion immediately returning to the headlines.
Now Barack Obama has followed up with his own refusal to let a recent faux pas die. For the past two weeks, Obama has confronted charges of elitism, stemming from his description of working-class Pennsylvanians as “bitter” and clinging to “guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Well, just in case voters haven’t ingested enough of Hillary’s references to the “bitter” remark, Obama has provided his own reminder, with his campaign website declaring “There’s nothing ‘elitist’ about 1,365,019 people donating to our campaign for change.” Can there be anything more self-defeating than referencing a campaign low point when publicizing such an impressive figure?