Presidents, like the rest of us, often misspeak.
George W. Bush once said, "I hope I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism, anti-racism."
His father, the 41st president, could be just as confusing. In the heat of the 1988 presidential campaign he attacked Michael Dukakis over the pledge of allegiance and then rattled off, “One nation, under God, with freedom and justice for all.”
Of course, misspeaking is different from lying. I was just a boy when President Dwight Eisenhower lied to the world. He said that we were not spying on the Russians. We were not flying U2 aircraft over their country.
Years later we learned that his intelligence chiefs had assured him that U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was dead. Powers had been given a suicide pill, with instructions to take it if anything went wrong. Even if the Soviets shot down his plane they could prove nothing. But American intelligence was wrong. Powers had been captured alive and was about to be presented to the world in a show trial. It was painful to watch.
While Ike lied about the U2 spy planes, LBJ lied about why we needed to go to war in Vietnam. Nixon lied about Watergate. Clinton lied about Chinagate, Filegate, and the women in his life, from Jennifer Flowers to Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky.
Not all lies are bad. Richard Nixon misled the nation in the famous Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates, protecting American intelligence secrets. John F. Kennedy, who was also receiving the top secret briefing papers, gleefully took advantage of it, making himself look tough on communism.
Misspeaking is more acceptable.
Ike, who was one of America’s greatest presidents, misspoke so often that one reporter suggested his press secretary could answer a lot of questions by simply saying, “The president does not necessarily speak for this administration.”
Ronald Reagan misspoke in Reykjavik and it was a whopper. He talked about the total elimination of all nuclear weapons. It caused a panic among his policymakers. The media, which now accuse Trump of being soft on Putin, only chuckled, and let it pass.
Obama’s visit to the Baltic States in 2014 was wrought with disaster. He meant to send a strong message to the Russians after their invasion of the Crimea, earlier in the year. Obama mixed up the names of the capital cities in an illustration and lauded the historic role of the Forest Brothers who were actually Nazis. Estonians were horrified. Russia was not impressed.
George W. Bush is famous for his misstatements. I traveled on the road with him during his father’s campaign and even back then he sometimes communicated with grunts and groans and nods. If I got caught doing the wrong thing he could always claim that I had misunderstood him.
Leading up to the Iraq War he was careful to avoid the appearance that this was family business but once he slipped, saying, “Remember, this is the man who tried to kill my father.” Years later, when Saddam Hussein was executed, Bush took the news in and motioned thumbs up. He did not utter a word.
President Donald Trump is being accused of treason over a misspoken word. “Could” instead of “couldn’t.” His opponents will not accept his explanation.
Actually, Bill Clinton’s mistakes were far less subtle.
When he announced his new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, he described his family as if they were holocaust survivors. In fact, the general’s father had served in the German Nazi Waffen SS.
Press Secretary Dee Myers laughed it off saying that the misstate was “irrelevant.”
Life is much easier for a White House that has corporate media approval.
Doug Wead is a presidential historian who served as a senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential campaign. He is a New York Times best-selling author, philanthropist, and adviser to two presidents, including President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of "Game of Thorns: Inside the Clinton-Trump Campaign of 2016." Read more reports from Doug Wead — Click Here Now.
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