Thursday, March 26, 2009

Presidents Are People Too!

A sarcastic remark; a snide comment; a simple joke; all are perfectly acceptable when hanging out with friends or sitting around the dinner table. However, when you’re the President, a simple joke may not be all that simple.

On the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, President Obama joked with Leno about his bowling score, saying “it was like Special Olympics or something.” Realizing that his gaffe Obama called the Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver immediately after the show to apologize. Widely reported on, other political figures have spoken about the gaffe. Sarah Palin (whose son has down syndrome) said she was “shocked” by the Presidents statement, while Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a Special Olympics coach and married to Chairman Shriver’s sister, defended Obama, saying “I know where his heart is.”

All Presidents make mistakes. In a slip of the tongue, Ronald Regan mistakenly said “we are trying to get unemployment to go up and I think we are going to succeed,” while he meant ‘employment’. Presidents are sometimes even criticized for mistakes that weren’t mistakes. Who hasn’t heard the urban ledged of John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in Berlin, Germany. Referring to himself as a citizen of Berlin, many suggested that what Kennedy said actually meant “I am a jelly donut” as in some areas of Germany, a Berliner is a type of donut. This legend is false, Kennedy’s statement was both grammatically correct and idiomatic, but many reputable news sources, such as The New York Times and the BBC reported on the story. Continually in the spotlight, every simple slip up by a President can been seen and replayed around the world.

Words can be misinterpreted, jokes blown out of proportion and slips of the tongue make headlines. It may not be fair, but as public figures Presidents are held to a higher standard. This is a great lead in to a discussion with your students about the accountability of Presidents. Do gaffes and human mistakes serve as a reminder that Presidents are people too, or do they alienate and offend people? To what degree should a President be held accountable for his mistakes? You can also have students research past presidential gaffes and look at the steps (if any) that President has taken to amend their Faux Pas.

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