What's the surest way to debase our politics? To interpret every outbreak of honesty by a politician as a gaffe, and then squeal that word incessantly.
One such instance came at Labour's party conference in 2010. David Miliband was defeated in the leadership race by his brother Ed. In his victory speech, Ed Miliband addressed the Iraq War, saying Labour was wrong to support it. David, a strong proponent of the invasion, was sitting next to Harriet Harman, who, he noticed, was applauding. He leant over to say: "You voted for it, why are you clapping?". Harman responded: "I'm clapping because, as you know, I'm supporting him". Alas, the microphones picked up Miliband's question. GAFFE!, screamed the headlines.
But a gaffe is an unintentional act or remark that embarrasses the person who did it. Miliband's principled objection to Harman's applause was the opposite: obviously intentional – even if being heard wasn't. In other words, through the idiotic prism of GAFFE!, Miliband's integrity and moral consistency were converted from qualities deserving praise to failings worthy of scorn.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, committed many an alleged gaffe yesterday. I'm thinking, first, of his saying that aspects of our preparation for the Games were "disconcerting". GAFFE! If you actually watch the clip, rather than read headlines written by stupid people, you'll notice he's talking about aspects like G4S. Who knows about the G4S scandal and doesn't find it disconcerting?
Second, he referred to Ed Miliband as "Mr Leader" in an interview. GAFFE! Over to the excellent Mark Ferguson of LabourList.org: "The leaders of Majority and Minority groups in the Senate and Congress are habitually referred to (reverentially) as "Mr Leader"… Ed Miliband is – as an American politician would understand it – the 'Minority Leader'. Mr Leader, therefore, is a term of respect, right?" Right!
Mr Romney is often described as gaffe-prone. But his British detractors tell us much more about their own prejudices than his presidential potential. Everywhere and always today, the squeal of GAFFE! signals the substitution of intellectual indolence for clear thinking. Next time you see it, think about who's saying it, and why.Follow @amolrajan