When You are Mentioned with Kinsley
06-24-2008
You may have noticed that in the coverage of McCain adviser Charlie Black’s recent controversial comments that a terrorist strike in the United States this fall would benefit his candidate, reporters have frequently made reference to the writer Michael Kinsley, when characterizing Black’s remarks as a Washington-style gaffe. To provide you with some background, let me briefly take you back to the origins of the Kinsley reference, as I remember thinking that he was on to a very clever idea at the time.
 
In an article for Slate during the 2000 presidential contest, Kinsley popularized the idea that in Washington, a gaffe occurs when a politician unintentionally reveals what he or she actually believes to be true. The article is an entertaining piece on Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and the art of telling lies in a presidential campaign. While Kinsley may have floated the concept before, I believe this article is the one that introduced his ownership of the idea into the conventional wisdom, courtesy of Slate’s early high profile as a webzine. Note that in the last paragraph, Kinsley does not take credit for this definition of gaffe, but instead suggests that it is an old political saw that has been around for years. That may be true, but he is certainly getting ownership of the concept in the current election cycle.
 
Viewed in this context, the problem for Charlie Black is that his comments publicly confirmed what political observers already privately suspected was true, that the McCain campaign believes its strongest suit against Obama is the security issue, and that a sudden terrorist attack sometime in the next 4 months would serve to dramatically underscore McCain’s superior preparation and experience for responding to such a crisis. Even if we accept that this is an accurate assessment by the McCain campaign, characterizing (even hypothetically) another national tragedy as an opportunity for political gain will most certainly get you mentioned in the same sentence with Michael Kinsley.


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