Palin’s Debate ‘Gaffes’

Matt Yglesias snarks,

A lot of people are wondering who the “McClellan” character was that Sarah Palin was referring to, with many guessing that she’s been consulting long-dead failed Civil War General George McClellan for advice on Afghanistan. But another colleague suggested that she’s mentally combined General McKiernan, the commanding officer in Afghanistan, and David Kilcullen into a single ten-foot tall counterinsurgency superman.

That’s a good line.  The point, which I’ve seen elsewhere, that it’s some significant gaffe for Palin to get McKiernan’s name wrong, though, is just silly.

I follow Afghanistan pretty closely, have met both McKiernan’s predecessor as ISAF commander, Dan McNeill, and McKiernan’s boss, EUCOM COCOM John Braddock, and still had to think for a minute last night to recall who she was referring to.    I knew it wasn’t McClellan, of course, but I didn’t instantly recall the name of the current ISAF guy.  To say that this is some kind of “critical test” because “the world is watching” is just nonsense.

Similarly, the continued snorting in some circles when someone, as did Palin repeatedly last night, pronounces nuclear “nook-yu-ler” rather than the standard “nook-LEE-ur” is idiotic.  I pronounce it, and have always pronounced it, the proper way.  Ben Wolfson, Jimmy Carter, and large numbers of other highly intelligent people pronounce it the other way.  (Arnold Zwicky has some interesting thoughts on why that is.)  Regardless, how one pronounces it has diddly to do with one’s competency to make decisions regarding nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, or nuclear physics.

Note that I say all this even though I’m more than a bit skeptical on the larger point of Palin’s preparation to assume the office of vice president.  Let’s criticize her for actual deficiencies, though, not such trifles.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Thank God she didn’t claim to have heard about McClellan while listening to FDR when he was on TV back in 1929! She would have never lived that one down.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    You can always tell a Harvard man…

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I believe Sarah was confused by the Article One comment when referring to the VP.

  4. Neil1030 says:

    Biden is also still pushing that bogus “100,000 cops on the street” figure from the crime bill of 1994. That has been debunked and there never were an additional 100,000 officers created. Besides I thought local communities were responsible for police.

    It also irked me when he said how proud he was for opposing the Bork nomination 21 years ago. The implication again was that conservatives oppose civil rights and civil liberties. How absurd considering it is Biden’s party that is trying to steal the election in Ohio as we speak. They are the ones trying to stifle dissent also. As far as a Justice Bork goes, if he had been on the court the eminent domain ruling probably would have gone the other way. That is one issue where Bork would have been *in favor* of individual rights and not sided with those who would force Americans out of their own homes.

  5. Moonage says:

    Why does she get criticized for saying McClellan and Biden gets a pass on “Bosniaks”? Sure, Bosniak does have some historical perspective, but Americans have called them Bosnians for a long time. And, given the nature of the conflict, Bosnian would have been the more proper term to use. All people of Bosnia suffered, not just the Muslims.

    Maybe that’s why he considered it a Bosniak issue?

  6. Moonage says:

    I believe Sarah was confused by the Article One comment when referring to the VP.

    As was Biden. I think they both took the question to mean what they would be expected to do as vice president moreso than how the Constitution defines the position. And, given that no president in recent history has expected their VP to work within the limited constraints of the pure definition of the position, Article One is somewhat meaningless.

  7. Tad says:

    Biden doesn’t get any flack because Bosniak is the proper term. Just because Americans typically call them Bosnian Muslims doesn’t make it incorrect.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    She’s a “national laughingstock” and all Yglesias can come up with is this? As much as the elite thinkers of America want to disparage her they keep coming up short.

  9. Joe Buzz says:

    What the hell was Biden saying about kicking Hizbullah out of Lebanon?

  10. Bithead says:

    Let’s criticize her for actual deficiencies, though, not such trifles.

    As the other responses to your post demonstrate, James, there seems some question if they actually have any real deficiencies, particularly in context with the ones Biden has repeatedly demonstrated, up to and including last night.

    That we’re even discussing these trivialities on the part of Palin, though, seems to me a demonstration that the media is quite as effective in hiding such flaws as are found in the more liberal candidate as they are at accentuation of the compartively trival flaws in the less liberal candidate.

    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.

  11. Neil1030 says:

    I was surprised and cringed a little when I heard Palin say “nook-u-lar.” I figured they will be comparing her to Bush now. But did I not hear her pronounce it correctly in previous speeches? This really sounded odd last night. But then the brilliant Jimmy Carter also pronounced it “nukier” so who is worse?

  12. anjin-san says:

    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.
    Same as it ever was.

    Its a vast……. left……….. wing…… conspiracy.

    Sumner Wells is involved. Spread the word.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Excuse me, Sumner Redstone.

    But, now that I think of it, perhaps FDR and his gang of socialists are directing the conspiracy from the other side…

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Right, and Article one of the Constitution applies to the legislative branch. And, in answer to the question, Obama said he would meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea without preconditions in a May 2008 debate he said yes. Advisors tried to soften what he said but he harden his statement saying it separated him for the other candidates. That was just one of Biden’s lies. In total their were 14. His forehead did not move with the rest of his face. Botox.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    You can always tell a Harvard man…

    You mean because he is a snobby jerk who doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does?

  16. James, you have thus far quoted CBS and CNN polls saying Senator Biden won, and headlined a post on Palin’s gaffes. I very much appreciate the non-spin approach, but where’s the balance? It does sometimes seem as though you are deeply invested in the “national laughingstock” meme.

    Just an observation, not a value judgment.

  17. Sorry, meant to snarkily add that you have the whole gamut of responses covered from Biden good to Palin bad.

  18. Moonage says:

    Biden doesn’t get any flack because Bosniak is the proper term. Just because Americans typically call them Bosnian Muslims doesn’t make it incorrect.

    My understanding, and it may be wrong, is that a Bosniak is a person of Muslim heritage of the Bosnian region. Whereas, a Bosnian is a citizen of Bosnia.

  19. Michael says:

    My understanding, and it may be wrong, is that a Bosniak is a person of Muslim heritage of the Bosnian region. Whereas, a Bosnian is a citizen of Bosnia.

    It’s more of an ethnic identifier, not a religious one.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosniaks:

    The Bosniaks or Bosniacs… are a South Slavic people, living mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina

    In the English-speaking world, Bosniaks are most commonly known as Bosnian Muslims, although Bosniaks make up 48% of the population while only 40% of the population (of B&H) is Muslim.

  20. rodney dill says:

    Bosniaks are typically characterized by their tie to the Bosnian historical region, traditional adherence to Islam, and common culture and language.

    I think you missed this part from the Wikipedia definition. The bolded says traditionally Islam, but not necessarily so. I’m agreeing with you that its an ethnic identifier in case it isn’t otherwise clear.

    It did make me wonder if the wikipedia entry hadn’t been updated overnight. 😉

  21. Michael says:

    It did make me wonder if the wikipedia entry hadn’t been updated overnight. 😉

    I posted a link to the history, but it’s caught in the spam filter. Suffice it to say that yes it was updated overnight, but no it didn’t change anything meaningful.

  22. James Joyner says:

    I very much appreciate the non-spin approach, but where’s the balance? It does sometimes seem as though you are deeply invested in the “national laughingstock” meme.

    I did include, in last night’s instant reaction post, notes that both CNN’s and FOX’s focus groups thought Palin had won. I’m just passing along the info as I see it.

    I still hope McCain-Palin wins, although I’m less excited about the ticket than I would have with a more traditionally prepared VP choice.

  23. Davebo says:

    James,

    I don’t know where the meme began but it has become popular.

    However, I assure you Jimmy Carter pronounced the word nuclear correctly.

  24. Michael says:

    I don’t know where the meme began but it has become popular.

    However, I assure you Jimmy Carter pronounced the word nuclear correctly.

    The only source I could find on the subject, that wasn’t using it to defend someone else’s mispronunciation was this:
    http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/beastly/#Nuclear

    Jimmy Carter, who had been an officer aboard nuclear-powered submarines, pronounced it NOO-kee-ur;

    Someone on Yahoo Answers said that “nukier” was a slang term used by US Navy nuclear engineers, but not as an alternative to “nuclear”.

  25. just me says:

    What is worse? Palin forgetting the name of the general in Afghanistan or Obama forgetting the first name of the man he is running against for president. Obama referred to John McCain as Tom in their debate.

    Slips of the tongue happen. I sometimes confuse my kids names, but that doesn’t make me unqualified to be their parent or uniformed about which child is which.

    Biden doesn’t get any flack because Bosniak is the proper term. Just because Americans typically call them Bosnian Muslims doesn’t make it incorrect.

    I live in a community that has a large Bosnian refugee population. They call themselves Bosnian-I have never heard any of them refer to themselves as Bosniaks-and I have taught their children and talked to their parents and had them for neighbors.

  26. Michael says:

    Slips of the tongue happen. I sometimes confuse my kids names, but that doesn’t make me unqualified to be their parent or uniformed about which child is which.

    A slip of the tongue is one thing, when you confuse your kids names, you generally realize it. Palin didn’t appear to realize that she had used the wrong name. Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue she didn’t catch, but it played right into the “she’s just echoing talking points she doesn’t understand” meme.

    I live in a community that has a large Bosnian refugee population. They call themselves Bosnian-I have never heard any of them refer to themselves as Bosniaks-and I have taught their children and talked to their parents and had them for neighbors.

    Not all Bosnians are Bosniak, and not all Bosniaks are Bosnian. Biden seemed to be specifically referring to ethnic Bosniaks, not all Bosnian citizens, so he used the term Bosniak so as not to include Bosnian Serbs.

  27. sam says:

    Let’s criticize her for actual deficiencies, though, not such trifles.

    There’s something other than trifles?

  28. Brian says:

    Let’s criticize her for actual deficiencies, though, not such trifles.

    What’s the fun in that?

  29. Davebo says:

    The only source I could find on the subject, that wasn’t using it to defend someone else’s mispronunciation was this:

    Why not hear it from the horses mouth?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7spOEfRN-0

  30. KateJensen says:

    Just thought I’d address a few of the comments made higher up here …

    Patrick T. McGuire, FDR did make speeches to the American public in 1929 — but he made them over the radio, not on television, as Biden mistakenly said. FDR was governor at that time — Biden never said FDR was president when he made these remarks, that was presumed. Give this tired jab a rest. Everyone’s gotten over Palin not being able to name a newspaper or a Supreme Court case other than Roe V. Wade when asked by Couric (or at least, they should get over it, because it’s just as silly); don’t you think it’s time you let go of this, too?

    Bithead, what, pray tell, are the repeated mistakes Biden made last night? I think you’re hyperbolizing here. You’re upset for people exaggerating mistakes made by Palin, and yet, here you are, leaping to make aggrandizing statements like that with no qualifiers. Where I come from, we call that hypocrisy.

    Joe Buzz, do you not know how Hezbollah is related to Lebanon? I’m perplexed by your outrage.

    “Steve Verdon,” nice attempt at a zinger! Unfortunately, it was undermined by the fact that Joe Biden never went to Harvard. Or any other Ivy League, for that matter. Nice research!

    “just me,” I listened to the entire debate and never heard Obama call McCain “Tom.” What’s more, I cannot find a single source — legitimate or otherwise — that mentions such an occurrence. What are you talking about? Can you point me to a reference?

    Oh, and finally, Neil1030, you might want to actually pay attention to what Biden has said, rather than taking Rush Limabaugh’s word for it: Biden has only ever said that he helped pass legislation to FUND putting 100,000 more cops on the streets — failure by the actual police districts to implement that funding isn’t his fault, not to mention the Clinton administration (wrongly) announced that the 100,000 mark was reached in 1999. So Biden can keep bragging about that particular piece of legislation as much as he wants. So sorry that irks you, though.