DUKAKIS' TWO-FER: Michael Dukakis' run against President George H.W. Bush in 1988 yielded two lulus. His emotionally detached answer to a debate question about whether he would favor the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered was a classic case of being too cool under pressure. "I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life," he calmly replied. "I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime." Kitty Dukakis later wrote in her memoir, "That chilling incident at the second debate was the nail in the coffin. ... Michael made a mistake; he answered a question he should have hurled right back into the face of his questioner."
And then there was that unfortunate photo of a helmeted Dukakis taking a spin in a tank — the ultimate in What Not To Wear for candidates.
TIME OUT: The most telling moment in a three-way debate between Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992, wasn't conveyed in words. It was Bush's glance at his watch. The president already was battling perceptions that he was out of touch and out of ideas in a time of economic distress. When the TV cameras caught him stealing a glance at his watch, it reinforced the impression that Bush wasn't up for the job. It didn't help, either, that when a young woman asked Bush how the national debt had affected him personally, he said he didn't really get the question.
MR. MISUNDERESTIMATED. George W. Bush served up enough malapropisms as candidate and president that it's hard to single out just one. But voters elected him twice, validating his theory that people "misunderestimated" him. That gave people eight years of mangled language and puzzling Bushisms to ponder. Among them: "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." ''Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?" and "We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job."
THE LITTLE PEOPLE: Condescension is one of the worst traps for a presidential candidate and Obama stepped squarely into it in April 2008. Speaking to well-heeled donors at a private fundraiser in the liberal bastion of San Francisco, no less, Obama said voters in struggling small towns of Pennsylvania and the Midwest "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
When news of his comment leaked out, Obama got a boatload of grief from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, as well as presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. "Elitist and out of touch," snapped Clinton, whose supporters handed out "I'm not bitter" stickers. Much like Romney now, Obama defended the thought he was trying to convey before conceding he had chosen his words poorly.
It wasn't the first time the political sin of talking down to people had created problems for Obama's campaign. Earlier, he'd told Clinton during a debate, "You're likable enough, Hillary." And Michelle Obama set off her own tempest by declaring that the public's hunger for change powering her husband's presidential bid made her proud of her country "for the first time."
Associated Press writer Cal Woodward in Washington contributed to this report.
AP Interactive at http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2012/political-gaffes/
Follow Benac on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nbenac
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.