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Politicians Say the Gaffiest Things

George Allen, meet your fellow members of the "Oops" club.

Politicians, especially those who, like you, aspire to the presidency, have a special talent for saying the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just as you did in August, when you called a political rival's Indian-American volunteer worker a "macaca" — a term that means a kind of monkey and that is used as a slur in some parts of the world.

Here are five of your colleagues in the Hall of Stupid Remarks. If there's one lesson to learn from them, it is this: The more you say about your foolish comment, the worse it gets.

George Romney in 1967
Getty Images

George Romney


Oops: "Well, you know, when I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." (Note: The August 1967 comment was intended to explain his flip-flopping on the Vietnam War during his run for the Republican presidential nomination.)


Follow-up comment: In September 1967, Romney explained he wasn't referring to "Russian-type brainwashing but LBJ-type brainwashing."


Fallout: The Michigan governor's front-running presidential campaign self-destructed. The remark haunted him until his death. According to the Boston Globe, his Associated Press obit read: "George Romney, Who Said Military Brainwashed Him on Vietnam, Dead at 88."


Gary Hart during his 1988 presidential run

Gary Hart


Oops: "Follow me around. I don't care. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored." (The press did – and they weren't. A photographer snapped Hart on a yacht called "Monkey Business" with comely Donna Rice perched on his lap.)


Follow-up comment: The situation was "innocent."


Fallout: His 1988 presidential campaign went down the drain.


Jesse Jackson speaks a 1984 presidential debate

Jesse Jackson


Oops: Talking to a reporter privately, Jackson referred to Jews as "Hymies" and to New York as "Hymietown."


Follow-up comment: "I’m not familiar with that," Jackson said. "That’s not accurate.'" He later owned up to the phrase and apologized.


Fallout: Jewish groups were furious; Jackson's campaign in the 1984 Democratic presidential primaries suffered.


Trent Lott apologizes for his Strom Thurmond remarks

Trent Lott


Oops: At a 100th birthday party for Senator Strom in 2002, Lott said, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president [in 1948], we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." (Note: Thurmond's platform favored racial segregation.)


Follow-up comment: "Segregation is a stain on our nation's soul."


Fallout: Lott resigned as Senate Majority Leader.


President Bush at FEMA headquarters in Sept. 2005

George W. Bush


Oops: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." The remark was addressed to Michael Brown, head of FEMA, on Sept. 2, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


Follow-up comment: On Sept. 13, 2005, Bush said he accepts responsibility for failures in the federal government's response to the storm.


Fallout: Bush's image suffered amid charges that New Orleans disaster relief was a disaster in and of itself.