It’s just a fact of political life: any candidate for president, however disciplined, will at some point say something really stupid at what seems like an impossibly bad time. It’s the nature of the beast: the spotlight that shines on anyone making a serious run for that office is incredibly bright, and candidates are human. They get tired and frustrated. They make mistakes.
In the last few days, that’s exactly what has happened. Hillary Clinton said dumb stuff to an activist on a rope line, and it became a big embarrassing story. Eric Fehrnstrom, in some masterful concern-trolling, likened it to Bob Dole’s “stop lying about my record” moment, and he’s not far off. But then she baited Bernie Sanders into a line of personal attack, and he fell for it, repeatedly calling her not “qualified” to be president. That, too, has blown up into a big embarrassing story.
They’ve both said other dumb stuff recently. Sanders’ interview with the NY Daily News editorial board was pretty much a disaster, making him look impatient and unprepared (plus, he may actually have believed that you still use a token to get into the New York City subway). And Sanders’ campaign manager’s recent comments about Clinton were even stupider than what Sanders himself said. Clinton, meanwhile, inexplicably continues not to release her Goldman Sachs speeches, hailed Nancy Reagan as a leader in the fight against AIDS, and who can forget her wondering where Sanders was in the fight for health care in the 1990s, when he was in fact literally standing right behind her?
I think we do our candidates a disservice by trying to explain away these mistakes. I think we should acknowledge that our candidates are human, and that they are going to say stupid things from time to time. I also think we should hold the candidates we support accountable for their errors, as well as for their policy positions with which we disagree (yes, Bernie’s record on guns is lousy; yes, Hillary is too hawkish). More honesty from everyone in the political process can only help.