Do You Know a Presidential Campaign Gaffe When You See One?

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Oct. 10 2012 3:05 AM

Do You Know a Gaffe When You See One?

Michael Dukakis in a tank was a gaffe. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are just warming up.

A Photographic History of Presidential Campaign Gaffes

This presidential campaign has been consumed with gaffes—some real, some make-believe—and it’s entering the final stretch. So we thought we’d offer both a public service and a guilty pleasure. The service we’re hoping to provide is a way to categorize all of the eruptions between now and Election Day, which is why we’re launching the 2012 Campaign Decoder. Consider it your one-stop destination for sorting the gaffes, antics, and false controversies of the day from the stuff that actually matters. When one of these eruptions occurs, we will offer our quick take to help you recognize whether an event is meaningful or just another piece of political junk food. You can spend your new free time studying the issues or thinking about how we might pick our presidents in a better way.

The guilty pleasure is a slideshow of some of the best presidential campaign gaffes ever caught on film. Some of these dogged presidents, others doomed their campaigns. It’s an amusing trip down memory lane, but also a helpful reminder of what a real gaffe looks like.  When you’re photographed with your mistress on your lap, that’s a campaign-changing event. All of this hullabaloo over out-of-context quotes is really not the real thing.

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John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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