Jeffrey Gillespie: A confederacy of deplorables

As far as gaffes go, Hillary Clinton and her "basket of deplorables" (when read within the context of her full statement) isn't nearly as bad as conservatives might have you think it is. Unfortunately for the candidate many, if not most, Americans have trouble with critical thinking.

Blame the education system, blame an endless news cycle, blame Pokemon GO! Blame whoever you like, the fact remains that in modern America, unless you can convey your idea in a short, concise, obvious manner, you're going to lose market share, not to mention (God forbid) the latest 24-hour media roundup. Leave nuance to the pundits. The world now needs a leader who can express herself in 140 characters or less.

That's a problem, considering how complex the world has become, but it's always been a fact that candidates live or die by a phrase, or worse, by a snapshot. Think of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" or George Allen calling a member of his audience a "macaca." Witness John Kerry in his orange hunting vest, or worse, attempting to order a Philadelphia cheese steak with "Gruyere." Other luminaries have gone the way of the dodo by poking their head out of the top of an Abrams tank, as Michael Dukakis did in 1988 while running against George H.W. Bush. Bush won in an Electoral College landslide.

Howard Dean seemed to lose his base when he let out a yell that was slightly north of enthusiastic on the campaign trail in 2004. More recently, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson looked like a sleepy otter when asked to give his feedback on the Syrian question and responding with "What's Aleppo?"

People will struggle to remember just what Richard Nixon said when he took the stage in the presidential debate against John F. Kennedy in 1960, but they will never forget the sweat that clung stubbornly to his upper lip. George McGovern was "1,000 percent" behind his running mate in 1972. Barry Goldwater assured his followers that "extremism ... is no vice," while Al Gore invented the internet. Dan Quayle buried himself in chalk by spelling a popular root vegetable "potatoe," and Gerald Ford, in 1976, apparently thought Poland was living free of Soviet influence. In 1992, George Bush the elder checked his wristwatch while on stage in the middle of a debate, a move that came across as tone-deaf to his audience and cast him in stark contrast with his Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, who felt everybody's pain.

One thing is for sure: With all the bizarre statements and contradictions in the 2016 presidential race, the best defense against a serious gaffe seems to be to bury the voters in so many lies, half-lies, innuendos and cover-ups that there is no way to identify the forest for the trees. The idea of the big lie was solidified by Trump during his birther phase. Many, many smaller lies have followed. In the case of Hillary Clinton, the technique runs more to omission and obfuscation than bald-faced fantasy. However, slicker lies doth not a moral compass make. One thing is for sure in this, the silliest of seasons: Americans might well prefer a sweaty candidate with a sincere approach than a dry one with a hamper full of bigots at his side.

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at


Share This Story