PRUDEN: Gaffes from loose lips can sink campaign ships

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Some of our politicians just don’t get it. They don’t understand the wired world, and pay the price for talking when they shouldn’t. Loose lips that sink ships ruin election campaigns, too.

Mitt Romney learned this when he told what he imagined to be a friendly audience in Florida that “47 percent of the people will vote for Barack Obama, no matter what” because they’re dependent on the government. Someone in the crowd had an iPhone and the remarks went “viral” on the Internet. His campaign caught a cold and never recovered.

Republicans have sometimes invited the crack Gaffe Patrol to shoot them down. This happened two years ago when the Republican attempt to take back the U.S. Senate was foiled by two candidates who didn’t know what they were talking about offered lectures on rape, when it’s “legitimate” and when it’s not. They haven’t been heard from since.

So far in this year of midterm elections, the celebrated stumblers are Democrats. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, perhaps the most endangered of the red-state senators, let his frustration at running behind in the public-opinion polls betray him, and he called his likely Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, an interloper who went home to exploit his two tours of military duty, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, as qualifications for office.

He thinks he’s “entitled” because he wore the uniform, Mr. Pryor (who did not wear the colors) said of him. He apologized, of course.

The latest gaffemeister is Rep. Bruce Braley, a congressman from Iowa, where corn, wheat and hogs are prized and the farm is regarded as the repository of the virtues. Mr. Braley is not only a lawyer, but a tort lawyer, forever on the scout for an ambulance speeding toward the hospital with a client.

He’s running for the U.S. Senate to replace Tom Harkin, a liberal and a colleague of Iowa’s other senator, Chuck Grassley, a conservative Republican who will be chairman of the Judiciary Committee, passing on judicial appointments, if the Republicans, as many expect, regain control of the Senate in November.

Mr. Braley went to Texas the other day to squeeze campaign contributions from a group of tort lawyers who specialize in persuading juries to award outlandish settlements and are highly trained to collect more than their fair share of the money. It’s important, he told the lawyers, “to get someone with your background” who has been “fighting against tort reform for 30 years.”

Then he drew an alternative he would like to have back. “You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school and never practiced law as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because if Democrats lose the [Senate] majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair.”

He later offered the usual apology to Mr. Grassley, and more important, to the farmers of Iowa, who might not judge a man by whether he went to law school, or even to college. Mr. Braley loves tort lawyers. He was one of the first congressmen to endorse John Edwards, the king of the tort lawyers, if not so much the prince of family values, for president.

Much of the money Mr. Braley collects for his Senate run comes from out-of-state lawyers who regard Mr. Braley as a prudent investment.

Mr. Grassley is a graduate of Iowa State Teachers College and worked on a Ph.D. (in political science) before dropping out to take a job as a sheet-metal worker. College and even law school are worthy and important, but high school and college dropouts can be good people, too.

Paul Allen dropped out of the University of Washington and persuaded Bill Gates to leave Harvard and join him in Albuquerque, N.M., to start a company they called Microsoft. Larry Page quit Stanford to organize a company he called Google. Peter LaHaye was a high-school dropout who would invent a plastic lens widely used for cataract patients. Pablo Picasso dropped out of art school because it “bored” him. Woody Allen was kicked out of NYU for poor grades and then City College for, as he describes it, “cheating on the metaphysical final; I looked into the soul of the boy next to me.” John D. Rockefeller and John Jacob Astor were high-school dropouts, and so were two of our most distinguished presidents, Andrew Jackson and Harry S Truman.

Full-disclosure time: I’m a dropout, too, in the second semester of my freshman year. The junior college threatened to sue me when I couldn’t pay the back tuition. Now they list me as a distinguished alum (which I’m actually not). No harm, no foul.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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