I’ve been seeing this thrown up against the wall a few times, as though it means anything: Obama referring to having campaigned in “57 states”. There are a number of categories of gaffes — some telling and others not telling — and on Obama’s “57 states” I want to state baldly and boldly: anyone who makes hay out of this item is guilty of an intellectual dishonesty in service of partisan hackery. This gaffe falls into a category of “knew what he was saying as soon as he said it.” The Obama — Clinton contest, in case you forgot, wound its way not only through 50 individual state contests, but also several election contests in geographic locales that are not states — the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and Guam and American Somoa are four of the seven locales Obama had briefly jumbled into the category of “states”. This is not to say anything one way or the other about Obama — he could still occupy whatever pejorative you have him slotted — Communist, Fascist, or Anti-Christ — it is just that his reference to “57 states” should not be used in service to the pejorative.
I will go one further in striking up for categories of gaffes. As funny as it was, Michele Bachmann’s reference to John Wayne as a local hero, when John Wayne Gacy was the local celebrity of note, is of a similar ilk. In the end, Bachmann’s reference to John Wayne is meaningless in understanding Bachmann. It is mostly an example of the absurdity of the process — something like Spinal Tap looking down on their hands to give a shout out to Springfield — though, calling out John Wayne Gacy is more appropriate for your Heavy Metal Band than for your political candidate for high office.
The Historical Anachronism category of gaffes can go any direction. Sarah Palin eliminates any doubt for how much leniency you should give her statement on Paul Revere — when given a chance to correct herself, she refused to admit any mistake. Ergo: fling away at her, and add this to her collection of political debris. I don’t know quite what to make of Michele Bachmann bringing John Quincy Adams into the fore as a Founding Father. I happen to be a fan of John Quincy Adams — a fine public servant who contributed greatly to this country as Secretary of State, Congressman, and to a lesser extent as President. His background was a privileged one, and while it is useful to note his formative years having him surrounded by Founders from his perch the son of one of the Founders– he was not advising anyone at the age of eight. I guess what Bachmann is doing is expanding the circle of Founders in order to get more blunt and more direct statements against slavery (though not all that direct, and not all that early in his career) into the mix – from out of David Barton’s work. In that sense, this is probably worse than Joseph Biden’s goofy “Roosevelt rallied a nation against the Depression on tv” (He first kicked Hoover to the curb, and then broke right into the top-rated “Felix the Cat Doll Show”, I suppose) due to the systematic nature of her historical purview — but not quite up to the level of Palin’s Revere comments. But the problem with Bachmann is that she carries enough baggage besides her holding onto the youthful zeal of John Quincy Adams that I’d just as soon let other matters overshadow this one.