5 Great Presidential Debate Moments


Ford's Poland Problem

President Gerald Ford's Poland gaffe may have cost him the election.
President Gerald Ford's Poland gaffe may have cost him the election.
Dirck Halstead/Getty Images

There was a time not long ago when American presidential candidates were expected to have a broad and deep grasp of foreign affairs, and perhaps more shocking, so were the American people. So when Gerald Ford made a strong argument in a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter that Eastern Europe was no longer under communist domination, even the non-social studies teachers in the audience knew that he was wildly wrong.

The moderator opened the debate by stating that "President Ford and Governor Carter do not have notes or prepared remarks with them this evening," which might explain how Ford could have mistaken nations that had been under direct Soviet control since the end of World War II -- nations like Poland, Yugoslavia and Romania -- for "independent, autonomous" states [source: The Miller Center].

To Ford's credit, a close look at the transcript of the debates shows that he didn't really mean to say that these countries weren't communist. That would have been factually absurd. What he meant to say is that they weren't under the thumb of the Soviet Union, which was only politically absurd. Unfortunately for Ford, his Polish "joke" provided further proof to an already doubting public that the President was hopelessly out of touch.