Being in the celebrity spotlight can be grueling, but being in the political spotlight is arguably even tougher. It’s one thing when a starlet acts foolishly or loses her decorum, but it’s something else entirely when you’re an official who’s supposed to be leading a nation. Which of these missteps was worst?
Everyone steps in it sometimes ... but a politician who makes a particularly big gaffe can become a lifelong laughingstock. During congressional hearings, Lt. Col. Oliver North, a key participant in the Iran-Contra scandal, said of the clandestine transactions: "I think it was a neat idea."
Former President Bill Clinton had an awkward moment in 2008 when he fell asleep bobble-head style during an event memorializing Martin Luther King Jr. And this wasn’t the first time Clinton was lulled into dreamland during an important occasion: He also snuck in a little nap during Ronald Reagan’s funeral.
During his presidency, Lyndon Johnson had to have surgery to remove his gallbladder. At a press conference following the operation, he whipped up his shirt to show the nation his gruesome 12-inch scar. The press -- especially editorial cartoonists -- had a field day with it. TMI, Mr. President.
Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis was asked during a 1988 presidential campaign debate whether his political stance on the death penalty would change if his wife was raped and killed. He responded: "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life," without a shred of emotion for his now theoretically sexually brutalized and deceased spouse.
While performing a mic check in 1984, President Ronald Reagan jokingly quipped: "My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." The assembled media were amused, but when the recording was later leaked, the Russians were not.
Vice Adm. James Stockdale was Ross Perot’s running mate during the 1992 election. His opening remarks at one vice presidential debate were: "Who am I? Why am I here?" These seemingly clueless questions were greeted with resounding laughter and applause from the audience but morphed into mocking backlash on the national stage.
Herman Cain was under fire during the 2012 presidential race for his foreign policy savvy. Arguably his biggest blunder was the crude “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” remark.
During a fishing excursion, President Jimmy Carter claimed to have had a beastly battle -- a rabbit purportedly swam toward his boat, looking like it had a violent confrontation in mind. Carter fended it off with a canoe paddle. The poster for "Jaws" was remade into a poster for "Paws," and cutting criticisms ensued.
Few subjects in American politics are as contentious as gun control, which makes it particularly problematic when an elected official shoots someone. Even worse: shooting a friend. In the face, neck and chest. Which is what Vice President Dick Cheney did in 2006.
Alaska senator Ted Stevens caught a lot of flak when he called the Internet a "series of tubes" rather than a "big truck" in 2006. It didn’t help that he was opposing Net neutrality, so the online flaming he received for his remarks was particularly toasty.
After losing the Iowa caucus in 2004, Howard Dean aimed to rally his supporters with a rousing speech. What ensued at the end of his address became known as the "Dean Scream," courtesy of a whipped-up media maelstrom.
Al Gore was probably hoping to seem more approachable when kissed his wife, Tipper, during the 2000 Democratic National Convention. But the resulting smooch was astonishingly long and decried as both sloppily excessive and fake. Awkward. Oh, and then there’s that poor choice of words on creating the Internet.
During the 2004 presidential race, John Kerry took heat from critics who branded him a flip-flopper. One statement that led to this label: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
Vice President Dan Quayle probably thought he was doing a good thing when he corrected a 12-year-old’s spelling while visiting an elementary school. The problem: It’s p-o-t-a-t-o, not p-o-t-a-t-o-e.
Chief Justice John Roberts only had to properly string together 35 words when he swore in President Barack Obama, and he messed it up. The resulting word salad prompted cautious parties to host a private oath ceremony the next day with all the words in their proper places.
Despite being the pundits’ favorite, Thomas Dewey lost the 1948 presidential election to Harry Truman. Two days later, Truman found a first-run copy of the Chicago Tribune, which had prematurely and mistakenly declared Dewey the winner. It wasn’t even Dewey’s error, but thanks to the resulting photo, he never lived it down.