Joel B. Pollak:
The media is still playing up Mitt Romney’s criticism of the London Olympics–even ahead of today’s big economic news–and now they’re playing up his attempt to walk it back. (The UK Daily Mail is calling Romney’s change of heart a “humiliating U-turn”–which, perhaps, it is.) But Barack Obama, too, had his share of gaffesabroad when running for president–and several humiliating walkbacks. The difference is that Obama had the media on his side to cover up his mistakes and present them as evidence of his readiness for the job.
Take, for example, Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008, as the Summer Olympics began in Beijing. Candidate Obama made a statement that appeared weak and wishy-washy, placing equal blame on both sides and calling for “direct talks” among “all sides,” as well as the involvement of the United Nations.
Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, made a stronger–and far more effective–statement, placing blame for the crisis where it belonged, and defending Georgia, a potential NATO ally: “Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.” His response was cheered by crowds in Tbilisi and by former Soviet states under Russian pressure.
The Obama campaign suddenly realized that it had made a mistake. Obama’s response looked hopelessly naive, reflecting the doubts that Hillary Clinton had cast during the Democratic primary. So Candidate Obama emerged from his beach house in Hawaii to offer a do-over that imitated the decisive language of his more experienced rival. His long statement, filled with tangential details intended to display his familiarity with the facts of the region, singled out Russia for criticism and called for the U.S. to “speak out strongly against this aggression.”