Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Greatest Blunders: Imagery, Round 1, Part I

We spent a great deal of time putting together this year's bracket competition, and trying to correct for some of the things from last year's inaugural bracket competition that could have been better. We then spent a great deal of time writing up the first entry in the series.

We invested this time because we thought this content would be well-received. And, based on the feedback, we were very, very, very wrong. The amount of mail we got was substantial, and it was overwhelmingly negative. Quite a few of those letters were along the lines of the one we ran on Sunday, decreeing—in various ways—that anything other than straightforward political commentary makes it hard to take the site seriously. Others felt that our write-ups were too voluminous, and did not leave space for readers to consider the matchups for themselves.

We are not going to cancel this feature. We like it, and we think it has merit. The fact that last year's bracket contest produced an average of 3,000+ votes per ballot tells us that many readers agree. We would also note this date: February 15, 1942. That is when The New York Times ran its first crossword puzzle. Crosswords actually became popular in the 1920s, and the Gray Lady was the last major holdout, sniffing that crosswords were "frivolous." But even the Times' editorial staff eventually conceded that people sometimes need a change of pace and a respite from the heaviness and the darkness that is often characteristic of the news. It is probably not a coincidence that this conclusion was reached just a couple of months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as the U.S. was gearing up to deploy millions of its sons and daughters for the war effort.

What we will do, however, is dial back on how much we write about the individual matchups. We certainly don't need to invest the time and the space for that if it's doing more harm than good. And with that said...


Malaise (59.5%) defeats Jeb! (40.5%)

Some reader comments on this matchup:

  • J.L. in Glastonbury, CT: I went with Jeb! because that was his blunder; taking Jimmy Carter's speech wrong was the American people's blunder. I was pretty young but I remember my parents loved the speech and were befuddled by the negative reaction.

  • A.T. in Quincy, IL: Malaise potentially cost Carter re-election to the presidency. Jeb! hadn't even won a first term yet, and from the sound of things, was in no danger of doing so anyway. We might never know what we've lost in a President Jeb! that might have been. We might care even less.

  • M.K. in Long Branch, NJ: Malaise wins because Carter, as sitting president, was still a viable contender for a second term. Jeb was facing a huge field and was probably already dead in the water.

  • D.L. in Uslar, Germany: After some thought, Jeb! was a clear winner. Like a lot that Carter did in office, the Malaise speech was a victim of tone more than anything else. If he'd pitched it more forcefully as "We can beat this together," it could have been successful. Even as it was, Republican messaging had to associate it with something he didn't say in order to use it against him. Jeb! was just obvious flailing and could never have been helpful. I'm not sure it was a big a blunder as "Please clap," but it was pretty bad.

  • B.C. in Walpole, ME: This is only a contest if you think that Jeb ever had a real shot at being President; some of us may think that he was never out of Nikki Haley/Mike Pence territory.


Trumpers wear 'Deplorables' shirts; Carter delivers the 'Malaise' speech

#1 Hillary Clinton laments the "basket of deplorables": What Clinton was trying to do was to express support and sympathy for the non-bigoted elements of Donald Trump's base. What she actually did was hand Trump's entire base a rallying cry.

#16 Jimmy Carter's "Malaise" speech: It probably didn't cost Carter the presidency all by itself, but the speech certainly got his reelection bid off to a bad start.

Dukakis in a tank with a too-large helmet; a screen cap from the O'Donnell 'I'm not a witch' commercial

#8 Michael Dukakis poses for a picture in a tank: Although Dukakis had actual military service on his résumé, there were questions about how well he really understood the importance of and the needs of the U.S. military. So, his people arranged an photo op, apparently forgetting that tanks are very big, and that their 5'6" candidate is pretty small.

#9 Christine O'Donnell: "I'm not a witch!": Today, Republican U.S. Senate candidates are often both kooky and venal. But 15 years ago, they were often just kooky without being venal. O'Donnell, who was twice the GOP's pick for Delaware's U.S. Senate seat, went on Real Time with Bill Maher, and talked about having dabbled in witchcraft. That did not play well, particularly with the evangelicals, and so O'Donnell cut the infamous "I'm not a witch" ad, which did not make things better.

Bush speaking with the 'Mission Accomplished' banner above him; a satirical pin for the Jewish Space Laser Force with motto 'Mazel Tough'

#5 George W. Bush declares "Mission Accomplished": On May 1, 2003, six weeks after invading, George W. Bush advised Americans that major combat operations in Iraq were over, bringing to mind the very quick war his father had waged against the Iraqis. This declaration proved to be a wee bit premature, as the Iraq War did not actually end until Dec 15, 2011—more than 8 years after the "Mission Accomplished" declaration.

#12 Marjorie Taylor Greene blames Jewish space lasers for the California wildfires: The Representative does not seem the type to regret anything she says, especially something like this, since she's pretty clearly an antisemite. Still, this made her an object of much derision, and crystallized her image as the nuttiest fruitcake in Washington.

A screen cap from the 'Daisy' ad, a picture of Ford on his knees at the bottom of the Air Force One steps

#4 Barry Goldwater is very casual about using nuclear weapons: Most of the errors we chose for this competition were effectively one-off mistakes. Goldwater, by contrast, made a series of remarks about how he would certainly use nuclear weapons if he guessed the situation called for it. This laid the groundwork for the famous "Daisy" ad, which only aired once, but which did plenty of damage.

#13 Gerald Ford stumbles while exiting Air Force One: It was a small error, but a foreseeable one, as the stairs leading down from Air Force One are narrow, and are very slippery when wet, especially for someone wearing men's dress shoes. And although the error was small, the impact was huge, thanks in significant part to a new NBC show called Saturday Night Live, which had Chevy Chase portray Ford as a bumbling oaf whose appearances invariably ended with one or more pratfalls.

The ballot for this round is here. If you have comments on any or all of these matchups, and why you voted as you did, send them here. (Z)

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