What NOT to Say...
by Judith Miller
"I am not a…"
Go ahead. Fill in the blank. More and more Americans are doing it.
Christine O'Donnell, the underdog-Tea-Partying-Republican candidate for Delaware's Senate seat, may have propelled herself into an instant political icon by proclaiming that she is not a witch (adding with self-evident overkill that she lacks "magical powers"). But she is hardly alone in having violated the unofficial taboo on such negative declarations in American politics.
Few remember Richard Nixon's assertion that Helen Gahagan Douglas, his Democratic opponent in the 1950 race for Senate was "pink right down to her underwear," or even his 1969 proclamation as president after giving Congress a budget with deficit spending to reduce unemployment: "Now I am a Keynesian." No. He is likely to be forever remembered for his denial about knowing of the 1972 Watergate burglary and cover-up --"Well, I'm not a crook."
In 1987, as political pundit Walter Shapiro reminds us, Jessica Hahn, televangelist Jim Bakker's former secretary and alleged tryst-mate, graced the cover of People Magazine and made headlines throughout the world with her denial of an affair with the high-profile, married preacher: "I am not a bimbo," she famously proclaimed.
Her words inspired Merrie Spaeth, the former director of media at the Reagan White House and now a public relations consultant in Dallas to create an annual "Bimbo" award in honor of the dumbest political comments of the year. The criterion for nomination, Ms. Spaeth's web site explains, "is that the speaker causes the listener to believe exactly the opposite of what is said."
The 1999 Bimbo, for instance, went to Mike Tyson for saying: "You wrote that I was a recluse rapist. I'm not a recluse." Her 2005 winner was Rafael Palmeiro, who told Congress "I am not a crazy person. I am not stupid," adding that he had "never used steroids," only to later test positive. Palmeiro then compounded the damage, she notes, by insisting initially that his use was "an accident," and then by amending his Congressional testimony to say, "I never intentionally used steroids."
Two thousand and eight was a banner Bimbo year. Ms. Spaeth offered two new categories – "Vintage Whine" and "Weasel Words," both variations on the negative declaration theme. Her favorite whine came from Peter Cook, model Christie Brinkley's ex-husband, who had sought an interview with Barbara Walters so he could tell people: "I'm not the scumbag pervert I've been painted to be."
Weasel words have most often been prompted by allegations of sexual or financial misconduct. In a suigenerous category is President Bill Clinton's 1998 declaration about his relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," which he later explained by the unforgettable addendum: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is…"
But 2010 seems destined to set all time Bimbo records, Ms. O'Donnell notwithstanding. Consider the following offerings during the Obama administration (with thanks to writer David Samuels and my Manhattan Institute colleague and columnist, John Leo):
Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York: "I am not going away,"
(Mr. Rangel was a 2008 award winner in one of Ms. Spaeth's special categories– "And they could say it with a straight face" – for his comments about occupying four rent-stabilized apartments in a highly desirable apartment building in clear violation of the city's rules: "I didn't even know it was a deal."
Attorney General Eric Holder: "I am not tone-deaf."
Dan Wells' debut novel, which Publishers's Weekly calls the first in a "gripping" projected trilogy about a "15-year old sociopath, John Wayne Cleaver, of Clayton, a small town in the heart of Middle America": "I Am Not A Serial Killer." (MacMillan, 2010)
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich: "I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing."
Rachel Uchitel, an escort hostess identified as one of Tiger Woods' alleged mistresses: "I am not a whore."
And New Lil'Wayne album title (incarcerated NYC rap star nicknamed Wheezy): "I am not a human being."
Compared to such denials, Ms. O'Donnell is a piker.