By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A gaffe, strictly defined

Michael Kinsley once memorably defined a “gaffe” as what happens “when a politician tells the truth.”

Barack Obama has committed a gaffe, telling Jewish leaders in Cleveland:

This is where I get to be honest, and I hope I’m not out of school here. I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress. And frankly, some of the commentary that I’ve seen which suggests guilt by association or the notion that unless we are never ever going to ask any difficult questions about how we move peace forward or secure Israel that is nonmilitary or non-belligerent or doesn’t talk about just crushing the opposition, that that somehow is being soft or anti-Israel, I think we’re going to have problems moving forward. And that, I think, is something we have to have an honest dialogue about.

Hillary Clinton definitely has an opening at tonight’s debate. And I’ve worked in my second Michael Kinsley reference in one day.

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  1. Anonymous

    to quote obama, “This is where I get honest.”i am stupid. and thus, i will post anonymously out of shame for said stupidity.can someone, dan or otherwise, tell me what the opening is that this gives hillary. i’m not being snarky here. i really am stupid and not well-versed in the nuiances or even the blatant ins and outs of the isreal/palestine situation. so i missed the gaffe.please be gentle.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 3:32: It pains me to read your comment. Am I really that difficult? I’d like to think not, but perhaps I am.Part of Obama’s quote is as follows: “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”Hillary Clinton has embraced and pandered to that strain for years. Obama is going to be lambasted as insufficiently pro-Israel. She will demand that he apologize. Analysts will say it’s the first mistake he’s made in months. Etc., etc., etc.

  3. Anonymous

    Or he could deftly take her to task for that pandering and engage her in a substantive debate about U.S. Israel policy, forcing said analysts to reconsider their knee-jerk reaction. I know, wishful thinking, right? Did you catch this on Sullivan today: don’t think this is a gaffe at all.

  4. Anonymous

    i guess it just seemed innocuous to me because it referred to “a strain” and my connotation of “strain” – right or wrong – is a group of people who may have some influence and may sometimes be noisy but are generally disregarded as not being a part of the mainstream. thus, the strain he would be referencing and offending would be a rather small group that is outnumbered by more reasonable people.but i see what you mean. thanks for clarifying. and don’t worry, you generally keep it dumbed down enough for me.

  5. Steve

    I think its a bold and necessary step, and I don’t think it’ll hurt Obama with the Jewish community at large, which has been to the left of AIPAC for a while now.I know Hillary is into her last-ditch stand mode, but I hope she doesn’t make too much out of this particular issue. I say this because a President Obama will need many people from the Clinton era on his Mideast policy team, not least of whom is President Clinton himself. And he’ll need Hillary to have his back in the general election when McCain plays the “insufficiently pro-Israel” card.Maybe we’re about to see how far Hillary and her campaign will go – will they damage Obama so much that he won’t win in November? I’m hoping they won’t, but I think it’s a false hope.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 3:52: I meant to ask, Am I really that obnoxious? I try to be nice, except to the not-nice.

  7. Tony

    I could be totally wrong on this but I don’t think this will matter at all. First, the three biggest states with Jewish populations, New York, California, and Massachusetts, have already voted. This gaffe will have little affect in places like, oh, I don’t know, Texas … Second, unless by some miracle Hillary can manage to steal the nomination from Obama [and therefore risk her own ability to win the nomination, since MANY Obama supporters will flee to Ralph Nader and the Greens], he is going to win the nomination. There is too much ground to make up at this point. I think someone on WBZ said today that she has to win by 30-plus points in every primary that is left, as well as figure out a way to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates, and that just isn’t going to happen. So, it is his. I missed the debate tonight but I will check it out on replay to see if it made any difference but I doubt it.

  8. David

    I don’t think one could call it a gaffe when Marty Peretz says he has no problems with Obama or his comments:”In any case, here are Obama’s opinions and sharp insights, as expressed in Cleveland yesterday, on Israel and the Palestinians. They are not mine exactly. But they are enough like mine to let me sleep calmly.”

  9. Dan Kennedy

    David: You may be right. To my surprise, this seems to be going nowhere. And Marty’s take is huge.

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