Loose Lips Sink Political Ships
An important lesson that we might take away from this incident is one that every senior leader ought to take into consideration--there is no such thing as a casual conversation, especially when you are in front of the camera.
On the one hand it can be reassuring to see relaxed and confident leaders communicating informally. Sometimes it is positively refreshing to hear from them in a setting that is unscripted and authentic. On the other hand we see in this case how an ill-considered statement can divert attention from an important topic like health care reform and provide ammunition to political opponents. Loose lips don't just sink ships, they can also sink a political agenda.
Fortunately the president didn't just chalk it up to a gaffe and try to divert attention to issues of greater importance. It wasn't going to go away. The beer garden summit represented a significant effort to repair the damage and model some good behavior.
On a deeper level this incident raises an opportunity to think about the continuing salience of issues along social fault lines such as race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Like molten magma beneath the surface, they are always there, under pressure, and ready to break through. When public leaders tread on these issues they should do so thoughtfully and in a way that advances the discourse.
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