9 of the stupidest geography gaffes by politicians
Sometimes politicians -- even those involved in global affairs -- say things that make us wonder if they really know what's going on.
Mon, Jun 07, 2010 at 11:34 AM
Americans are infamously bad at geography. When polled by the National Geographic Society back in 2006, 62 percent of U.S. citizens were unable to locate Iraq on a map, 75 percent were unable to locate Israel, and 47 percent could not find the Indian subcontinent. They didn't fare any better when asked about their own country, either. Nearly half of the Americans polled didn't know where Mississippi was.
It's certainly nothing to be proud of. But would it be too much to ask for our politicians, public figures and elected officials — the ones directly involved in foreign affairs — to know what they're talking about?
Unfortunately, it is too much to ask. Here are nine of the worst geographical gaffes ever uttered by our politicians. Prepare to cringe!
George W. Bush
"Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease"
Bush was known for his frequent blunders and bloopers. But frighteningly, he isn't the only politician to confuse the continent of Africa for a single nation. According to unnamed aides in the McCain-Palin presidential campaign in 2008, Sarah Palin did not understand that Africa was a continent — not a country — either. Yikes!
"You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska"
Speaking of Palin, who could forget her claim that Alaska's proximity to Russia qualified her as an expert on foreign affairs? Technically, she was correct: a Russian island can be seen from a small, mostly uninhabited Alaskan island in the Bering Strait. But Palin had never visited the island herself, and no foreign policy is exchanged via that border. In fact, flights between Russia and the United States hardly ever pass through Alaskan airspace.
"We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid that it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."
Unlike expectations for his running mate in the '08 presidential campaign, John McCain was supposed to know his foreign policy. Of course, Iraq and Pakistan don't share a border. The rather large and significant nation of Iran stands between them.
Rep. Hank Johnson
"My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize."
In one of the most embarrassing geographical gaffes of all time by a public official, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, speaking about the island of Guam, seems to believe that the island — somehow — would capsize if it becomes too populated. Huh?
"I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix."
Before George W. Bush, there was Dan Quayle. Perhaps most famous for being unable to correctly spell the word "potato," Quayle also apparently didn't know what state he "practically grew up in." Needless to say, Bush and Quayle did not carry the state of California in the '92 presidential elections.
"Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go."
Usually heralded for his oratory skills, it's not easy to brush off this monumental blunder by Barack Obama.
"The people of Peru, I think, deserve better."
Cheney's point might have been considered poignant by some, if only Hugo Chavez was the president of Peru instead of Venezuela.
"There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."
It may be an antiquated blunder nowadays, but at the time this gaffe was enough for some to claim it cost Ford the 1976 election. Despite Ford's claim, the Soviet Union had an iron fist over most of Eastern Europe at the time, and to say otherwise blew all credibility Ford had on foreign affairs.
"Well, first, Joe [Biden] comes from a state, Delaware, that borders Virginia."
Tim Kaine, formerly the governor of Virginia, and currently the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has had a difficult time living down this egregious gaffe. As the governor of a state, you'd expect him know which states border his own. Virginia and Delaware share no borders!
Editor's note: Did we forget a gaffe? Leave us a note in the comments section below, and we'll add it to a future story we're planning.
Photos: George W. Bush, Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images; Dan Quayle and George Bush, J. Scott Applewhite/AP; thumbnail photo, J. Scott Applewhite/AP