‘That’s not a political gaffe’

‘THAT’S NOT A POLITICAL GAFFE’…. On ABC’s “This Week,” host Jake Tapper, not surprisingly, asked White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel this morning about Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) apology to BP. Emanuel raised an important point in his response.

Though the Ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce later withdrew the apology he made to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a hearing Thursday, Emanuel made the case that Barton’s remarks were no mistake. “That’s not a political gaffe, those are prepared remarks. That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here as BP, not the fishermen,” Emanuel told me during my exclusive This Week interview.

Emanuel said Barton and Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, who recently called the President’s criticism of BP “un-American,” are a reflection of the Republican Party’s governing philosophy. “They think that the government’s the problem,” Emanuel said. “And I think what Joe Barton did was remind the American people, in case they forgot, how the Republicans would govern.”

Lately, it seems the word “gaffe” has been overly used, and expanded to mean anything embarrassing that someone says. But Emanuel’s right — when Barton delivered a groveling apology to the company responsible for the disaster in the Gulf, he didn’t just misspeak or trip over his words. Barton was reading from his own remarks. “That’s not a political gaffe.”

But some in the media seem confused about this. David Broder’s column this morning had a headline that read, “Barton’s BP comments highlight GOP’s propensity for gaffes.” That’s not Broder’s fault — columnists don’t get to write their own headlines — but it’s part of a larger trend in which the media treats politicians who accidentally state their actual beliefs as if they’ve just committed an awkwardly worded blunder.

Rand Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act? A rookie “gaffe.” Sharron Angle is speculating about the armed overthrow of the United States government. “Gaffe.” Joe Barton is apologizing to BP? “Gaffe.”

This is a misguided way to help politicians out of a jam. As Jon Chait noted the other day, the radicalism of today’s Republican Party is covered poorly by many outlets, “in part because [the media] insists upon viewing this new brand of radicalism through the lens of a ‘gaffe’ … rather than explaining it in ideological terms.”

When political extremists share their radicalism with the public, that’s only a mistake to the extent that they’re generally better at hiding it. Barton, Angle, Paul, Palin, and others aren’t just misspeaking — they’re saying what they actually believe. “That’s not a political gaffe.”