Everyone knows about the 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and current Vice President Richard Nixon. Onscreen for the first time, the debate brought characters out of the impersonal soundscape of radio and into the visuals of every home in America that owned a TV. The debate has gone down in history for how much it apparently sabotaged Nixon’s campaign. His eerie gaze apparently frightened viewers in comparison to Kennedy’s natural glow. Nixon would lose to Kennedy that year, and the American political landscape would change because of it. Since then, almost every political figure had their good fortune sabotaged by mass media, from Dukakis in a tank, President Gerald Ford falling down, and President H. W. Bush’s “no new taxes” line. What makes the word ‘misunderestimated’ stand out in comparison to other political gaffes? Just how much changed for us to remember a good portion of President George W. Bush’s tenure as a joke?
The word in question, misunderestimated, was apparently first spoken by Bush on the campaign trail in November of 2000, yet there’s no available recording of it. Misunderestimated was only the first of many slips of the tongue, eventually all coined as ‘Bushisms’. The true catalog of Bushisms and presidential missteps just grow as you read more about them. The infamous ‘Watch This Drive’ video to the 2004 election’s coining of the term ‘Internets’, the list grew to encompass an entire presidency and crystallized a good portion of the country’s views on its leader. This growth of recording dominated every portion of President Bush’s time in office, and is directly proportional to the explosion of personal recording device ownership and the growth of ‘the Internets’. By the end of his time in office, presidential candidate Barack Obama would be in the midst of a campaign fueled by this new media that hounded President Bush since he took office. By the time President Barack Obama was sworn in, it was almost impossible to think that a gaffe could ever be missed in a time where Youtube had become popular and only months earlier Facebook reached 100 million members.
Under everyone’s noses, the eight years of President Bush ushered in a new kind of political change, where every gaffe is seen, everything is televised, and nothing is out of a camera’s reach. Since then, there’s no doubting that the elections since have been fueled by content shared and produced on the Internets, and with the assumption of online astroturfing in the most recent election, there’s no telling just how powerful online and all-encompassing media have become. I guess you can say we misunderestimated them.