Ballot Box

The Gaffes of Carol Moseley Braun

Her most embarrassing quotes, in context.

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates’ biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, best moments, worst moments, and flip-flops. This series assesses each candidate’s most embarrassing quotes, puts them in context, and explains how the candidate or her supporters defend the comments. Today’s subject is Carol Moseley Braun.

Quote: “I think because he could not say ‘nigger,’ he said the word ‘corrupt.’ “

Quote: “George Will can just take his hood and go back to wherever he came from” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 10, 1998).

Charge: Braun was reacting to a column by Will summarizing the scandals of her tenure as U.S. senator. Braun claimed that “everything” about her in the column was full of “lies.” The word “corrupt,” which she attributed to Will, never appeared in his column. Her insinuation that Will had a relationship with or affinity for the Ku Klux Klan was likewise baseless and prompted suggestions by her critics that she might be a racist herself.

Context: Braun made the comments to reporters in the heat of a tough re-election campaign (which she lost), after weeks of pressure over scandals during her term. However, when asked to clarify, she repeated her allegation about the N-word and, according to the Tribune, “brushed off her use of the term by saying people know she often uses ‘strong language.’ “

Defense: Braun was reacting in frustration to yet another rehashing of legal battles from her past that she thought had been settled. As to the substance of the matters Will addressed, Braun had already maintained her innocence against accusations of misspent campaign funds and an improper trip to Nigeria, saying that both matters had been “investigated and repeatedly rejected by law enforcement authorities.”

Four hours after Braun uttered her comments, her campaign issued an apology. The next day, she sent a fax to Will saying, “I am sorry that in the heat of the moment, reacting to false charges, I called your motives into question. … I disagree with you on many issues, but I know you have a consistent record of opposition to racial prejudice.”

Will responded, “Apology accepted. Go Sammy!”