UPDATE: A commentator has suggested Williams was merely comparing the two current candidates with Eisenhower and Kennedy, rather than mistakenly suggesting Eisenhower ran against Kennedy. I don’t think so, but you can watch for yourself, beginning at about the 3:22 mark. For a transcription, see below.
I just heard Brian Williams—twice—compare the contest between John McCain and Barack Obama to “Eisenhower/Kennedy.” The chief problem with this comparison is of course that Eisenhower never ran against Kennedy. Nixon ran against Kennedy.
Even a network anchor can be expected to misspeak once in a while, of course. But Williams said it twice, and even took time in between to explain the basis of his erroneous comparison: experience vs. new blood.
Williams’s gaffe (never corrected, by him or Dave) came after an unusually one-sided lambasting of Sarah Palin’s debate performance by Letterman. Dave tries to play the “equal-opportunity-offender” game, but when he really dislikes someone, he’s no good at hiding it, and it’s pretty clear he thinks Palin is a joke, and McCain’s choosing her something worse than a joke. In fact, that is basically what he said at the beginning of his interview with Williams.
Williams refused to endorse Dave’s view — which is what he should have done. He countered by paraphrasing the GOP spin — her fans like that she’s a “Washington outsider,” as governor of Alaska she had no reason to know anything about foreign policy, if she named a newspaper or magazine she read she risked offending some segment of the electorate, etc., etc.
It was fine for him to point out that not everyone agrees with Dave’s assessment, but he kind of went the extra mile — especially when he answered Dave’s question about the likelihood of voters turning out the incumbent party because of Bush’s failures by invoking 9/11. Sure the economy is ruined and Iraq has been a mistake, but remember: the Republicans protect us from terra! (Except, you know, on 9/11 itself.)
My interpretation of Williams’s “Eisenhower/Kennedy” gaffe? His subconscious just won’t allow him to compare his good friend McMaverick with Tricky Dick. War hero Eisenhower, sure.
Personally, I think Ike, who knew plenty of battle-scarred scoundrels in his day, would have seen right through McCain. Kennedy was a war hero, too, but unlike McCain, he didn’t pretend it made him into some sort of irreproachable demi-god. He once famously replied, when asked how it felt to be a hero, “I didn’t have any choice — they sank my boat.”
UPDATE: TRANSCRIPTION FROM VIDEO—Williams is speaking off the cuff here, and thus not in complete sentences, but I believe this is accurate:
DAVE: Is is fair to say that this is reminiscent of the Bob Dole campaign?
WILLIAMS: It’s fair to say this is reminiscent of maybe Eisenhower/Kennedy. Where one side is running on a more traditional–and the other side would be the long ball. To elect the young, uh vigorous of the two candidates. The more untested of the two candidates. I look at this a lot like Eisenhower/Kennedy.