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Lessons learned from political gaffes

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In this May 12, 2014 file photo, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks in New York.

In this May 12, 2014 file photo, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks in New York.

John Minchillo, AP

Words — certainly in politics — do matter. This axiom is illustrated by recent controversial statements on the national stage. Since we stumble over our own words often enough, your columnists feel lessons can be learned from politics gaffes.

Last week, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said of President Barack Obama: “I do not believe that the president loves America." Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker then piled on by stating he did not know if Obama was a Christian. Are these just nasty attacks or legitimate concerns for Utahns?

Pignanelli: "A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword." — Robert Burton

Please excuse Rudy. Apparently as Italian men grow older, we remain flamboyant but become increasingly grumpier (according to my family and friends and despite my protestations). This observation is the most humane reason I can offer for a horrible demonstration of pathetic, cruel grandstanding.

Walker’s unfortunate remark is from an experienced pol who stumbled on an obvious “gotcha question” — raising doubts about his presidential candidacy.

These statements should concern readers. Utah’s heritage is of independent-minded people exercising their freedom of religion — which at times aggravated national politicians and narrow-minded adherents of other faiths. Our legacy demands Utahns balk at East Coasters attempting to declare who are real Americans and evangelicals trying to define true Christians. Furthermore, Utahns are fair-minded and object to such awful insults made just because of political differences.

Webb: Yes, it’s true that politicians sometimes say dumb things. (Such as, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan” — repeated 37 times.) Giuliani should criticize Obama’s policies, not question his love for country. I don’t doubt that Obama loves his vision of America — a feeble America dominated by big government.

Yes, Gov. Walker botched a couple of “gotcha” questions by journalists trying to trip him up. But the overreaction by liberal commentators and Democratic partisans has been way out of proportion. The liberal establishment is clearly worried about Walker because he has pushed through some truly conservative reforms in a swing state. He would have the courage, as president, to turn the country in a more conservative direction.

Some of the left-wing commentators who express outrage over personal criticism of Obama are happy to forget the vile name-calling that occurred when George W. Bush was president.

The proper label for our terrorist enemies is a hot issue. Obama insists on characterizing members of Islamic State "violent extremists" (without reference to religion). Republicans are disgusted with such language and want them described as "Islamic extremists." Does this matter?

Pignanelli: Cable news pundits love to slap Obama around on this one. But they are not offering any sound plan to rout ISIS. At least the president understands these terrorists can only be permanently defeated if Muslims around the world are participants in the effort. Therefore, the U.S. fight against ISIS cannot be portrayed as a war on Islam. Once again the words matter.

Yeah, the president is aloof and professorial. But he is endeavoring to thwart ISIS through a coalition strategy that protects our homeland, minimizes loss of lives and lessens the financial burden … because he loves America.

Webb: To ignore the religious, ideological underpinnings of the terrorist mind is a terrible strategic and tactical mistake. Young men and women don’t strap bombs to their chests and murder women and children in a crowded marketplace, or fly airplanes into high-rise office buildings, because they want jobs and economic opportunity — as the Obama administration seems to think. They are motivated by a twisted religious fervor and zealotry.

It’s true we aren’t at war with Islam. Islamic terrorists don’t represent mainstream Islam any more than fundamentalist Mormons represent mainstream Mormons. But Obama seems to place such enormous value on being politically correct that his language is fuzzy, and he seems reluctant to confront the real world out there. What we face is as evil and depraved as Adolph Hitler’s Nazi ideology, which attempted to exterminate an entire race of people. Straightforward leadership, not an uncertain trumpet, will be required to defeat it. We certainly don’t have Winston Churchill in the White House.

Is all this wordsmithing a smart election strategy for Republicans?

Pignanelli: The demographics of the voters Republicans need to attract to prevail in the 2016 presidential elections are exactly those most offended by these comments. Minority, young and female citizens are ultra-sensitive to characterizations as to who are real Americans and should conform to supposed religious norms. Independents tend to abhor such tactics. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by the GOP through these comments, other than appealing to a diminishing traditional base.

The smarter Republican presidential aspirants are distancing themselves from the controversy.

Webb: Republicans must not be goaded into off-message personal attacks on Obama while they should be offering common-sense, practical conservative solutions to the nation’s problems. The fact is that Obama is president for two more years, and we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate. So accept that, don’t waste time on crusades Obama can thwart with a veto, and show the American people that conservative solutions aren’t scary and won’t throw grandma (or grandpa — that’s me) off the cliff.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.