Nov. 10, 2010
-- Former President George W. Bush's memoir, "Decision Points," has just hit store shelves. The book is divided into 14 chapters, each highlighting a particular decision that defined Bush's personal and presidential history. While many have claimed this book is an effort by the president to get ahead of the historians, as with any outgoing commander-in-chief, there are moments that the former president would prefer to sweep under the rug. Every presidency has major scandals that history could never ignore. But then there are also those small, personal blunders that remind us that they're human, too. Some former presidents are more gaffe-prone than others and it can be difficult to distill down the single most embarrassing moments of any presidency. Here, however, are our favorite unpresidential moments in presidential history:
Former President Richard Nixon never quite connected with the young people, but that didn't keep him from trying. In 1968, Nixon, as a presidential candidate, appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, a fast-paced sketch comedy show that certainly went against the grain of Nixon's buttoned-up image. Nixon appeared for just a few seconds, long enough to utter the line: "Sock it to me."
Former President Gerald Ford, seen here scrambling to his feet, could really make an entrance. While disembarking Air Force One on a trip to Austria, the former president slipped and fell down the wet staircase. Then-Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and a military aide helped the commander-in-chief to his feet. This fall as well as other missteps during high-profile events earned Ford the reputation of being clumsy.
Every president has his fair share of unanticipated challenges, but a "killer rabbit?" Who could have seen that coming? While out on a fishing trip near Plains, Ga., former President Jimmy Carter was approached by what was described as a menacing swamp rabbit. Carter shooed away the rabbit with his oar. Carter managed to survive the incident, but his presidency did not. Although there were many issues that led to Carter losing the 1980 election, this incident captured the press's and the public's attention, leading to the perception -- and portrayal by his Republican opponents -- of Carter as a hapless leader.
Known as the "Great Communicator," former President Ronald Reagan may not have always gotten his point across as he intended. As the former president was preparing for a radio interview, he made the following announcement: "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes." While the president thought he was delivering an off-air joke during a sound check, his microphone was actually on and a tape of Reagan's comments were leaked to the press. It was 1984, the height of the Cold War, and the remark sparked an international furor.
We've all faced this situation before: You should have called in sick, but you decide to suck it up and go into work anyway. That's what George H.W. Bush did when he attended a luncheon with to then-Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and business leaders from the United States and Japan. In an incident that was repeatedly broadcast by late-night comedians, Bush ended up vomiting all over Miyazawa's lap before falling to the floor. The former president was helped to his feet and taken to a nearby hospital for examination. In Japan, a Bushusuru is a slang term for vomiting in public, coined in honor of the former president.
Everyone loses a phone or keys from time to time. But a plastic card containing the president's personal identification code to launch a nuclear attack? That's exactly what happened to former President Bill Clinton in 1998, according to a memoir by General Hugh Shelton. Known as "the Biscuit," the plastic card is supposed to be carried at all times if it suddenly becomes necessary to launch a nuclear strike. In other words, during the time that Clinton lost the card, the United States' nuclear strike capability was disrupted. The mishap occurred just as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was coming to a head, so the president clearly had a lot on his mind.
Although it's difficult to pick just one moment from this particularly gaffe-prone president, Bush's unfortunate encounter with a snack food has to be near the top of the list. While watching a football game at the White House in 2002, Bush choked on a pretzel and fell off his couch, leading to the bruises seen in this photo. The former president even briefly lost consciousness. Following the incident, Bush had some helpful advice that he imparted to the press: "When you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow."