Each Friday in Not Fit for Dinner, C. Ryan Knight explores political issues and the preconceptions guiding our understanding of and responses to them.

Two weeks ago in my column Placing #ObamaInHistory, I sought to dismiss exaggerated criticism of the president over modifications to the White House presidential biographies. This week, a technological blooper—the misspelling of America in the “With Mitt” iPhone campaign app by Mitt Romney’s campaign staff—compels me, for the present, to defend Romney.

The misspelled message “A Better Amercia” appeared alongside other correctly spelled campaign phrases like “We’re with Mitt” and “American greatness.” Romney’s campaign staff quickly fixed the typo, though Romney continues to get grief over the mistake: memes designed as campaign posters, a Tumblr account, and scores of tweets with the hash-tag #amercia. Stephen Colbert suggested this would work out in Romney’s favor when China tries to but cannot collect debt from a country (America) that no longer exists—and can’t forward the bill to the new country (“Amercia”) that replaced its predecessor.

The mistake is properly viewed as a “reminder to double-check your work,” but far too much could easily be read into the Romney campaign’s blunder. We could, for instance, potentially draw some of the following hypothetical conclusions from the mistake:

  • The America Romney hopes to represent as President is fundamentally not America itself. Instead, he wants an America that favors the rich like himself, while further disenfranchising middle- and lower-class Americans.
  • Romney is aware that Obama will outperform him in campaigning via social media, and this misspelling signifies his inability to properly utilize modern technology—and therefore, his failure to reach crucial voters he needs to win the 2012 election.
  • The misspelling stenciled overtop pictures of important American buildings and figures indicates that Romney will damage the very things he claims he wants to help or preserve if he is elected.
  • Romney’s staff is bound to write erroneous cables, speeches, and more on Romney’s behalf if they cannot even manage to correctly spell the name of their own country—a name more difficult than France or Spain, but far easier than Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan.

We can argue about the veracity of these four hypothetical claims. Yet the central point here is that we cannot forget that most mistakes and bloopers that surface during things like presidential campaigns do not supply sufficient reason to dismiss or discredit a politician and her or his platform. To dismiss a candidate as misguided or inadequate, it’s imperative that we examine that person’s platform, along with his or her past political record, and decide from there. Stories like #ObamaInHistory and #Amercia are interesting (and funny, to some extent), but they do not—or should not be allowed to—carry serious weight in political campaigns. (I must note that far more seriousness has been assigned—wrongly—to Obama’s modifications of biographies than to Romney’s misspelling of America.)

I do not wish to be seen as a killjoy here. I don’t mind (and enjoy reading) trending tweets about #ObamaInHistory or #Amercia, so long as they aren’t taken seriously. But I fear that far too many people, consciously or subconsciously, place too much faith in these minor and fleeting issues. We must be able to distinguish fleeting issues, which flash in the pan, and substantive issues requiring our attention as American citizens.

Christians should be particularly concerned about whether or not they can distinguish between fleeting and substantive issues. If they cannot, it seems all the less likely that they can distinguish the temporal and the earthly from the eternal and the heavenly.


  1. Ryan, another good post.

    EVERYONE has misspellings and misspeaks. I don’t think you mentioned it, but recently Obama said “Polish Concentration Camps” instead of “Nazi Concentration Camps” when awarding a Medal of Freedom. This greatly upset the Poles–and a far more offensive gaffe than a mere misspelling of one’s own country. But even then, the gaffe is forgivable, no offense was intended.

    But frankly, I see these gaffes–or “nontroversies” like Mitt putting his dog on the car roof or Barak eating dog when he was a child–as continually brought up by the opposition, instead of substantive issues. (Or they could indicate some dark conspiracy, like Obama’s “57 States” somehow reveals his secret Muslimness.)

    Of course, I am frankly disgusted by both major party candidates in their foreign policy and disregard for Civil Liberties…but since they’re in 99% agreement with each other, they aren’t going to criticize each other on these issues.

    Whether they say stupid but harmless things or misspell a word is so completely irrelevant (though occasionally funny) that it’s turned the election into a freakin’ reality show…a disgusting reminder of what politics is today.

  2. Daniel, good points. We could also read far-fetched implications into Obama’s gaffes (the 7 states beyond the normal 50 are countries the Obama Administration considers its subordinates — Canada and Britain — and its suppliants — Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia!), but such readings are wayward and unfruitful.

    One can only hope popular demand will push attention from “reality show” politics, to use your phrase, back toward politics proper. I’ll hope but won’t hold my breath.

  3. In country of TMZs and Tosh.Os, are you really surprised that gaffes make headlines over substantive issues? # is just a modern day version of Roman ‘bread and circuses’.

  4. While it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, I think young “Amercia” looks at this in a different way. Designing an app purely to push a political campaign could be viewed as a play for the young vote, which Obama seemed to dominate last time around. Young voters who are dialed in to technology and internet culture look at Romney’s gaffe as just another politician who “doesn’t get it”; “it” being the internet as a whole. Whether that’s true or not, we don’t really know (I suspect it is). Maybe it’s a stretch, but with so many bills being brought forth surrounding internet privacy and freedom, it’s kind of troubling to think that this sort of mistake could be so easily overlooked.

  5. Great points, Eric. I would go a little further than your statement that “Obama seemed to dominate the last time around.” He (and his campaign) won an award for best advertising campaign in 2008. At any rate, though, I take your point.

    Your argument that young Americans(/”Amercians”) view the gaffe differently is certainly plausible. I thought the stencil app strategy was actually fairly clever and could have taken off, but I suspect this blooper will overshadow the app as a whole — a failure to launch, if you will. I’m very interested to see how younger voters respond to Romney (and his social media efforts) in the months leading up to the election.

Comments are now closed for this article.