"I am in control here, in the White House," then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig said in the hours after an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The moment would be "the third paragraph of his obit," predicted former Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger, according to the New York Times, which described the incident in the third paragraph of Haig's obituary.
Fairly or not, it's just one of many examples of prominent politicians defined by a media moment. Just a few years prior, President Gerald Ford slipped and, with a little help from "Saturday Night Live's" Chevy Chase, got typecast as a klutz even though he was a college football star.
Sometimes a politician's media moments work positively. Barry Goldwater's excerpted "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" may not have made him president in 1964, but it made the movement that elected his heir, Reagan.
Some presidents preside over such tumultuous years that their multiple media moments give conflicting views of the men. Then-Vice President Richard Nixon's defiant "kitchen debate" with Nikita Khrushchev morphed into his defiant "I am not a crook" at the height of Watergate. Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" devolved into a pained "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
Today is no different. Was Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric an ambush or an unscripted look at the candidate? Depends on who's watching.
Like Haig, whom President Obama lauded as "exemplifying our finest warrior-diplomat tradition," they deserve to be considered as more than their third paragraphs.
It was a figure of speech, for pete's sake. So why are people, including the conservative bloggers over at Powerline, giving Gov. Tim Pawlenty such a hard time about a lame Tiger Woods joke during a recent speech?
The line came Friday at an event showcasing conservative up-and-comers. Playing to the crowd, Pawlenty predictably bashed government spending and referred to Elin Woods. "I think we should take a page of her playbook and take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country."
Has T-Paw hired Jay Leno's on-hiatus writers? The line wasn't original or funny, and was plenty dated. Given that it came a day after a Texas man flew his plane into an IRS office, its timing also stunk. Still, it's clear the governor wasn't urging people to grab their golf clubs and tee off on bureaucrats -- or worse.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has said she wants people "armed and dangerous" in the fight against global warming legislation. Fox TV bloviator Glenn Beck has said he's thought about killing filmmaker Michael Moore. Beck also regularly conjures up ridiculously apocalyptic visions of an Obama-led world. The trouble is, not everyone laughs it off.
The governor is guilty of poor taste. Someone please explain why he's taking a drubbing while Bachmann and Beck remain the darlings of the conservative movement.