ANDERSON – The commentator Michael Kinsley invented the term in 1984 in a column about presidential candidate Walter Mondale: “The dictionary defines ‘gaffe’ as a social error or faux pas, …” Kinsley wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “A ‘gaffe’ is the opposite of a ‘lie’: It’s when a politician tells the truth.”

Kinsley called it the “political gaffe.” Others have labeled it the “Kinsley gaffe.”

Perhaps it should be known as the Biden gaffe. After all, Joe Biden once referred to himself as a human gaffe machine.

At any rate, the latest example came in an off-the-cuff remark about Russian President Vladimir Putin. The president was delivering a speech in Warsaw, Poland, just hours after he had met with Ukrainian refugees.

“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty,” he said. “Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.”

It was a stirring address. Biden promised “a different future, a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.” He almost sounded like Ronald Reagan. And then came the gaffe, the line that stirred up all the controversy. “For God’s sake,” the president said, “this man cannot remain in power.”

It might have been Mark Twain who said a politician who tells the truth delights half the people and astonishes the rest. Biden’s remark delighted a few and astonished almost everybody. It left the pundits in nearly universal agreement. The president never should have said what he said, but what he said was exactly what almost everyone was thinking. The fact is that Vladimir Putin is a ruthless dictator. He launched an unprovoked attack on a neighboring country, and he’s responsible for thousands of deaths.

The images of cities reduced to rubble are heartbreaking, and you can’t help but cheer for the brave Ukrainians facing down a ruthless enemy. Still, even though we might all hope something bad will happen to the former KGB agent now trying to reclaim the glory of the Soviet Union, no one really wanted the president to come right out and say it.

Well, almost no one. Missteps like this one provide great column material for guys like Douglas Murray of the New York Post. “You can easily feel for Jen Psaki and Co. at moments like this,” Murray wrote. “For there is now a whole White House team dedicated to following President Biden around with a pooperscooper trying to clear up just such messes.”

Not everyone was upset by the president’s remark. On the Sunday morning news shows the day after the speech, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security under Barack Obama, stood behind Biden’s declaration.

“I’m not sure I would have walked it back,” Johnson said, echoing the president’s description of Putin as a war criminal. “He’s slaughtering innocent men, women and children. He illegally invaded Ukraine. And he has got command and control of nuclear weapons. Such a person should not remain in power.”

At most, Johnson said, he might have clarified that the president’s remark did not represent a statement of American foreign policy. “It was a statement of fact,” he said. “Virtually everyone agrees. Everyone in the Western world agrees.”

So here we are. We have a president who is appalled by the Russian president’s behavior and the terrible loss of life in Ukraine, and he just comes right out and says so. Who knows what he’ll say next? Maybe he’ll do something really crazy like call Russia “the Evil Empire.” 

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at kelly.hawes@indianamediagroup.com. Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.