The Corner

A Speech Snafu in ’92

Impromptus today begins with an item about pandas — yes, really. There’s a reason — a political reason — trust me. Here in the Corner, I thought I’d do a little reminiscing, politically.

In 1992, former senator Paul Tsongas was challenging Governor Bill Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Tsongas was from Massachusetts, and sounded like it. He wanted to accuse Clinton of being a panderer (not a philanderer, which was a different thing, though possibly related). He wanted to accuse him of pandering to the voters.

So, his line was, “He’s a pander bear.” But there was a problem: his English, which was redolent of his native state. “Pander” came out “panda”; and “panda” came out “pander.”

So this is what a Florida audience, for example, heard: “That Bill Clinton! He’s a panda bear!” Silence, confusion. “You know, not a pander bear but a panda bear!”

Oh, it was fun.

P.S. I was once part of a student group in Washington. We visited Senator Tsongas in his office. One of my classmates was from Massachusetts. The question arose, What would my classmate have to do to be elected back home?

Tsongas said, “What’s your name?” My friend said, “Kevin O’Leary.” Tsongas said, “That’s a start.”

(Though there was a tradition of Greeks’ getting elected in Massachusetts — think not just Tsongas but Dukakis, too.)

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