Americans are notoriously bad at world geography.
A recent(ish) 2006 survey done by National Geographic showed that 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 could not find the Pacific Ocean, 47 percent couldn’t identify India, and 85 percent had no clue where Iraq was.
But our elected officials fare better, right? It turns out, they struggle too.
Granted, these politicians are on the air with much more opportunity for silly blunders than the rest of us, but some of these gaffes are pretty disappointing.
Take the first three politicians who must know that Africa is a continent, and yet…
1. George Bush
George Bush referred to Africa as a country at a news conference in 2001, saying “Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.”
2. Sarah Palin
Then Sarah Palin followed suit. There’s no recorded quote, but according to Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron, Palin “didn’t understand that Africa was a continent rather than a series, a country just in itself.”
3. Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum also misspoke when he referred to Africa as “a country on the brink,” when discussing foreign aid during his presidential campaign in 2012.
4. Barack Obama
Barack Obama’s gaffe might be worse than the Africa ones. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama claimed he’d been to 57 states, and then didn’t understand a cue from the audience (its very loud laughter) that something was amiss.
5. John McCain
When asked by Diane Sawyer what he thought about the situation in Afghanistan in July of 2008, McCain responded that, “We have a lot of work to do and I’m afraid that it’s a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border.”
If only Pakistan shared a border with Iraq, not Afghanistan.
6. Dick Cheney
In a speech addressing foreign policy in Latin America, Dick Cheney criticized Hugo Chavez by saying, “The people of Peru, I think, deserve better.”
Chavez, I think, was the President of Venezuela.
7. Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney stated that “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea,” during a 2012 presidential debate. It’s a comment, according to The Guardian, that Romney had already made at least five times before.
But Syria and Iran do not share a border, nor does Iran need to go through Syria to access the sea—a vast majority of its western border is along the Persian Gulf.
Most of these politicians made their geographical blunders during election years when they were under heavy scrutiny, so it should be entertaining to see what new gaffes arise from the crowd of potential 2016 candidates below.
My money for worst gaffe is on Marco Rubio, who lubricated his campaign gaffe skills when he got a little thirsty during a response to the President’s 2013 State of the Union address.