Presidential candidates are thrown all sorts of hardball questions about their positions, policies and past. In a recent set of video interviews, the New York Times had tough questions for 21 Democratic presidential candidates, but one was fairly innocent: When was the last time you were embarrassed?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was ready with an anecdote that was both embarrassing and endearing. In May, she boarded a plane on her way to a Fox News town hall in Wisconsin. She squeezed her bag into an overhead compartment and sat down. A man behind Klobuchar told her she had dropped something in the aisle.
“It was my rather brightly colored underwear,” Klobuchar told the Times. None of the other responses rose to that level of embarrassment, although New York Mayor Bill de Blasio came close with an account of being photographed working out at the gym in cargo shorts.
Notably absent from the video interviews is former vice president and frontrunner Joe Biden, who is well known for his gaffes. In December, Biden admitted at a rally that he can be “a gaffe machine.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., confessed to being embarrassed by some songs on his Spotify account. Posing for a photo, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told a child, “It’s really important that we girls stick together.” But he was a boy.
Most of the other questions were more serious, dealing with issues including climate change, Mideast policy and health care. But the candidates were also asked about their sleeping habits and favorite comfort food. In answering the question “When did your family first arrive in the United States and how?”, Warren, who has gotten into trouble with her disputed accounts of Native American ancestry, didn’t fall for the trap of saying, “12,000 years ago across the Bering land bridge.” She focused her answer on her father’s side of the family, which came from “Europe” four generations ago.
Some candidates, like Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, said the campaign trail is filled with embarrassing moments, but managed not to mention any specific ones.
“I just think it’s so important not to take yourself too seriously,” Harris said, laughing.
But Sanders showed he wasn’t afraid to risk taking himself too seriously. His entire response, as recorded by the Times was: “I get embarrassed every day when I don’t do things. I have high expectations of myself and others, and too often I don’t fulfill my own expectations.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., said his last embarrassing moment was a humbling one. On a recent trip to the Capitol to meet a senior member of Congress, Buttigieg was standing to the side as his staff checked in. A woman behind the check-in desk asked if he was with the staff, not recognizing him as a presidential candidate.
“It was a reminder that every day you can get cut down to size in a way that’s probably pretty healthy when you find yourself on the news all the time,” Buttigieg said.
Other candidates’ embarrassing moments involved family members, often their children.
In his interview, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recalled using a “crude” phrase to describe flatulence around his 16-year-old son. He paused after saying it, and his son pitied him for being embarrassed.
“Do you want to say the term now?” a Times reporter asked.
“I was talking about farting,” Hickenlooper said.
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