The presidential campaign has been marked by what might be called an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.
Because President Barack Obama is the incumbent and has not been challenged by a primary opponent, he has been spared much of this. However, the Republican candidates for nomination and their supporters have suffered mightily from this disease.
Now mind you, I used to like playing with an Etch-A-Sketch when I was a kid. It's a very cool toy, but it's not what I would consider a good model for a presidential candidate. Not only because the picture is impermanent, but because it only works if you have someone turning the knobs (pollsters, corporations, big donors, etc.).
I know Romney campaign consultant Eric Fehrnstrom meant by that gaffe that political polarization in this country has gone so far that in order to be nominated, GOP candidates have to run much further to the right than they may be comfortable with, but once nominated, they need to tack back toward the center in order to have any hope of being elected in a general election. But it sounded bad, and may very well become this campaign's version of John Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it."
Talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh is nothing if not controversial, but he really went over the top by calling Sandra Fluke, a young female law student who spoke in favor of including contraception in health insurance, a "slut" and a "prostitute," and suggesting that she should put videos of her sex life up on the Internet.
Now, one can argue whether or to what extent it is appropriate for an unmarried student to be having so much sex that birth control becomes a major expense. But there are some things that you just don't say, and some things that you just don't call people, especially in public, even if you are a talk radio host known for being shocking. Limbaugh's show has been hemorrhaging sponsors ever since.
Mitt Romney himself, who after the departure of Rick Santorum seems to be the inevitable choice of the GOP to run against Obama, has become almost a caricature for failing to realize how his casual comments about his wealth make him seem out of touch with the 99 percent of Americans who are not part of the economic elite.
Among these are noting that his wife has "a couple of Cadillacs," noting that he's not a NASCAR fan but has several friends who are team owners, and commenting that the $374,000 he made in speaking engagement in 2010 was "not very much."
Wealth has not historically been a bar to the presidency - far from it - but at a time when the glaring disparity between America's very wealthy and the rest of us is in stark contrast, such comments do him little good among economically struggling Americans.
However, even the Democrats have not been immune to foot-in-mouth syndrome. Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, infamously and foolishly stated that because Ann Romney was a stay-at-home mom, she had "never worked day in her life." This led Stephen Colbert, of the "Colbert Report," to comment, "Excuse me, Ms. Campaign Consultant. You know what's never worked a day in its life? Attacking motherhood."
He's right, and justifiably outraged women piled on, even Michelle Obama tweeting that "Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected. -mo."
Rosen was forced to back down and apologize, but the furor has not died down.
And we still have more than six months to go, before the general election. This could get even more interesting.