Remarks about the financial crisis, gaffes uttered by Republicans and even parodies of politicians top Fred Shapiro’s list of the 10 most notable quotations of 2008.
This year’s top quote was from Tina Fey’s satirical impersonation of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live: “I can see Russia from my house!”
“When [Palin] made her remark about Russia, I think she was trying to use that as some sort of foreign policy credential,” Shapiro said of Palin. “When Tina Fey seized on that, a lot of voters concluded she was too inexperienced to be vice president. That actually shaped public perception of her and helped contribute to the Republican ticket losing.”
A librarian at Yale Law School, Shapiro has created an annual list of the year’s best quotes since 2006, when he published The Yale Book of Quotations. This year’s quotes focus mainly on the presidential election and the national economic crisis, often presenting these otherwise serious situations in a humorous light. While Shapiro’s list is publicly acknowledged to include the year’s most memorable quotes, many conservative pundits and bloggers question Shapiro’s objectivity given his exclusion of quotes from the Democratic Obama-Biden camp.
After all, four out of the 10 quotes are from Palin or presidential candidate John McCain. Although the Alaskan governor lost the number one spot to Fey’s portrayal of her, Palin’s comment in a televised CBS interview is second best on Shapiro’s list. When asked by Katie Couric what periodicals she read, Palin vaguely responded, “All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.”
Six of this year’s 10 quotes deal with the presidential election, with the economic slump appearing in five. Although the election and the financial troubles are considered serious political affairs, the quotes chosen by Shapiro poke fun at these issues.
“It’s the humorous comments, or the comments that are unintentionally humorous, that really enter the popular mind and have an impact on both the election and popular culture,” he said in an interview with the News. “I look for quotations that reflect the spirit of our times and those tend to be humorous quotations.”
But not everyone agrees that Shapiro’s list is all fun and games. Many conservative buffs challenge Shapiro’s list, claiming it reflects a leftist bias.
“This list is the very essence of subjectivity,” wrote blogger Derek Donovan in an op-ed piece on The Kansas City Star’s web site. “And trust me: Obama opponents could put together their own list of ‘memorable’ statements he and the famously gaffe-prone Joe Biden made.”
None of the quotes from this year’s list were made by either President-elect Barack Obama or Vice President-elect Joe Biden, although Biden had two quotes in last year’s list. Last year, Shapiro included Biden on his list for his allegedly racist comment about his future running mate, Barack Obama.
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said in February 2007. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
Blogger Michelle Malkin wrote online that she was surprised none of the “gaffetastic” remarks by Obama or Biden made this year’s list, including Obama’s comment that some small-town Americans “cling to guns or religion.”
Shapiro told the News that the reason he decided not to include any quotes by Obama or Biden was because he was looking for “game changers,” or comments that had an obvious effect on changing public opinion with regards to the presidential candidates. Since the Democratic ticket won in November, he explained, there were no such quotes from Obama or Biden.
But Shapiro added that if given the chance to write the list over again, he would include some quotes by the Obama-Biden camp.
“The appearance of one side in this has distracted from what I was trying to do with the list,” Shapiro explained. “I think next year’s list will have more gaffes by Democrats, since the Democrats will be in power and be in the spotlight.”