I've found that one of the great truths in life is that whenever you make a colossal mistake, someone will always be watching. Or listening.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown found that out the hard way this week when an open microphone caught him calling a voter a bigot.
Gillian Duffy, 66 and a loyal Labour Party supporter, questioned Brown at a campaign stop about eastern European immigrants. It seems some people in the United Kingdom are worried these immigrants are taking jobs away from them.
Brown sidestepped the woman's question, then left. In his rush, he forgot to turn off his microphone. Then this happened, according to The Associated Press:
"That was a disaster, they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous," Brown said.
Then an aide asked Brown what Duffy had said that made him angry and Brown replied, "Everything. She's just a sort of bigoted woman."
And everybody heard it, thanks to the open microphone.
Brown is now scrambling to apologize to everyone in the universe over the gaffe, which comes just a week before national elections.
The situation is not unique to Brown, of course. He's not even the first Prime Minister to get caught with his foot in his mouth. John Major was heard saying he was going to crucify his cabinet, and that was after he called them some names I can't repeat here.
It happens here, too, of course. Several American political figures have had what they thought were private remarks shared with everyone, thanks to a "hot" microphone.
While he was running for president, George W. Bush was overheard calling a New York Times reporter a "major league (expletive)" during a campaign stop. Not quite the same as calling a loyal voter a bigot, but it still caused Bush a major media headache.
After he got elected, Bush was heard telling British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the United Nations should "get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (expletive)." One in a string of minor embarrassments for Bush, but this one didn't bother me. I want my president talking like that in private occasionally.
Jesse Jackson was overheard on Fox News opining that presidential candidate Barack Obama was "talking down to black people." He was also heard saying he wanted to remove certain body parts that the president I'm assuming would just as soon keep. I'm sure the president and the reverend are all buddy-buddy now.
The current vice president, Joe Biden, has more gaffes than I have space for, but his most recent one involved dropping a few F-bombs after the president signed the health care bill. The White House responded with its now common, "Oh, that's just Joe," comment.
Probably the most infamous example came from The Great Communicator himself. During a soundcheck in 1984, Ronald Reagan jokingly announced, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." Hey, good one, Dutch. Nothing funnier than joking about nuclear annihilation.
My daddy told me that when handling a gun to always assume it was loaded. Politicians can modify that to apply to themselves. When a microphone is around, always assume it's on.
E-mail Nate McCullough at email@example.com. His column appears on Fridays.