Water for Elephants


On Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave the Republican response to the State of the Union. He talked about taxes and Medicare, and delivered his speech in two languages. The one thing the Internet remembered? A drink of water.

You’ve probably seen it a dozen times. Rubio awkwardly glances down at the enticing bottle out of his reach. He makes the decision to grab the bottle, and lunges for it across the camera. Continuing to talk, Rubio takes a quick break for a gulp of water.

Politics have long been well immersed in the age of the “soundbite.” One small misstep can cost a politician dearly. Just ask Howard Dean, whose guttural scream at a campaign rally in 2004 went viral and proceeded to demolish his chances of winning the Democratic nomination. Today, the Internet has ushered in the era of the GIF-byte.

GIFs can be a politician’s worst enemy. They’re looping video clips of usually 30 seconds or less, without any sound. What makes them so dangerous to politicians is their complete lack of context. In the GIF of Rubio, you can’t hear anything of his speech, or the fact that he obviously needed some water. All you can see is the awkwardness, replayed over and over again. The audience can scrutinize every last action, and the politician is utterly defenseless, trapped in a video loop.

GIFs can be dangerous to politicians and they need to do their best to avoid those obviously GIF-able moments. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, one snafu in front of a small audience can be replayed for the world thousands of times. Unfortunately, however, as long as politicians continue to be human beings, there will be odd moments, momentary lapses of judgment and yes, even awkward drinks of water. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that the electorate is thirsty for more substance.


Published by Alex Petros

Alex Petros is a staff writer for The Politic from Lexington, Kentucky. Contact him at alexander.petros@yale.edu.

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