This flag is almost as patriotic as a tractor, but not quite. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

And gaffes bring their own aftershocks.

First the gaffe. Then the gasp. Then the demands for an apology. Then the retraction. Then the muffled, follow-up gasp.

The Romney 47 percent gaffe was a magnitude 7, at least. And Friday he admitted on Sean Hannity’s talk show that “Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong.”

It took a while to reach this point.

At first, Romney said that his remarks were “not elegantly stated.” They were “not elegantly stated” in the sense that the Titanic’s final voyage was “not elegantly completed.” They were “not elegantly stated” in the sense that when a bear devours your arm this is “not really an elegant end to the evening.”

Still, everyone leaped to his assistance, spinning wildly until they became disoriented and had to sit down.

As Jon Stewart quipped, “You're looking and hearing the cynical and condescending plutocratic words he was saying, not the aspirational optimistic message he, in retrospect, should have been meaning.” This later evolved into: “This inartfully stated dirty liberal smear is a truthful expression of Mitt Romney’s political philosophy, and it is a winner.”

For a while I thought he was turning over a new leaf. Everyone is always running around apologizing for unforeseen remarks they made that they may or may not have meant. For once, to see someone stick to the essence of a statement and abandon only the style in which it was uttered was — almost refreshing.

So much for that.

He’s back down off the mountain. The remark, he now notes, was “completely wrong.” Someone more cynical than I might suggest that “completely wrong” here translates to “after weeks of spinning, people still seem to remember it, so I guess it is not what I meant.”

“When I said what I said, I meant something completely different that people would have preferred to hear,” Mitt may as well add. “Also, there is a tractor behind me, so you can tell that I am saying what I authentically feel. A good sign that someone is saying what he authentically feels is that he is standing in front of a large piece of farm equipment.”

“When I said that thing earlier, I was not standing in front of any farm equipment, and it showed.”

Conscience is what you do when no one’s looking. The definition of gaffe is what you say when you think no one’s looking.

But this wasn’t just misspeaking. It was “completely wrong.”

But “47 percent” is oddly embedded in our psyche now. Now that we know it was “completely wrong” — can we forget?

Now the ripples commence.