(CNN) -

Speaking off the cuff is always a bit of a tightrope act for the occupant of the nation's highest office, and even more so when it's in front of a room of reporters.

President Barack Obama teetered on that high wire Thursday when he said that he and his advisers "don't have a strategy yet" for dealing with ISIS in Syria.

The comment, which set off an instant firestorm of commentary, seemed to feed into the narrative cultivated by critics of the president that he has no coherent strategy.

Here are a few times when other U.S. politicians found themselves in similar territory:

President George H.W. Bush and the 'amazing' supermarket scanner

Born into a wealthy family, schooled at an elite Massachusetts boarding school and then Yale, the nation's 41st president had more than a couple of strikes against him when it came to a public image as elitist and out of touch.

Whether the image was true or not, it was driven deeper into the public consciousness after a widely mocked 1992 encounter with a grocery store scanner. Media accounts of the encounter said Bush appeared to be "amazed" and "bewildered" by the technology, which by then had long been in common use.

" 'If some guy came in and spelled George Bush differently, could you catch it?' the president asked 'Yes,' he was told, and he shook his head in wonder," wrote Andrew Rosenthal in The New York Times.

The mythology has some flaws, Bush defenders say. According to an Associated Press article published not long after the encounter, the scanner's manufacturer defended the president, saying the scanner actually was pretty advanced for its day.

"The whole thing is ludicrous," the AP quoted the company man as saying. "What he was amazed about was the ability of the scanner to take that torn label and reassemble it."

President Jimmy Carter and the 'malaise' speech

Carter never uttered the word "malaise" in his July 15, 1979, televised address on what he saw as a growing "crisis of confidence" in the country.

But it, perhaps more than any other single word, came to describe Carter's presidency.

Here's what he actually said:

"It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation."

And, he warned, it's "threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America."

The speech didn't go over well with many who saw Carter as an ineffective hand-wringer who had no business possessing the inspirational bully pulpit of the presidency.

Historian Sean Wilentz wrote in his 2008 book, "The Age of Reagan" that Carter "appeared to be abdicating his role as leader and blaming the people themselves for their own afflictions."

"It was a form of anti-politics unlike any Americans had ever seen -- the chief magistrate, who was supposed to inspire the nation and lift it out of its slough of despond, was instead complaining about unrelieved anguish and emptiness," Wilentz wrote.

But, like Bush's grocery store moment, the narrative had a flip side. According to author Kevin Mattson, Carter's approval ratings jumped after the speech, and mail poured into the White House from citizens who wrote they were moved to action by the speech and what they saw as refreshing honesty from a politician.

President Ronald Reagan and the 'bomb' joke

Making a voice check before his regular weekend radio speech at the height of the Cold War in August, 1984, Reagan joked, "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes."

While it was just a joke made by a man well-known for his love of quips and never meant for public consumption, the comment embodied beliefs among critics of Reagan as a dangerous hawk obsessed with doing battle against an "Evil Empire," his finger eagerly hovering over the trigger of America's nuclear arsenal.

Al Gore and the Internet

Ask anyone about Gore these days, and you're likely to hear about one of two things: His concern about climate change and how he purportedly claimed in 1999 to have invented the Internet.