Monday, September 29, 2008

Slashing one-liners, Charleston Post and Courier

Slashing one-liner could stop hapless candidate cold
By Lauren Santander
The Post and Courier
Friday, September 26, 2008
Memorable quips
--In 1988, during a debate between GOP vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle and his Democratic counterpart, Lloyd Bentsen, a reporter asked Quayle about his relative lack of political experience. Quayle answered that he had as much experience as John F. Kennedy did when he sought the presidency in 1960. When it was Bentsen's turn to respond, he calmly said, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mind. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
--During one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen Douglas told their conservative audience that he had once seen Lincoln selling whiskey. When it was his turn to speak, Lincoln made no attempt to dispute the charge. He agreed that he had once worked as a bartender. "I was on one side of the bar serving drinks," he said, "and Douglas was on the other side, drinking them."
--When President Ronald Reagan ran for a second term in 1984, he was in his 70s, and critics questioned whether he had the vitality for the office. During a television debate between Reagan and his Democratic challenger, Walter Mondale, a reporter raised the issue of age to Reagan. "I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan replied. "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."
The mounting interest surrounding the first presidential debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain presents a historic opportunity for one of the candidates to deliver a verbal knock-out or a zinging one-liner.
After all, a good comeback can hobble a political foe and garner the speaker free exposure when the quip is endlessly replayed on cable news. In the YouTube age, the potential for a catchy comment to go viral is even greater.
Chris Lamb, professor of communication at the College of Charleston, said that both candidates have a chance to sneak in a jab, but to be effective it needs to be short and offensive and leave the other candidate searching for dignity.
"In the dog-eat-dog world of politics, you want to make your opponent a fire hydrant," said Lamb, author of the book "I'll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns, and Ripostes."
South Carolina's own, former Sen. Fritz Hollings, scored one memorable line during a forum for Democratic candidates in 1984. After Sen. John Glenn talked at length about his historic orbital flight as an astronaut in 1962, Hollings asked: "But what have you done in this world?"
Still, a badly timed or poorly delivered quip can backfire on a candidate, Lamb said.
"If it goes off script, people in the audience might think you're too mean, or worse, stupid," he said. "No one wants to look like a Dan Quayle."
In the 1988 vice presidential debate, Quayle famously compared himself to John F. Kennedy, drawing a biting rebuke from his opponent, Lloyd Bentsen.
Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information at the University of South Carolina, said that a good comeback can show voters that a candidate has a sense of humor, which can make them appear more genuine.
"People want to see and respond to a real human being," said Bierbauer, who worked as a CNN White House correspondent for 20 years. "They want to see someone respond to an unexpected question."
Self-depricating humor also can make a candidate seem sympathetic and make an audience laugh, both of which can help get them elected, Lamb said.
"We vote for who we like," he said. "Laughter is a wonderful bond."
Reach Lauren Santander at

Book review, Akron Beacon-Journal

'Sixty Five Roses' tells poignant tale of survival
September 28, 2008

Election wit compiled
''Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.'' Lloyd Bentsen's 1988 dig at Dan Quayle was just one line in a long, proud history of ''great political comebacks, putdowns and ripostes'' in I'll Be Sober in the Morning, a compilation of bons mots by Kettering native Chris Lamb.
The wit of Roman orators, plenty of quick thinking by Lincoln and Churchill and a smattering of relative unknowns provide engaging reading for an election season. I'll Be Sober in the Morning (195 pages, softcover) costs $15 from

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Column, The State (Columbia, SC)

The art of political humor
By CHRIS LAMB - Guest Columnist
On Oct. 5, 1988, Dan Quayle, the Republican vice presidential candidate, and Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, debated one another on national television. When a reporter questioned Quayle about his relative lack of political experience, Quayle responded by saying, “I have as much experience in Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.”
Bentsen turned to Quayle and responded: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mind. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Twenty years later, Bentsen’s line remains arguably the best known comeback line in modern politics. It should serve as a cautionary tale for presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama and their respective running mates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, as they prepare for their debates. In the dog-eat-dog world of politics, nobody wants to be on the Quayle end of a put-down.
The ability to deliver a sharp riposte that leaves a rival red-faced and speechless can be a potent political weapon. And in modern American politics, few were the equal of former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina.
Hollings once found himself on an elevator with the diminutive and incredibly vain Sen. John Tower of Texas. Tower puffed out his chest to show off the expensive suit he had just purchased.
“What do you think?” Tower gushed.
“Does it come in men’s sizes?” Hollings quipped.
During one of Hollings’ re-election campaigns, he was debating Republican challenger Henry McMaster when McMaster inexplicably challenged Hollings, then in his 70s, to take a drug test. “I’ll take a drug test,” Hollings snapped, “if you’ll take an IQ test.”
Hollings won the debate and the election.
During his presidential run in 1984, Hollings and the other Democratic candidates were discussing their qualifications before a crowd of voters. After U.S. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio droned on at length about his historic orbit as an astronaut in 1962, Hollings turned to Glenn and snapped, “But what have you done in this world?”
Hollings got the laughs but not the nomination.
This raises the flip side of the cautionary tale, this one for those politicians with rapier wits: Those who live by the rapier wit often die by the rapier wit. It’s doubtful that Hollings received any invitations to the White House during the Bill Clinton administration after famously saying that Clinton was “as popular as AIDS in South Carolina.”
During a television interview on the ABC program, “This Week With David Brinkley,” reporter Sam Donaldson, who wore an artless hairpiece, began grilling Hollings about the expensive suit he was wearing. “Senator, you’re from the great textile-producing state of South Carolina,” Donaldson said. “Is it true you have a Korean tailor Let’s see the label in there.”
Without missing a beat, Hollings responded: “I bought it right down the street from where you got that wig.”
When the program ended, Hollings turned to a press aide and said: “Take a long look around this studio. We won’t be invited back here any time soon.”
Dr. Lamb, a professor of Communication at the College of Charleston, is the author of I’ll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns, and Ripostes (Frontline Press). He can be reached at,

Column, Charleston City Paper

SEPTEMBER 17, 2008
The art of the political put-down
Comments (0) Mail Article Print Article Add to favorites
Twenty years ago, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush selected little-known Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle to be his running mate. The youthful Quayle tried to dismiss concerns about his inexperience saying that he had as much experience as John F. Kennedy did when he sought the presidency in 1960.
Quayle's advisers cautioned him against using the JFK comparison when he debated Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen, but on Oct. 5, 1988, Quayle compared himself to Kennedy during a nationally televised debate. When it was Bentsen's turn to respond, he turned to Quayle and calmly said, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
The ability to deliver a sharp riposte has long been a potent political weapon. John Wilkes, the 18th-century British political reformer, was engaged in a hostile exchange with a bitter rival, John Montagu, who shouted, "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox." To which Wilkes responded, "That, sir, depends on whether I embrace your Lordship's principles or your Lordship's mistress."
To this day, no one has delivered a comeback so devastating, though some, like Winston Churchill, have come close. As the story goes, Churchill was involved in a testy exchange with Nancy Astor, a member of Parliament. At one point, Astor snapped, "Winston, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee." Churchill replied, "If you were my wife, Nancy, I'd drink it." Churchill did not merely want to silence Astor, he wanted her to remember the exchange and keep it in mind if she ever considered challenging him again.
Few politicians practiced the art of the political put-down as well as Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings. During a 1986 debate between Hollings and his Republican challenger, Henry McMaster, McMaster inexplicably challenged Hollings, then in his 70s, to take a drug test. "I'll take a drug test," Hollings snapped, "if you'll take an I.Q. test."
Such exchanges are rare today, in part, because politics is more scripted. But such exchanges have always been rare because the best comeback lines require at least four qualities — a good ear, a nimble mind, a sharp sense of humor, and good timing.
Unlike negative ads, which are sucker punches, sharply worded comeback lines are counter punches. They require that someone else strike the first blow. The best comeback lines, therefore, are spontaneous, or at least appear to be spontaneous. Churchill understood the secret behind the spontaneous comeback. "All the best off-the-cuff remarks," he said, "are prepared days beforehand." With this in mind, Democratic and Republican advisers should be carefully watching their opponent's speeches.
Both McCain and Obama delivered memorable comeback lines during the primaries.
During a debate among Republican hopefuls in January, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had modified his positions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other issues prior to seeking the party's nomination, insisted that he was the GOP's "candidate of change." A chuckling McCain responded, "I just want to say to Gov. Romney, we disagree on a lot of issues. But I agree you are the candidate of change."
In December, during a debate among Democratic Party hopefuls, Obama was asked how he could create a significantly different foreign policy, given that several of his advisers once worked for President Bill Clinton. "I want to hear that," Sen. Hillary Clinton chimed in, provoking laughter. Obama paused for a moment and then replied, "Well, Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me as well."
It was Obama, of course, who got the last laugh.
Chris Lamb, a professor of communication at the College of Charleston, is the author of "I'll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns, and Ripostes." He can be reached at

Review, Fiction Addiction blog

Palin & Political Wit
September 4, 2008
by fictionaddictionblog
One of the notable features of Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention last night was her use of humor. Several commentators have noted how she delivered cutting attacks against Obama with a smile and even turned that humor on herself with her joke about hockey moms.
Whether you are a Palin fan or looking for ways to use her own tactics against her, I recommend I’ll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns & Ripostes, edited by College of Charleston professor Chris Lamb (Frontline Press, paperback, $15.00).
Check availability of I’ll Be Sober in the Morning at Fiction Addiction

Review, Creative Loafing magazine

Creative Loafing
Charlotte, North Carolina

Frontline Press, a new book publisher in the Charleston area, starts off with a bang with this clever, hilarious collection of "Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns & Ripostes" through the ages, snazzily illustrated by artist Steve Stegelin. The book's title comes from a famous remark by Great Britain's Winston Churchill. He had been drinking heartily at a party when he accidentally bumped into a Socialist member of Parliament, Bessie Braddock, who told him, "Mr. Churchill, you are drunk!" Churchill, not too drunk to be witheringly funny, replied, "And Bessie, you are ugly. But I'll be sober in the morning."
That kind of cutting wit fills the book, ranging from fifth century BC orator Pericles being smacked down by his nephew Alcibades for being old-fashioned to Vladimir Putin telling George W. Bush, who urged the Russian President to allow more democracy in his nation, that "We certainly would not have the same kind of democracy as Iraq." In between, classics abound, such as writer Dorothy Parker's tête-à-tête with conservative Congresswoman Claire Booth Luce. When the two political adversaries arrived at the door of a New York restaurant simultaneously. Luce moved aside and cattily said, "Age before beauty," to which Parker replied as she walked past, "And pearls before swine."
Anyone interested in humor and politics ought to get a kick out of I'll Be Sober In The Morning. Anyone who isn't, well, what's wrong with you? Let's end with one more quip from Churchill, who was asked if he was thrilled by the large crowds he was drawing to his speeches. "It is quite flattering," said the Prime Minister. "But whenever I feel this way I remember that if instead of making a political speech, I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Why I'm a Democrat


I don't know exactly when I became a Democrat but, if there was such a moment, it probably came years ago when I was driving a cab.
I was standing outside a bus station shortly after midnight one morning with three other cabbies. Two were middle-aged guys who had probably been driving cabs for years. The other was younger than I. He was wearing khakis and an Izod shirt. He looked like he had taken a wrong turn at fraternity row.
At some point, a woman staggered out of bar across the street and began walking toward us. When I noticed her again, I was surprised how little progress she'd made. I then saw why. She would take a step or two forward and then one to the side, or maybe backward. I chuckled cynically. I had just seen "To Kill a Mockingbird," where there's a scene with a rabid dog that creeps unsteadily down a street. The woman reminded me of that dog.
The four of us continued to wait quietly in the fog. The only thing moving was the woman -- and she was barely moving.
As she crossed the street, she passed under a street light, and I saw her face. Her wild gray hair looked like it had never seen a brush her lifeless face was scrunched up like an accordion. She had the thumb of her right hand in her toothless mouth.
She kept coming toward us, two steps forward, one step to the side. As she got closer, I became anxious - not scared - but a little anxious. I had never seen anyone who looked so sad.
I thought she probably knew the older cab drivers and was on her way to see them. But when she got within 10 feet, the older guys walked away, leaving me and the frat guy to deal with her. She stopped about a foot from us, stared, and then pulled away her hand from her face.
"I've never had a baby," she said quietly.
Those few words tingled my spine and extremities as if I'd just jumped into an ice-cold lake. I tried to say something but I couldn't.
"I've never had a baby either," the guy in the khakis and Izod shirt said with a chuckle. "But who needs them? They're nothing but trouble." I wished I'd said that.
But she continued to stand there, staring. I wanted to walk away but I couldn't move. Then she spoke again.
"I've always wanted a baby," she said.
This time her voice felt colder; it was even quieter and sadder. Again, I couldn't say anything. I hoped the other guy would say something.
"Ma'am," he said, "I can't give you a baby. But I can buy you a cup of coffee."
He then gently took her by the arm and they walked into the bus station.
I didn't see either the woman or cab driver again. But I often think about that night. Sometimes, if I see somebody doing something nice for someone, I think about that guy in the khakis and Izod shirt. Sometimes, when I do something nice for someone, I think about him. How can you see something like that and not be changed?
And on that night, I think, is when I became a Democrat.
The Democratic Party, when it is at its best, provides a cup of humanity to those who need it. It feeds those who are hungry. It protects those who need protecting. It provides hope for those who have lost theirs. And, by doing so, we are reminded that there, but for the grace of God, any one of us could be that woman in the darkness.