Friday, October 17, 2008

Article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ohio native Chris Lamb's political comebacks book a witty look at retorts between candidates

by Tom Feran / Plain Dealer reporter

Tuesday October 14, 2008, 12:50 PM

Ohio native author Chris Lamb
To read a few of the witty responses from the book, click here.
Calvin Coolidge was a New Englander so close-mouthed that he was known as Silent Cal. A woman once accosted him at a White House dinner and gushed that she had told a friend she could get him to say more than two words.
"You lose," he replied.
Joe Biden might have had that story in mind last year when he was asked at a forum about his reputation for "uncontrolled verbosity" and whether he had the discipline for the world stage.
"Yes," he replied.
The one-word answer won laughter from the audience and upended Biden's reputation for long-windedness.
To Chris Lamb, it offers proof that the clever comeback remains alive and potent as a tool in politics.
"It's both a weapon and shield," he said. "You don't want to use it too often as a weapon, or people might think you're mean. But laughter is a wonderful bond."
Lamb started collecting zingers while growing up near Dayton, in a big family where "our place was sort of made by how well we insulted one another." Now a professor of communications at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, he gathered about 200 of his favorites, from Pericles to Putin, in the book "I'll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Putdowns, Comebacks and Ripostes."
"I actually have a list of them, not in the book, from the current campaign," he said. "It's not as bleak as you think it might be. John McCain had some good ones during the Republican primary."
One came, he said, when Mitt Romney insisted he was the GOP's candidate of change, after modifying his positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues.
"McCain chuckled and 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.'
"Barack Obama had one of the more important comebacks of the campaign, during a Democratic debate when Hillary Clinton was the frontrunner. He was asked how he intended to move foreign policy in a different direction if elected. Since several of his advisers used to work for Bill Clinton, Hillary started laughing and said, 'I'm looking forward to hearing that, too.' When laughter subsided, Obama replied, 'Well, Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me as well.' He got the last laugh."
He's also been having it in the current debates, Lamb said.
"I think Obama is a greater counterpuncher. He's got wit and this incredible skill, very rare in politics, called listening. Because of that he stands out from 98 percent of politicians. He knows when to smile and he knows when to be quiet."
The best comeback lines require listening, a nimble mind, a good sense of humor and timing, Lamb said.
"Winston Churchill said the secret of a spontaneous putdown is that all the best off-the-cuff remarks are prepared days beforehand. Everything is rehearsed. That's where listening comes in, knowing when to use it, like when Obama said, 'I think the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one.' "
The much-quoted Churchill contributed the title to Lamb's book. In a famous exchange after he'd been drinking heavily at a party, Bessie Braddock, a Socialist member of Parliament, harshly said, "Mr. Churchill, you are drunk." He retorted, "And Bessie, you are ugly. You are very ugly. I'll be sober in the morning."
The British have a way with one-liners. Lamb's favorite comeback comes from 18th-century politician John Wilkes. After a rival yelled that Wilkes either would die on the gallows or of venereal disease, Wilkes replied, "That sir, depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Friday, October 3, 2008

bentsen-quayle 20 years later

BLOG: The Bentsen-Quayle debate 20 years later

Channel 5 News -- Charleston, SC

Oct 2, 2008 05:01 PM EDT
Twenty years ago, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush selected little-known Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate. The youthful Quayle tried to dismiss concerns about his inexperience by saying that he had as much experience as John F. Kennedy did when JFK ran for president in 1960.
Quayle's advisers cautioned him against using the JFK comparison during his nationally televised debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen on Oct. 5, 1988. Quayle ignored the advice.
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 mind. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Bush and Quayle won the election. But Bentsen's putdown will forever be etched in American politics. The Bentsen-Quayle exchange serves as a cautionary tale, particularly for vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, as they prepare for their debate on Thursday.
With so much at stake, neither Palin not Biden want to be on the Quayle end of a putdown. Being a running mate means never having to say you're sorry.
According to popular belief, vice presidential candidates don't win debates, they only lose them. But this simply isn't true. As Bentsen demonstrated, the ability to deliver a sharp riposte can be a potent political weapon.
During a 1992 debate between Quayle and Al Gore, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, it was suggested that President Bush, while serving as vice president during the Reagan administration, had played a considerable role in ending the Cold War.
"George Bush taking credit for the Berlin Wall coming down is like a rooster taking credit for the sunshine," Gore responded.
When Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney debated Joe Lieberman, Gore's running mate, in 2000, Lieberman responded to the high salary that Cheney had made as an executive for Haliburton by suggesting that he, too, had considered giving up public office for the private sector.
"I'll try to help you do that," Cheney responded.
Cheney's remark revealed that Cheney indeed had a sense of humor - something that had thus far been rumored but had never before been witnessed.
If either Palin or Biden wants to have to have the last laugh on Election Day, they don't want to end up a punch line in their debate on Thursday. Nor can they afford having voters asking the same questions independent candidate Ross Perot's running mate Admiral Robert Stockdale asked the American people during the 1992 vice presidential debate. "Who am I?" Stockdale said. "Why am I here?"
Chris Lamb, associate professor of Communication at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. Chris Lamb is the author of I'll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns, and Ripostes