Election day is still months in the future, yet the cliches are already flying as thick and fast as confetti at the Democratic National Convention:
“I’m the candidate for change!”
“America needs new leadership!”
“I represent the working-class families of America!”
The years may change, but the same, tired old lines stay the same.
Chris Lamb’s new book, I’ll Be Sober In The Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns, and Ripostes is a deliciously irreverent antidote to the banalities of this year’s crop of Manchurian candidates. From Greek orators to Winston Churchill to recent U.S. presidents, Lamb records some of the wittiest things ever spoken by politicians.
The book takes its name from a devastating blow dealt by the all-time King of the Comeback, Winston Churchill. Churchill found himself facing Bessie Braddock, a political opponent, at a party where he’d had a drink or three too many:
“‘Mr. Churchill, you are drunk,’ Braddock said harshly. Churchill paused and said, ‘And Bessie, you are ugly. You are very ugly. I’ll be sober in the morning.'”
Many of Lamb’s examples baldly contradict the common cry that modern politics have become too aggressive and attack-oriented. Compared to many of their historical counterparts, today’s politicians are prim lap-dogs of propriety and discretion.
During a heated congressional debate in the early 1800s, an opponent of John Randolph jokingly made reference to Randolph’s sexual impotence. Randolph’s reply? “‘Sir, you pride yourself on an ability in which any barbarian is your equal and any jackass immeasurably your superior.'”
Tourism at the Capital would quadruple if the present Congress began to have such debates; tickets would need to be purchased a year in advance.
Lamb does not merely report incidents of politicians going hand to hand; he also includes several politician vs. reporter gems. In an interview related to the Koreagate scandal of the late 1970s, Sam Donaldson (of bad toupee fame) stepped over the line when he asked Senator Fritz Hollings where he had obtained the Korean suit he was wearing. “‘Sam, if you want to personalize it,’ Hollings snapped, ‘I got it right down the street from where you got that wig.'”
Likewise, Lamb does not confine himself to wit emerging from the mouths of men. Female politicians can be equally withering, as Agnes Macphail was in 1921 when she became the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons. “One of her male colleagues once pointedly asked her, ‘Don’t you wish you were a man?’ ‘No,’ Macphail replied. ‘Don’t you?'”
I’ll Be Sober In The Morning is a delightful, laugh-out-loud read. It reminds us that although politics is a serious business, it can also be pretty damn entertaining.
Chris Lamb is a professor of Communication at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, where he teaches journalism. I’ll Be Sober In The Morning is his fourth book. To find out more about him, contact him at his blog.
Have you heard a great comeback, putdown, or riposte lately? I’d love to hear it too-I need a good laugh before Election Day. Send it to [email protected]
Paperback: 195 pages
Publisher: Frontline Press, Ltd.; 1st edition