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Words to soothe the Democrats’ soul

By Steven E. Levingston

The drubbing was brutal, the balance of power has tipped, and Washington will look a little different soon – but what really has changed? The political tides roll in and roll out and, if it’s any consolation to the Democrats now on the outs, it’s all happened before.

Several handy books of quotations bring it home in the voice of those who have experienced it. They lend a healthy dose of comfort and humor to aching Democrats and a warning to Republican newbies in Congress and governor’s mansions around the country.

As Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York and master of rhetoric on the hustings, knew too well: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

While the Tea Party candidates shouted a patriotic song on the campaign trail, those lucky enough to carry on to Congress will now have to translate the noise into action.

President Obama himself rode into office on a silver tongue and, if this election is any proof, beautiful language is no protection in the fierceness of political battle. Harry Truman, also a man with a galvanizing turn of phrase, discovered the limits of language as soon as he stepped into the White House, and he let it be known in the opening words of his “Memoirs”:

“Within the first few months I discovered that being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

That presidential awakening and the Cuomo truism are contained in “I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like: A Comprehensive Compliation of History’s Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes” by Mardy Grothe (HarperResource). Grothe has two similar volumes: “Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin With the Word If” and “Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom From History’s Greatest Wordsmiths.” All three cover the range of human experience including relationships, love, sports and politics.

Grothe gives us another worthy contribution from Gwilym Lloyd George, the son of David Lloyd George, British prime minister during World War I. The younger Lloyd George had seen his share of politicians scurry up the ladder, and America’s newest Congressional class might want to ponder his words before mounting the steps of the Capitol: “Politicians are like monkeys. The higher they climb, the more revolting are the parts they expose.”

For soothing words, the Democrats might turn to a new book by Antony Jay, “Lend Me Your Ears: Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations,” in which they will find John Kenneth Galbraith opining in 1968: “There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose.” From George Bernard Shaw's play “Man and Superman,” we hear: “Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.”

And while it may seem a bit ironic and not exactly flattering, the Democrats could find hope and solace in the words of Robin Williams, playing the political talk-show host Tom Dobbs in the movie “Man of the Year”: “Politicians are like diapers. They should be changed frequently, and for the same reason.”

By Steven E. Levingston  | November 5, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Tags:  democratic losses; republican wins; repubican rule;  
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