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The art of the political putdown

Dana Milbank does a great round up of all the deals -- and their alliterative names -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had to cut to secure early Monday morning's 60-40 vote on health care. It certainly does seem, well, unseemly. Gene Robinson echoed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) by calling the "Cornhusker Kickback" to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) a bribe. But Milbank's list of "Cash for Cloture" doesn't include the usual pork barrel outrages such as money for butter museums or studies of endangered insects or an experimental casino. The money is for Medicaid reimbursements and hospitals. No doubt of great benefit to many people in those states. Of course, I can't help wondering where all that cash is going to come from.

At the end of her column, "The Adam Lambert Problem," Peggy Noonan presents some good questions for a poll about American mores.


I'd like to see a poll on this. Yes or no: Have we become a more vulgar country? Are we coarser than, say, 50 years ago? Do we talk more about sensitivity and treat others less sensitively? Do you think standards of public behavior are rising or falling?

I would answer yes to the first three questions and would say that standards of public behavior are falling. And as if on cue, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele presents himself as Exhibit A. During a conference call with reporters on Monday to complain about the Senate health care bill, Steele said, "I am tired of the Congress thumbing their nose and flipping a bird to the American people." He added, "I intend to have my foot on the throat of the Democrats on [health-care reform]." Steele often talks about hooking the RNC up to the hip hop generation, but that last quote is straight-up gangsta.

Politics is a rough game, and, as a political junkie, I love nothing more than hearing a well-crafted put-down. This is one of my favorites. Perhaps Steele could enlist Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush, to devise a thousand points of spite that would allow him to get in a dig at the Democrats without employing imagery as coarse as a Christmas sweater.

By Jonathan Capehart  | December 22, 2009; 8:07 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

At least he didn't wish anyone dead, like Tom Coburn.

Posted by: 1toughlady | December 22, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Coburn did not wish anyone dead. He said pray that they didn't make it for the vote. That could be getting sick, being late, change of heart...that's a pretty big leap to think he'd wish ill on someone.

Posted by: CheleFernandez | December 22, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Its not just politicians that have lost any sense of comity but the pundits and columnists as well. Its hard to find any real dialogue any more. The marketplace and the forum have become shouting matches with no one bothering to listen to a different point of view. I commend you as being one of the few that can still maintain a fair perspective. Keep it up

Posted by: lulm | December 22, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Take a look at Dylan Ratigan's so-called 'interview' of Rep. Wasserman-Schultz two days ago. Tune in to any Hardball show with Chris Matthews refusing to let others finish their thoughts or even finish their answers to questions posed by Matthews himself. Watch Joe Scarborough overtalk Mika and others on the show. I've come to wonder whether incredible rudeness is a condition of employment at MSNBC.

Posted by: PBosleySlogthrop | December 22, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

To Slogthrop:
Yes, MSNBC has some rude people...but they tell the truth. Fox, Washington Time Limbaugh, Savage, Hewitt, et al. do not. To hear Glenn Beck make things up or insinuate that the country is on the brink of a socialist takeover or fascists are coming out of the woodwork is incredible. Hannity, Coulter, O'Reilly, Doocy, Carlson, and the rest of the what's best described as the 'white folk scared that their country is gone forever' crowd and their arrogance and dishonesty. Where is the honest journalism? Where is the social discourse? Where is the courtesy that needs to be paid to elected officials and statesmen and rulers of other countries? You may dislike MSNBC's pundits and call them out for rudeness, but get on it and call those out who outright lie to you. Or is that acceptable to you? Not a vulgarity to be lied to your face?

Posted by: kirinbeer96701 | December 22, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

As a Homophobic Nazi, as the Dem leadership has labelled me, I think that Steele has finally gone TOO FAR!

Something MUST be done to curb the Republican hate train!

Posted by: kenskorupski | December 22, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

If politicos would spend as much time trying to reach a consensus as they do coming up these imaginative put-downs, we might actually solve some problems.

And where to begin with that loudmouth Michael Steele? The notion that this spineless mouthpiece, who takes his marching orders from Rush Limbaugh, putting his 'foot to the throat' of anybody is howlingly funny.

Posted by: EnemyOfTheState | December 22, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

"I'd like to see a poll on this. Yes or no: Have we become a more vulgar country? Are we coarser than, say, 50 years ago? Do we talk more about sensitivity and treat others less sensitively? Do you think standards of public behavior are rising or falling?"

Ummm, with all the important, historic stuff going on, these are not only uninterestingly unimportant questions, they are downright absurdly unimportant.

I guess you had to sift with a fine sieve to find a nugget to use to spin out an attack on Steele today, who is your obvious target.

Posted by: ephemerella | December 22, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

1toughlady --

I can't believe you just wished death upon Tom Coburn -- and in a public forum, no less. Is this how low we've sank? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: pyellman | December 22, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart - your answers to Ms. Noonan's questions are astonishing. Fifty years ago, I could have cheerfully called you the N-word, could have refused to serve you at my restaraunt or hotel, could have made it nearly impossible for you to vote, and so on. (It wasn't so long before that that employers had signs saying "No Micks or Wops wanted".) Pregnant high school students can now attend class. Those who wish to have intimate relationship(s) outside of the one-man-one-woman norm have more freedom in public. There are discussions about how to integrate non-Christians in our communitities. Please, people - look for the hidden assumptions in Ms. Noonan's questions!

Posted by: aglockne | December 22, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Sort of proves your point, Capeheart, that you liked Bentsen's snarky putdown of Quayle. You probably loved Tina Fey's ridicule of Palin as well. Both Quayle and Palin are competent people disliked by liberals and therefore generally accepted as easy targets.
Sort of depends on whose ox is being gored. There are many who just love Alan Grayson, cheer him on, and are sending him buckets of money. No one has batted an eye over Sen. Whitehouse's shameful performance, nor those of Sen. Franken.

The Democrats jumped all over Coburn. But he could easily have meant Sen. Casey who took a lunatic 6 hour drive to PA to spend 2 hours with his family and ran the risk of missing the vote while driving another 6 hours back to DC. Or Lieberman who went to CT. Or any of the other Democrats who were off somewhere in the middle of an East Coast blizzard.
The incivility was the Democrats accusing Coburn, a decent man if there ever was one, of speaking of Byrd, whom the Democrats have been twice willing to wheel through snowstorms in the middle of the night despite his infirmity and age.

Posted by: parkbench | December 22, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

"If politicos would spend as much time trying to reach a consensus as they do coming up these imaginative put-downs, we might actually solve some problems.
And where to begin with that loudmouth Michael Steele? The notion that this spineless mouthpiece, who takes his marching orders from Rush Limbaugh, putting his 'foot to the throat' of anybody is howlingly funny.
Posted by: EnemyOfTheState"

What is more howlingly funny is that he stands no chance of making his gangsta posturing remotely resemble reality.

"Steele said, "I am tired of the Congress thumbing their nose and flipping a bird to the American people." He added, "I intend to have my foot on the throat of the Democrats on [health-care reform]." "

HE is tired of the DEMOCRATS flipping the country the bird? His party just spent nine months using figs, birds, moons, the whole eschatological (I know it doesn't mean that, but it gets used that way) repertoire of fighting gestures, at their colleagues, at the President, at the nation.

But it isn't so much coarsened behavior, but regressive behavior. They are learning from preteen boys in the hood trying to imitate the strut and baad mouth of their older punk friends. They can't quite get the rhythm and haven't the tone or the cadence, and even when they do it is the posturing of punks away from the big boys. Steele does a great imitation of the would be tough twelve year old after the big bully took his lunch money and gave him a noogy to complete the dis. "Oh! Yeah, you ain't so tough, I can take you," as a tear trickles down his cheek.

Does ANY Republican have the self discipline to admit they lost?

Posted by: ceflynline | December 22, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not up to date on Senator Byrds health. But if he is awake and competent I'm sure he wouldn't allow anyone to prevent him from voting. I don't always agree with Senator Byrd, but I NEVER doubt his passion and his committment.
See the Telnaes animation for a lighter look at Senator Coburns comments.

Posted by: MitchinADK | December 22, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Michael Steele was channeling Pres. George Bush-
"I'm going to be real positive, while I keep my foot on John Kerry's throat."-GWB

Posted by: Gracefulboomer | December 23, 2009 12:44 AM | Report abuse

They make wool now that is very soft. D

Posted by: davidgoodman76 | December 23, 2009 3:07 AM | Report abuse

parkbench, Coburn is a C Streeter like Ensign and Sanford, actually Ensign's bag man.

There ain't much honor in that bunch. Just raving hypocrisy.

Posted by: edismae | December 23, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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