Sometimes a person comes up with the right words at just the right time: the result of good timing, a sense of irony, and an apparent simplicity that may yield a deeper truth.
Responses to others can be kind or cutting, playful or hurtful. They are at their worst when one of the parties can hide behind anonymity. One effect is that our political climate has become coarser and more toxic. It doesn’t help that our President seems to have no sense of humor.
Here are just a few favorites of the whittier kind heard from politicians, past and present, residing on both sides of the Atlantic.
- Presidential candidate Cory Booker is frequently asked about race as a factor in the current political climate. One recent response: “I’ve had lots of crazy things said to me, like, ‘Is America ready for another black president?’ And I’m confident it’s never been asked of a white candidate, ‘Is America ready for another white president?’”
- [Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill had a notoriously rocky relationship in and out of the British House of Commons. Both were sharp witted and ready for a quick retort.] Churchill once asked her for some advice on how to proceed in the House of Commons. She responded with a simple “Why don’t you come sober, Prime Minister?” In another exchange that supposedly took place at a party, Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” to which he responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
- [In a recent exchange in Parliament the loquacious MP Anna Soubry dressed down government minister Michael Gove over his support of Brexit. She ended her statement with a pointed question, to which Gove responded,] “The right Honorable lady is a distinguished criminal barrister. Now I know what it is like to be cross-examined by her. But I also understand why Lawyers are paid by the hour.”
- [President Obama loved to work with writers to come up with quips for the Annual White House Correspondents Dinner. He seemed to enjoy sparring with journalists, perhaps because he was a successful writer before assuming the Presidency. He also relished quips playing off of absurd Republican assertions about his personal history.] A favorite: ”These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be.”
- And there’s also this: ”The fact is I really do respect the press. I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be President; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
- John Kennedy won the presidential election in 1960 by a close margin. Charges during the campaign that his wealthy father was rigging the result led to this observation by Kennedy, delivered in his usual understated style: “I just received the following wire from my generous Daddy: ‘Dear Jack, Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.'”