The same commentators are eliminated from contention as regards political insults in general, and for the same reason. To wit, Letterman’s riff on one of his favorite targets, Senator John McCain; “He looks like the guy who’s backed over his own mailbox. He looks like the guy at the supermarket who is confused by the automatic doors. He looks like the guy at the movies whose wife has to repeat everything”, and Stephen Colbert on the same subject, to wit: “John McCain may be behind, but the man is a fighter. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. He used to, but it was stored in the same part of his brain that remembered to vet his running mate.”
But Churchill’s best rejoinder may be apocryphal. While he was sitting on the toilet an aide supposedly knocked on the door to remind him that the Lord of the Privy Seal wanted to speak with him. Now, the Lord of the Privy Sea is not a Lord, is privy to nothing, and holds no seal. He is an advisor to the Prime Minister without a cabinet position, and so a person with no real power. This may explain why Churchill responded to the interruption as he supposedly did. Through the closed bathroom door he told the aide to, “Tell the Lord Privy Seal that I am sealed in my privy, and can only deal with one s—t at a time.” The story may be myth, but it is clear that Winston stood head and shoulders above his contending wits while on the attack.
But did Coolidge inspire Mencken to deliver the deftest, wittiest political insult in history? I fear not. Nor was it delivered by Dorothy Parker, the fem-fatalist writer and razor wit, who, on being told that Coolidge was dead, immediately asked, “How can they tell?”
Nor was it the old Frenchman Georges Clemenceau, who sat through a bombastic speech by British Prime Minster Lloyd George, even though Clemenceau understood not a word of English. At the end of the speech the septuagenarian Frenchman shook his head in awe and whispered to an aide, “Oh, if I could only piss the way he speaks”; point taken. But still it falls short.
No, I believe the best, most accurate, most vicious witticism ever uttered by any politician sprang from the lips of Bob Dole, Republican workhorse and American Presidential candidate. Well before his own failed Presidential campaign, Dole attended a 1980 White House reception for former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, before they flew off to attend Anwar Sadat's funeral. Looking over the White House's Blue Room crowded with ex-Presidents, Dole was heard to comment, “There they are. See no evil, hear no evil and…evil.”
Accurate, biting, funny and inventive; and the very definition of wit.
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