The Magazine

My Struggle with Political Discourse

Will the rhetoric ever change?

Apr 30, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 31 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Political discourse has become so rotten that it's no longer possible to tell the stench of one presidential candidate from the stink of another. They all give off the same skunk whiff. Would-be chief executives and their staffs shovel madly in the manure pile of foreign and domestic policy. Rhetorical flatulence renders their positions on the global warming debate moot. And the smell gets worse as the recycling center that is the 2008 election approaches.

Or am I wrong? This campaign has been going on forever. The flipping and flopping and spin is making me bandwagon-sick. Electoral nausea causes everything to smell equally bad. It may be that political discourse is no more indistinguishable-or putrid-than ever. You decide. Read the following genuine politician quotes and see if you can determine who cut which cheese.

"The absurdity of our way of arranging salaries, which considers the question of the family and its support far too little . . ."

-John Edwards addressing corporate compensation?

-Tommy Thompson addressing
tax rates?

-Dennis Kucinich addressing an empty auditorium?


"We more than deserved this defeat. It is only the greatest outward symptom of decay among quite a series of internal ones which perhaps would have remained hidden to the eyes of most people. . . ."

-Dennis Kucinich on Iraq?

-Newt Gingrich on the '06 congressional elections?

-Fred Thompson on Iraq and the '06 congressional elections?

-Wesley Clark on himself?

"The new movement . . . succeeded in awakening in the hearts of its adherents the sacred conviction that with it not a new election slogan was to be forced upon political life, but a new view of life. . ."

-Hillary Clinton explaining feminism at Wellesley?

-John McCain explaining McCain-Feingold?

-Mitt Romney explaining his shift
on abortion?

"I thank Heaven for giving me a share of the memories of those happy days. Woods and meadows were the battlefield where the ever-present 'conflicts' were fought out."

-Mitt Romney on being a life-long hunter?

-Al Gore on his youthful environmentalism?

-Barack Obama on growing up black in Hawaii?

-Rudy Giuliani on Central Park after sundown?

-Christopher Dodd on hanging out in Hyannisport and chasing girls
with Ted Kennedy?

"It was probably at that time that my first ideals were formed. A lot of romping around out-of-doors, the long trip to school, and the companionship with unusually 'robust' boys, which at times caused my mother much grief, made me anything but a stay-at-home. . . . I had become a little ringleader."

-Hillary Rodham?

-Hillary Clinton?

-Hillary Rodham Clinton?

"I know people who endlessly read a lot, book after book, letter for letter, yet I would not call them 'well read.' Of course they possess a wide 'knowledge,' but their intellect does not know how to distribute and register the material gathered."

-John McCain, off the record,
about Newt Gingrich?

-Newt Gingrich, on the record,
about everybody else?

-Joe Biden about Joe Biden?

"Now I saw the liberal attitude of the press in a different light; its dignified language . . . was revealed to me as a trick as clever as it was mean."

-Joe Biden?

-Howard Dean?

-Tom Vilsack?

-Sam Brownback?

-Mike Huckabee?

-Barack Obama a couple of months from now?

"I entered for the first time the sacred and much-disputed chambers. . . . Several hundred of these representatives of the people were present who at that moment had to decide about a question of important economic significance. . . . It was a gesticulating mass, shrieking in all keys, wildly stirred, presided over by a good-natured old uncle who . . . tried to re-establish the dignity of the House. . . . I could not help laughing."

-Bill Richardson after a couple of drinks?

-Newt Gingrich sober?

"The [farmer] receives protection for his agriculture, the industrialist protection for his products, the consumer protection for his purchases, the teachers' salaries are increased . . . widows and orphans are to be taken care of . . . the tariffs are to be lowered and even the taxes are to be abolished, though not completely, but almost."

-Candidates' staff in private, ironically?

-Candidates in public, unironically?

"Political activity is loathsome and hateful to a really decent, and therefore courageous, man, while it is attractive to all wretched characters."


-none of the '08 presidential candidates.