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IN POLITICS, INSULT NOW A LOST ART.

Byline: Kimit Muston Local View

I'M afraid this year's presidential election is going to prove pretty boring.

Oh, sure, we've been promised attack ads, but what do we get? Kerry calls the Bush team ``crooks and liars.'' I gave better insults in grade school.

In reply, Bush implies Kerry is an indecisive rich kid. Hey, if he means Kerry is a fop, why doesn't he just say so?

What's missing is the clarity and power of description provided by a well-thought-out political insult.

Ah, where are the dandiprat dogberries of yesterday? And what happened to the slubberdegallions, the doddypolls and the fop doodles? Have all the flibbertigibbets gone extinct?

To listen to the political rhetoric of what is supposed to be a vicious national campaign, I question the future health of our political vocabulary.

What is the most feared insult thrown down by today's namby-pamby politicians and spin doctors? ``Liberal.''

The media tremble in fear of being called liberal. The Democrats roar in denial. The Republicans shriek in protest.

But are we talking economic liberal or social liberal? And remember, libertarians are really ultraconservatives. So it gets confusing.

If you really want to insult and have it stick, why not just call your opponent a ``fobbing clapper-clawed ratshane''? Or an ``idle-headed bum- bailey''? Now those are insults you can understand even if you don't understand them.

With a little wit and a little thought, of course, our politicians could instead be charging, ``My honorable opponent is a goop, a mug, a sap, a tatterdemalion and a putty head,'' just like our Founding Fathers used to do.

In 1811, newspaperman Washington Irving called President James Madison ``a withered little apple-John.'' I have no idea what an apple-John is, and yet I know exactly what Irving thought of his president.

What's needed today is invective dialogue for the informative entertainment of the voters.

Who wouldn't rush to the polls to cast a ballot against a man who was ``the basest, meanest scoundrel that ever disgraced the image of God,'' which is how Andrew Jackson described Henry Clay?

And surely you would want your vote counted against a ``rigid fanatic, ambitious, selfish partisan - who will either die a traitor or a madman,'' which is how Jackson described John Calhoun.

Now, Jackson - he knew how to craft an insult to define his opponent.

It's a lost art. When William Corbett described Benjamin Franklin as ``a crafty and lecherous old hypocrite,'' there was no ambiguity.

And when Harpers magazine editorialized that Abraham Lincoln was a ``filthy storyteller, despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster (and) ignoramus,'' you didn't even have to ask whom they wanted to you to vote for.

Part of the problem with our tame political tongue is our politicians have become tame, too. They lack the larger-than-life personalities that might offend, yet inspire really inventive invective.

Remember Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of England in the 1980s? Her opponents called her ``Attila the Hen.''

She was described as having ``the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula.'' Her speeches ``sounded like the Book of Revelations read out over a railway station public address system.'' One politician insisted, ``She only went to Venice because somebody told her she could walk down the middle of the street.''

You almost feel as if you know the lady, right? On the other side of the world, an Australian politician describe his own prime minister as looking ``like an Easter Island statue with an a-- full of razor blades.'' Now, even though I didn't identify him by name, you probably could pick him out of a police lineup or recognize his photo in a medical textbook.

I'm not suggesting that vitriol be used merely for descriptive purposes. No, in politics the personal invective should only be fired off with good thought and good reason. And timing is everything.

Recently, the Canadian Liberal Party, led by Dalton McGuinty, was about to hold a press conference on health care, a story which would likely dominate the evening news. The opposition Conservative Party sent the following fax to the television stations just before the press conference; ``Dalton McGuinty; He's an evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet.''

Guess which story led off the evening news that night? And ask yourself: Wouldn't you want to know if a kitten-eater was on the ballot?

That is insult as public service.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 21, 2004
Words:728
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