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As a longtime political operative, I love the “art of the comeback” or the retort. They often occur during televised political debates. When I was coaching congressional candidates for debates, we often proposed retorts to accusations or statements our opponents were likely to raise. Conversely, we warned of ones they might use.
One of the best retorts in political history occurred in 1988 during the vice presidential debate between two US Senators – Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) and Dan Quayle (R-IN). Chris Lamb tells the story:
George H.W. Bush, having served two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, ran for president in 1988. Bush selected a relatively obscure 41-year-old senator Dan Quayle as his running mate. Quayle tried to deflect questions about his age and inexperience by comparing himself to John K. Kennedy when he ran for president in 1960.
Quayle’s advisors told him not to bring up the comparison during his debate with the Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen.
Quayle ignored the advice.
“I have as much experience as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency,” Quayle said during the nationally televised debate.
Bentsen famously turned to Quayle and said, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Bush-Quayle won the Presidential Election, but Quayle was forever reduced to a punch line in US politics.
The moral of this story is that your opposition is watching and listening to your talking points.
As a fan and supporter of the former Vice President, this is painful but true.
So when the White House chose to use the temporary and highly successful Paycheck Protection Program from the $2.2 trillion bipartisan CARES Act in 2020 as their comeback to attacks over Biden’s illegal student loan “forgiveness” fiasco, I scratched my head.