[FoRK] 'And Now, Quotations That Said It All . . .'
Stephen D. Williams
Sun Jan 8 14:54:22 PST 2006
> "It's very efficient," Widmer says. "It packs maximal inaccuracy into
> minimal expression."
'And Now, Quotations That Said It All . . .'
By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 29, 2005; Page C01
What else to do this week but peruse the various year-end quote
compilations of 2005? And, as always, what fun.
Among the menu items: Howard Dean hating Republicans, Pat Robertson
calling for the head of the Venezuelan president, Dick Cheney swearing
in -- not at -- reelected Sen. Pat Leahy, Dick Durbin becoming the
latest pol to learn that Nazi comparisons never work, Kanye West saying
George W. Bush doesn't care about black people, Bush saying we must fix
Social Security ("or Rumsfeld may never retire") and Scooter Libby
waxing pastoral about aspens turning in fall and how it was time for
Miss Run Amok to return to her job (this was a few months before it was
time for him to leave his).
Such lists fill space and turn pages in December -- like aspens turn in
fall. The quotes run together, a blur of insurgencies in their last
throes (Cheney) and victory notions in Iraq being "just plain wrong" (Dean).
There is no design to any of this, intelligent or otherwise.
Over time, most quotes will recede from memory. ("In a month," declared
Trent Lott, "who will remember the name Harriet Miers?," etc., etc.) But
some utterances will live on, concoctions of brilliance, intentional or not.
What were the best quotes of 2005? Oh, so many, according to our panel
of experts -- a bipartisan group of Astute Washington Observers whose
opinions we value greatly and, more importantly, who were responsive
during a week when self-respecting AWOs are keeping their BlackBerrys
But this being zero-sum Washington, it's not enough to simply compile a
"Best of" list. This town craves one winner, a front-runner quote that
dominates all others. And that winner is . . . ohhh, not so fast.
By narrative convention, we'll start with the runners-up in a naked
attempt to build drama and make you read to the end.
"Let me start by telli ng y ou this: I have never used steroids. Period ."
-- Chemically enhanced slugger Rafael Palmeiro to a congressional panel.
The now-former Oriole tested positive for you-know-what a few months later.
But thanks for playing, Raffy. And extra credit for jabbing your finger
in the air for emphasis.
"Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, you don't even -- you're glib. You
don't even know what Ritalin is. If you start talking about chemical
imbalance, you have to evaluate and read the research papers on how they
came up with these theories, Matt, okay? That's what I've done. . . .
You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."
-- Dr. Tom Cruise, in an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" show.
Coupled with the sofa-jumping on Oprah as Scientology's leading man
declared his love for Katie Holmes, this exchange fed an impression of a
dude unhinged, or off his Ritalin.
"I took a po o in th e woods hunched over like an animal. It was awesome."
-- Drew Barrymore on MTV's celeb eco tour, "Trippin.' "
End of Simply-Too-Good-to-Skip Dept.
Partisan Inflammation Dept.:
" They all behave the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a
white Christian party."
-- Dean, now head of the Democratic National Committee, generalizing
Given that Dean is also on record as saying he hates Republicans ("and
everything they stand for"), one can imagine some of them hate him right
But that would be wrong.
"It would be unfair not to give the honor to Howard Dean," says
Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers, casting his vote for quote of the year.
"He is probably the most quoted DNC chairman ever. Quoted by
Republicans, that is."
"Dean is the gift for Republicans that will keep on giving into 2006,"
adds Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert. He's
liking Dick Durbin's contribution, too: The Democratic whip compared the
treatment of some prisoners in U.S. custody to something "done by Nazis,
Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime -- Pol Pot, or others."
" What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to
stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. So many
people in this arena, here, you know, were underprivileged, so this is
working very well for them."
-- Barbara Bush, while visiting Katrina evacuees in the Houston Astrodome.
"Gotta be Bar," says Democratic strategist Jim Jordan. "All you need to
know about the worldviews of 41 and 43 is that the family matriarch
believes, and says, that hurricane-ravaged poor folks, who've lost loved
ones and what little else they have in the world, have caught a lucky
break to be camping out in the Astrodome."
As a general rule, the most durable quotes don't require the media to
keep replaying them (as was done with Dean's 2004 scream) or a hostile
opposition to keep reminding everyone of them (as Bush did to John "I
actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" Kerry).
Rather, they stand on their own absurdity, famous last words that hang
naturally from the necks of their authors. All the better if they are
uttered with conviction, from a bully pulpit.
This year provided another classic in the famous-last-words category. It
is the slam-dunk, read-my-lips,
I-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman 2005 doozie, a Cat 5
quote for the ages:
"Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."
-- President Bush, during his first visit to the Gulf Coast after
Hurricane Katrina, commending then-FEMA head Michael Brown.
Really, it was never even close. The president's vote of confidence had
all the markings: Patently false, it came during a widely viewed event,
was uttered by a prominent speaker, played to an unflattering caricature
(of both people) and packed supreme irony: Within days, Brownie was no
longer doing any job, never mind a heckuva one.
It also bestowed a belittling one-word nickname that would eliminate
"Michael Brown" from any future discussion of the president's doomed
Master of Disaster.
Plus: Brownie's white dress shirt was buttoned too high and pressed way
too well for a hurricane.
Plus: Brownie's last job -- you couldn't invent a better one -- was
commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.
Plus: Brownie's e-mails would eventually make him look like an even
"I got it at Nordsstroms [sic]," Brownie wrote of his outfit while
Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Then he added: "Are you
proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"
Yes, yes and yes, Brownie.
But we digress. Back to the presidential money quote:
"I think for both concision and cluelessness, Bush wins hands down,"
says Ted Widmer, a professor of history at Washington College in
Chestertown, Md., and a White House speechwriter during the Clinton
"It's very efficient," Widmer says. "It packs maximal inaccuracy into
An added bonus of "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" is that it will
live forever in the lexicon of disingenuous boss-speak. Who will ever
hear the words "you're doing a heckuva job" again without half expecting
to be frog-marched out of the office a few days later?
On that note, have a heckuva New Year, everyone. And watch what you say.
swilliams at hpti.com http://www.hpti.com Per: sdw at lig.net http://sdw.st
Stephen D. Williams 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 20147-4622 AIM: sdw
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