Election 2012

Debate ‘Zingers’ Suck

Considering how the unfunniest man in political history is rehearsing "zingers" as a path to the presidency, I reviewed a list of the most famous debate zingers. In the process, I was reminded: debate zingers suck.

The best of the list is Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" line, and partly because it was assisted by Dan Quayle's stunned deer-in-the-headlights response. Ultimately, however, it didn't help Bentsen's ticket.

"There you go again," used by Reagan twice, isn't really a zinger. Reagan's "youth and inexperience" line is, in fact, a zinger even though it seemed rehearsed and unnatural -- in fact, Reagan almost choked on the line.

But this was the all-time worst zinger of the list:

4. “If Bush keeps it up, he's going to be the Joe Isuzu of American politics.” Both Vice President George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis managed to get in a few zingers during the 1988 presidential debate in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dukakis claimed Bush couldn’t be serious about bringing down the deficit, because the Republican wanted both more defense spending and lower taxes. “If he keeps this up he's going to be the Joe Isuzu of American politics,” Dukakis said, referring to a '70s car salesman famous for his over-the-top TV ads. “Is this the time to unleash our one-liner? That answer was about as clear as Boston Harbor,” Bush retorted.

I cringe every time I read that one. Joe Isuzu?? Ugh.

That line had a shelf-life of about two seconds. I realize the lying Joe Isuzu guy was quite a meme in 1988, but holy hell. Too specific, too topical and, coming from Michael Dukakis, it simply wasn't funny. Furthermore, Dukakis still lost the election in a blow-out. Plus, George Bush's response about Boston Harbor was equally as lame, but on a meta-level. It was a "zinger" that was designed to undermine the use of "zingers."

And this is what Unfunny Romney has been rehearsing since August? Good luck with that.

  • bphoon

    Mitt “Henny Youngman” Romney?

  • D_C_Wilson

    The problem with zingers is you have to have the personality to sell them. Dukakis didn’t, neither did Mondale. As a professional actor, delivering a clever line was right in Saint Ron’s wheelhouse.

    But Romney is not funny. No matter how many times Ann tries to tell us he is, he just isn’t. This is a guy who thought a story about his father laying off thousands of workers was hilarious. He thought the story about him putting his dog on the roof of his car was not only funny, but made him endearing.

    Every attempt he’s made at humor has either been awkward or just made him look douchey. Look at his previous attempts are zingers in debates. The one everyone thinks of is his attempt to bet Rick Perry $10,000.

    If he thinks he can skate through the debates with some clever one-liners, he’s more in denial than I had thought.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    President Obama is going to shrink Mitt Romney down to rat size with his mastery of the topics> Romney should be quaking in his damn Ferragamos and considering what his alternative employment might be.

    (the fact that Romney doesn’t need a job will just make his loss sweeter, because Romney wants it so bad, he is going to completely freak out when the votes are counted)

  • i_am_allwrite

    3 things I expect to see in the debates:
    1) In the debate where he is doing best, Romney will try to throw in a “there you go again,” only his delivery will be so creepy it will prompt another “Sweet Jesus” moment on Morning Joe, and Obama will smack him down with a devastating and pre-prepared comeback, since Romney’s already said he’s going to try to use the line. All of the post-debate coverage will focus on the screw-up, not his strong performance to that point, prompting more GOP whining about bias;
    2) He will jump the gun on at least one zinger, using it (while laughing his freaky laugh) where it’s not appropriate, then double down on it the next day, even though the intervening 12 hours have done nothing to make it make sense;
    3) He will underperform badly, because, as a robot, knowledge of the data is his biggest asset, but his logic circuits will be overloaded because he will be more focused on trying to find the right moments to unleash his zingers (an impossible task for a robot because it relies on an ability to read an audience and to understand how humor works) than on actually, y’know, debating.
    Note to Bob: please post at least the audio of Frank Burns telling his “funny story” about the boy in the wheelchair that you used in the podcast months ago. It explains Mitt’s sense of humor perfectly.

    • Victor_the_Crab


      But seriously, isn’t the entire Republican party made up of Frank Burnses?

      • i_am_allwrite

        Allen West and Michelle Bachmann, to say nothing of Rove and Norquist, are so much more dangerous and deluded than a Congress full of Burnses could be. Frank just wanted to fuck Hot Lips and steal his wife’s money.
        Really–how quaint.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    He’ll be as bad and pathetic as Sarah Palin was when she kept saying “There you go again, say it ain’t so, Joe.” during her debate against Joe Biden.

  • BenAu

    I’m starting to wonder if this represents a clumsy attempt to manipulate a ‘meme’ response… You know, a clueless reading of the response to Eastwood’s chair -“if you say something ‘gotcha’ enough, it’s all people will talk about for days and they’ll think you’re cool now” – that sort of thing.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YJTRJCOIMLAN6EARLFOQXJHDF4 Roxanne

    This man is an idiot. I can’t wait to watch him implode.

  • Draxiar

    I rememeber watching the debates between President Obama and John McCain. McCain tried desperately to zing Obama and followed each up with a half-hearted snicker. Obama kept right on talking and stayed on point completely ignoring McCain. This made McCain seem all the more desperate.

    Romney will appear desperate because he is and he doesn’t have enough personality or charisma to cover that up.

    Wednesday can’t arrive fast enough for me.

    • http://twitter.com/Sweetey15 Janet ODell

      The one thing I remember about Grampy McCain was him walking around all over the stage like he was lost. I am still laughing about that.

      • stacib23

        Oh no, how could you forget the thumb point and sneer while he said, “that one” when talking about Obam? OMG, that was hilarious.

      • Victor_the_Crab

        And the photo of him and Obama, where McCain’s hands were stretched out and his tounge hanging out of his mouth looking as if he was hungrily going for Obama’s ass. You almost felt sorry for him.

    • MrDHalen

      John McCain had earned the nation’s respect for being a service member and prisoner of war. Obama had to artfully debate McCain without dismissing the man as an empty suit. Romney will receive no such respect! It will be him who has to be careful in how he engages the sitting President of the United States.

      I think the president is going to show the world that Romney is just an empty suit. I’m looking for a repeat of the televised healthcare debate with the Republicans.

  • http://twitter.com/JCTRambler John Thomas

    From the same writing team as “Where’s the beef?” no doubt.

  • http://twitter.com/Sweetey15 Janet ODell

    This entire “zing” crap from the Romney campaign totally demeans the debate process. Romney has yet to show us what his plans are on any issue. He has no core values, no ideas of his own, and he stands for absolutely nothing. So now he is going to try to win this election with cute “zingers”? Mother of God please give me grace ……….. and I’m not even Catholic !

    • Nefercat

      Exactly. We have Ryan patronizing us by telling us that “there isn’t time” to explain his plan to morons like us, and that anyway we just won’t listen to hard stuff like that; we would rather change the channel.

      And Romney thinks he’ll win people with “zingers”? Their contempt for the electorate grows more obvious by the day.