Feature

United Kingdom: Political insults are both good and proper

The gold standard is still Churchill’s indictment of Labor Party leader Clement Attlee as “a modest little man with much to be modest about,” said Jackie Ashley in The Guardian.

Jackie AshleyThe Guardian

Please don’t do away with “the fine art of insult,” said Jackie Ashley. The deputy leader of the Labor Party, Harriet Harman, was pilloried this week for calling Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander a “ginger rodent.” Harman had to apologize not only to Alexander personally, but to “redheads everywhere; to Scotland; to men with freckles; to squirrels; and to any mice, rats, and voles who might have taken offense.” Her groveling repentance could well scare off other politicians from even attempting the humorous dig—and “if that happens, democracy will probably collapse through lack of interest.”

Humor is “the single most devastating weapon in public debate, the one thing that can stop an argument in its tracks.” The key is to be incisive, not simply a name-caller. “Hurling racist abuse” at Obama, for example, would be “vile,” while calling him a socialist is “ignorant.” But mocking his aura of cool could be deadly effective. The gold standard is still Churchill’s indictment of Labor Party leader Clement Attlee as “a modest little man with much to be modest about.” Granted, Harman’s gibe wasn’t nearly as funny, but I give her points for effort. After all, “in these dry, gray times we shouldn’t howl anyone down for trying.”

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