May 23, 2006

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

The greatest comeback in the history of presidential/vice presidential debates.

RIP Lloyd Bentsen.

59 comments:

SteveR said...

Easily

MadisonMan said...

In part because it was the truth.

Richard Fagin said...

Uh, no, and I happened to have liked Treasury Secretary Bentsen, the only mature adult in President Clinton's cabinet. The greatest comeback in one of those "debates" was President Reagan saying about Sen. Mondale that, "I won't hold my opponent's youth and inexperience against him." Better yet, "I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine." See, the difference is ol' Ronnie could demolish his opponent by making fun of himself. And, yeah Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy, but Lloyd was no Ronnie either.

Mark the Pundit said...

In part because it was the truth.

Yes, Quayle, after all, had integrity.

OK guys, flame away at me! heh.

Goesh said...

- hands down the best, it sort of vaporized Mr. Potatoe

Jeff said...

Interesting comment. But would Jack Kennedy have been Jack Kennedy had he survived his term of office? Was Jack Kennedy Jack Kennedy at the same stage of his public life? Couldnt Nixon have said something comparable in his debates about JFK's then youth and inexperince?

Dave said...

potatoe, tomatoe, idiot.

Bissage said...

Lloyd Bentsen was no gentleman.

Bissage said...

And it wasn't a comeback. It was an insult. There's a difference.

shake-and-bake said...

Quayle's response should have been: "You, sir, are no Lyndon Johnson."

Richard Dolan said...

bissage says: "And it wasn't a comeback. It was an insult. There's a difference."

Exactly right. I remember watching that debate. It was an uncomfortable moment. Quayle just stared straight ahead, not looking at Bentsen. And Bentsen looked a little too satisfied with his nasty, personal put-down. It's true that Quayle should never have been picked by Bush 1 for VP and always seemed to have that "deer in the headlights" look. But Bentsen's little barb was rude, and tell me anything about Quayle I hadn't already figured out. It only told me something about Bentsen I hadn't realized before.

SteveR said...

Reagan's comment, I believe, was an answer to a question not a comeback to Mondale.

Lots of comebacks Quayle could have said and he has probably been haunted by the "l'esprit d'escalier" ever since.

Roy Lofquist said...

I always thought that Quayle should have responded: "You're right. Marilyn would have divorced me if I were".

Mike said...

My respect for Bentsen went down a couple of notches when he uttered that line. It was rude and uncalled for.

MadisonMan said...

And it wasn't a comeback. It was an insult.

It was rude and uncalled for.

The truth sometimes hurts. Quayle brought this upon himself by making the comparison initially.

I thought it was totally predictable on both sides, but Bentsen made it look unscripted. I'm sure, though, that one of Bentsen's handlers asked him pre-debate what he'd do if Quayle compared himself to JFK.

Rude would be telling the Senator to go #$@& himself.

Mike Barer said...

The Black mark on Bentsen's career was when as treasury secretary he sent the BATF in to raid David Koresh's house in Waco and got several men killed.

Bissage said...

MadisonMan: Are you saying that Quayle deserved a televised Bitch Slapping, and he got one, and that made you feel all good inside?

Please tell me I misunderstand.

Jacques Hawtrey said...

I remember watching that debate and considered the comment to be entirely calculated. Dan Quayle was holding his own and winning the debate until he came out with his much used line of being the same age as Jack Kennedy when he ran for president. Bentsen, having been coached by his handlers, was lying in wait for that statement and the debate was called for Bentsen with that statement alone.

SWBarns said...

Quayle's revenge is that after a 50 year career, 'you're no Jack Kennedy' is the only thing we remember.

MadisonMan said...

Bissage, I'm saying JDQ was a fool to make the comparison. He must have been coached against it. Why did he ignore his coaches and proceed to make the comparison? If you are a fool in a VP debate you deserve what you get. Did it make me feel good inside? No, it just confirmed what I already knew: Quayle was not someone I wanted anywhere near the White House.

swbarns, the only thing I really remember about Quayle is his deer-in-headlights look. I'd prefer to be known for a caustic remark a la Bentsen than vacuousness a la Quayle.

I still wonder what the heck Bush41 was smokin' when he came up with this nomination.

Robert said...

The thing that always interested me is that the clearly-calculated putdown pushed the bounds of truthiness pretty hard. IIRC, Bentsen only overlapped Kennedy in the House for 2 years (or maybe it was 2 terms) and there isn't any evidence anywhere that they were friends in anything more than a wave in the hallway sense. But the slam was so definitive that the facts didn't matter. And to any married man, the correct response to "You're no Jack Kennedy" is "Thank you."

SWBarns said...

Madison Man-

Being perhaps the only person in the world the read Quayle's book "Standing Firm" I can explain.

Bush 41 was looking to pick up chicks and needed a wingman. No really, that was it – good looking, moderately conservative, young– that's what the Republican Ticket needed. Quayle reported this in his book and acknowledged that he was probably too young and inexperienced to be V.P. Bush asked him to be V.P. and Quayle agreed, against his better judgment. Bush's handlers hated him from the outset and started to tear him down immediately.

Deer in the headlights look and an extra 'e' are all Quayle is remembered for, but he beat Benson and Gore soundly in their debates.

Ford was stereotyped as a klutz, Carter as adrift, Reagan as senile, Gore as a liar and G. W. Bush as stupid. All of these are wrong, except maybe the Carter one. Quayle was Vice President for four years and all you remember is “a deer-in-the-headlights look” I would probably keep my accusations of vacuous-ness to myself (sorry that was mean, I intended it to be funny when I wrote it).

MadisonMan said...

swbarns, if you can remind me of something substantial Dan Quayle did in his four years as vice president, I'll happily listen. Feel free to include anything he's done since as well. I will posit that writing that book does not count.

Part of the problem, of course, is the warm spit-bucketness of the position.

Incidentally, my stereotypes would be: Ford: klutzy; Carter: in-over-head; Reagan: detached; [Why is Gore in your list of Presidents -- is that a prediction of '08?]; GW Bush: Really detached.

MadisonMan said...

Perhaps I should note that, since Quayle is no longer in the public sector, I shouldn't expect to hear much from him, as I am not a client of his. So perhaps that's why I've heard nothing of him since he left office.

SteveR said...

something substantial Dan Quayle did in his four years as vice president

two words: undisclosed location

To this day we don't know where he hid.

XWL said...

How many states did Dukakis/Bentsen win?

It was definitively the best 'comeback' within a televised presidential/vice-presidential debate that fit the frame the media was choosing to place regarding the election coverage.

As far as Sen Bentsen, for most of his career he served as an American first, a Texan second, An Oilman third and a Democrat fourth, values all politicians should strive to emulate.

Any Democrat with this, "True to his Tory Democratic roots, Bentsen was an unabashed advocate of his state's oil industry and an early proponent of cutting corporate and capital gain tax rates." in his obituary can't be all bad.

(and Bentsen/Dukakis received one Electoral vote from a faithless elector in West Virginia)

(Doesn't 'faithless elector in West Virginia' sound like the beginnings of a country song?)

SWBarns said...

I'm with you on the warm spit bucketness. The only two things that come to mind are Counsel on Competitiveness and 'Space Guy' (I don't think that was the real title). I'd say Quayle has Mondale and Gore beaten hands down (except for that whole internet thing, but Gore was a Senator when he invented that).

My list was of executive branch leadership who were unfairly stereotyped. I was going to add something on Clinton but I wasn't sure if it was unfair or a stereotype.

Quayle went quietly into obscurity as all former presidents and vice presidents should.

J said...

I agree it made Bentsen look bad, though few pundits saw it that way. The press/media has an inexplicable respect for/obsession with the Kennedy family that very little of the public shares.

Eli Blake said...

Robert (3:18)

Actually, the right for years tried to put down Bentsen by claiming that he did not know Jack Kennedy well. In fact, in 2003, NewsMax published an article that said he did not know him at all.

However, in preparing a blog post this morning on my blog, I called the research division of the Kennedy library and they verified that Lloyd Bentsen not only knew him, but attended his wedding. True, there were 800 at the wedding, so he may not have been a close personal friend, but he was clearly more than a 'wave to in the hall,' person (after all, the Kennedys had thousands of aquaintances).

What is scary is that I could find out in a fifteen minute phone call more than an organization like NewsMax could in all their research.

Eli Blake said...

I think you guys miss the point.

The comment made Bentsen look like a mean, ornery S.O.B.

It also made Quayle look incompetent.

And given that choice for President, most people would prefer the S.O.B. Bentsen wasn't trying to look like a good guy, he was trying to look like a guy that wouldn't put up with any kind of aggression from the Soviet Union, and in that he succeeded.

Dr. Fager said...

Quayle could have squashed him like a bug if he had simply said, "Sir, JFK was no JFK.

afterthoughts said...

Great quote, except it wasn't true.

Bentsen was in private business during Kennedy's presidency, and lived and worked in Texas. He and LBJ loathed each other and were on opposite sides of the Texas power elite. LBJ's faction won out, and JFK chose LBJ as his path to the White House. That choice could not have endeared him to Bentsen.

While he pursued his business interests in Texas Bentsen was only invited to the White House one time that I am aware of, and that might be urban myth. And if memory serves, White House phone records don't record a single call from Kennedy to Bentsen. Some friend.

The only part of the myth that's true, is that Bentsen briefly "served" with JFK in the House during the late forties and early fifties, during which time Kennedy did not endear himself to the House leadership. Bentsen was a team player, Kennedy was not. At best, they were at odds. At worst, they didn't like each other from the start - which is evidenced by Bentsen and his Texas faction being all but shut out of White House invitations during Kennedy's presidency.

Great quote. Pure Texas hogwash.

Ann Althouse said...

Isn't it getting rather clear that liking or not liking this quote depends on which candidate you were otherwise for?

Bissage said...

"And given that choice for President, most people would prefer the S.O.B."

Pretty sure Bentsen was running for Vice-President. You know, with Dukakis?

And they both lost.

Bissage said...

Ann: I'll speak only for myself. Bentsen's nasty little stunt pushed me irretrievably the other way, the same as with the Kerry/Edwards Mary Cheney thing.

I do my level best not to reward mean people, in general, which is why I vote against them, in particular.

Your rule presupposes unyielding prejudice.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Isn't it getting rather clear that liking or not liking this quote depends on which candidate you were otherwise for?

Well, I'll break in and say if I wasn't in seventh grade, I would've voted for Dukakis-Bensten, but I agree with Richard Fagin that Reagan's "I won't hold my opponent's youth and inexperience against him" line far surpassed Benten's "you are no Jack Kennedy" line in terms of rhetorical power and political influence.

The power of Bentsen's line is entirely attributable to Quayle's misjudgment, not Bentsen's genius. Quayle knew he would be goaded into making the comparison to JFK and was warned not to go there. Against advice, he went there.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Bentsen's nasty little stunt pushed me irretrievably the other way, the same as with the Kerry/Edwards Mary Cheney thing.


I don't buy this for a second. Its the same argument people make here about gay rights: if only gay people were nicer and not so demanding then I might consider supporting them. Whatever. Either you support these policies or not. Don't bullshit us that you'd be liberal if only liberals were nicer. What thinking person votes on the basis of who is "nicer"?

phillywalker said...

"potatoe, tomatoe, idiot"

Just for the record - I'm no great fan of Quayle, but the bad press he received for that spelling bee thing really irks me.

He was given a flash card with a misspelled word: potatoe. Personally, I think it was a set-up.

If you don't believe me, just think for a moment: how do teachers run spelling bees? Do they ask people to come in and pull words out of the air?

No, they use lists or flash cards. Quayle was given a bad card, and he went with the spelling on the card, which most people would do in these circumstances, even if it looked wrong to them.

Personally, I don't know if he could spell well or not, and I don't care, but I really hate the way he was pilloried for the teacher's mistake (or duplicity).

Bissage said...

Joseph Hovsep: It is wholly your choice whether to believe me or not.

But here's some free advice in the form of a question. What thinking person: (1) applies such abstracted speculation to the particular and (2) considers the function of basic human trust immaterial to political decision making?

Ann Althouse said...

I just want to say that the Reagan "youth" quote is better. It's gracious and self-effacing, and genuinely surprising and original. It was likeable even to those of us who opposed Reagan. It's not that I didn't think about it as I wrote this post. It's the reason I used the word "comeback." He was not responding to something Mondale said, I believe.

stealthlawprof said...

I hope no one takes this as disrespectful toward the late Senator Bentsen. My key memory with him is also from the 1988 election when he ran for VP while also on the ballot for reelection as the Senator from Texas. An older relative of mine who had retired to Texas revealed her political stripes rather clearly when she told me she looked forward to the election because she could vote against Lloyd Bentsen twice.

ChrisO said...

Reagan's quote was a good one, but I sincerely hope that no one is undr the impression that his line was any less scripted than Bentsen's. Do you think that Bentsen knew the JFK line was coming, but Reagan had no idea that he would have to address the age issue? Very few of these memorable lines are truly off the cuff.

It wasn't during a general election debate, but I think "I paid for this microphone" is one of the few memorable spontaneous comments to come from a debate.

And bissage, I too am quite skeptical about your claim. You were actually considering voting for Dukakis or Kerry, but one remark made you go for their opponent? If that is true, it has to one of the most ill-considered reasons to vote for a candidate I've ever heard.

I have to believe that those who are so vociferous in declaring Bentsen rude were Quayle supporters. Polls showed that the public thought Bentsen won by a 2-1 margin.

Bissage said...

ChrisO: A fair question deserves a fair answer.

Here it is: Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, left, right, straight, curved, forwards, backwards, sideways, . . .

I don't give a rat's ass. Never have. Never will. I gave up on believing in causes long ago.

But, nevertheless, I still think I have a civic duty to vote. So I do. Always.

How do I make my decision? I start off realizing that I am working with VERY IMPERFECT information, the same as everybody else. I read as much as I reasonably can and I talk to as many people as I reasonably can and somewhere along the line something grabs me and I make a tentative decision. Last presidential election it was terrorism, more or less. Back when Ford was running against Carter (1976, I think), it was the pardon. I don't have a formula. This isn't manufacturing widgets. You get the idea.

Anyway, once I've made a tentative decision, the burden of production and persuasion has shifted to the other side, so to speak.

Believe it or not, I was leaning toward Dukakis/Bentsen, but that crack really pissed me off. Bentsen reminded me too much of people I'd learned not to trust and I made a tentative decision. Their campaign never rebutted the presumption. I voted against Dukakis/Bentsen. Regarding the Kerry/Edwards lesbo crack, I was probably leaning against them (in all candor) but when they did that I said to myself, "That's it." The practical effect was that it would have taken evidence of tremendous weight to move me back the other way and they never came close.

So, you asked whether "one remark made [me] go for their opponent?" The answer, as you can see, is yes, one remark was the proximate cause. Human events don't mind the clock and yet there is a useful thing we call History.

Skepticism can be a self-preserving thing. But let it not become your cage.

Think about it.

Jacob said...

I don't think Bentsen would've been involved in the initially BATF raid at all. Probably no one in Washington was. It was a horribly botched raid though in every way and never should have happened (if they'd wanted Koresh, they should've nabbed him when he was jogging).

I think the best put-down of Quayle came from John Kerry [!] who said that if George HW Bush was shot the secret service was under orders to shoot Quayle.

Jacob said...

A correction:

Bentsen was in Europe at the time of the raid and was not informed about it. But some people in Washington were informed of the raid, as high up as the Deputy Treasury Secretary.

However, Treasury Department mandarins did tell the BATF not to do the raid if they lost the element of suprise. Even though they had the local BATF went ahead with the raid.

Pancho said...

The last time I was in Houston I ran into Sen. Bentsen eating at a "Coney Island" hot dog restaurant.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Reading his obituary, I think that within a few more years of public life, he might've done what Zell Miller did.

Looks like he lived well.
May he rest in peace.

Bissage said...

Jacob: Another funny put-down of Quayle came from one of his old law professors who said something along the lines of "[I looked into those pale blue eyes and might just as well have been looking out a window.]"

Joseph Hovsep said...

Bissage: On reflection, my above comment was inappropriately hostile to your claim and I apologize. Your perspective on voting is different than mine but, as you point out, we are all working from very imperfect information when we vote and yours is certainly a legitimate (and probably not uncommon) response to that dilemma. I, on the other hand and perhaps too naively/idealistically, think that we should be able to subject different policy preferences to public scrutiny and then vote according to which policies we think are superior. The excessive focus on politicians' superficial characteristics drives me crazy because I care a lot about the policies a candidate will or will not support.

Bissage said...

Joseph Hovsep: Thank you for your kind words.

We're both doing the best we can with what we've got.

Mike said...

I'm a little surprised at the supposition that one's opinion of "the remark" must certainly depend on one's predisposition toward the candidate. I had a lot more respect for Bensten than Quayle at the time (though I didn't intend to vote for Bensten; I vote the top of the ticket). Nonetheless, I was really put off by the remark. Rude is rude.

Mike Barer said...

It was a debate for God's sake, you shake hands then come out fighting. Bentsen's remark was nothing compared to what Lee Atwater brought out to smear Dukakis during the campaign. Atwater even owned up to the smear and appoligized to Dukakis.

dklittl said...

Yeah, I'm so surprised with high expectations that many hold for their public officials. I mean it isn't as if the current president had his people put out a whisper campaign about his opponents "black" child. Now, that really probably would have made you not like the guy.

Jeff said...

"I mean it isn't as if the current president had his people put out a whisper campaign about his opponents "black" child."

You want to source that? I would be most interested in any kind of proof that the current president had his people do anything of the kind.

"I think the best put-down of Quayle came from John Kerry [!] who said that if George HW Bush was shot the secret service was under orders to shoot Quayle."

That was a old joke dating back to the beginning of the first Bush presidency. Kerry was just repeating it.

Ann Althouse said...

Nice to know that Kerry enjoys jokes about shooting people.

Mike said...

"It was a debate for God's sake, you shake hands then come out fighting."

Yes, it was a debate, not a food fight. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small transgression. But I don't view it as a reason to praise the guy.

"Yeah, I'm so surprised with high expectations that many hold for their public officials."

I do hold high expectations. That's not to say that I am not perpetually disappointed"

Jacob said...

Jeff–
I believe the "black baby" comment was refering to push polling done during the 2000 Republican primary. Voters would get calls pretending to be pollsters who would ask them there opinion on McCain having fathered an illigitimate black baby (McCain did not do this but he did adopt a Bangladeshi girl). I don't think this has ever been directly tied to Bush but he was the one to gain from it.

I should've known Kerry wasn't clever enough to think that up by himself.

bellflower said...

He should have said "You may have known Jack Kennedy but you do not know me nor the do you know the greatness that may reside in me."

DEACON said...

What did Murphy Brown name the little Bastard?