master debaters

Debate Zingers That Time Forgot

Presidential Candidate Bob Dole answers a question 6 October during the Presidential debate in Hartford, CT.
Bob Dole’s zingers did not do him much good. Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney has been practicing debate “zingers” since August, the Times informed us over the weekend, as his team is convinced that they will help him “creat[e] moments.” Which is not totally wrong: When people talk about legendary debate moments from years past, the same handful of pithy jabs come up over and over again, such as Reagan’s “There you go again,” and “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” and Lloyd Bensten’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy.” Of course, for every pithy quip that swings the outcome of a debate, there are plenty others that make no impact and quickly disappear from memory. Let us now recall some of the canned one-liners that time forgot:


Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate. It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left.” — John McCain

We’re not going to solve Social Security and Medicare unless we understand the rest of our tax policies. And you know, Senator McCain, I think the ‘Straight Talk Express’ lost a wheel on that one.” — Barack Obama

Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly — talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.” — John McCain

Say it ain’t so, Joe.” — Sarah Palin

You’re going to have to replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the ‘Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere.’” — Joe Biden


Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country.” — John Kerry

You know, there’s a mainstream in American politics, and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.” — George W. Bush


I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It’s fuzzy math.” — George W. Bush on Al Gore


Would you buy a used election promise from my opponent?” — Bob Dole

Well, I guess some may be better off. Saddam Hussein is probably better off than he was four years ago.” — Bob Dole


”George Bush taking credit for the Berlin Wall coming down is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.” — Al Gore

The big argument I have with the Governor on this is this taking different positions on different issues, trying to be one thing to one person here that’s opposing the NAFTA agreement and then for it — what we call waffling. And I do think that you can’t turn the White House into the Waffle House.” — George H.W. Bush


If he keeps this up, he’s going to be the Joe Isuzu of American politics.” — Michael Dukakis

That answer was about as clear as Boston Harbor.” — George H.W. Bush