Your RDA of Irony

Republican Recycling

There was a time when rhetoric was an art and not an accusation. Even if a politician had nothing to say, he said it with style. And the public was eager to listen; people then appreciated a great showman. Among those mellifluous charmers was Illinois’ Everett McKinley Dirksen. The wily yet irresistible Senator earned the nickname “The Wizard of Ooze.” If he had been a pickpocket, once you had discovered your wallet missing, you might have run after him to offer him your watch. Today’s politicians, particularly Republicans, don’t have that kind of charm.

My friend Hal Gordon has written about Senator Dirksen, limning a portrait of a man who was both statesman and huckster. As Hal recounts, Dirksen could mock the very political subterfuges of which he himself was a master. ”

A man was filling out an application for life insurance, and one of the questions was, “How did you father die?”

The man paused. His father had been hanged as a horse thief, and there was no way he was going to record that shameful fact on an insurance form. So he thought quickly, and then penned this ingenious answer: “My father was cut off in his 43rd year, when the platform gave way beneath him while participating in a public function.”

Senator Dirksen has been dead for nearly 40 years and so apparently are his type of politics and his love of language. However, that particular story lives on, albeit in an expanded and mutated form. Another friend sent me this internet story allegedly about a great-uncle of Hillary Clinton.

Judy Wallman, a professional genealogical researcher, discovered that Hillary Clinton’s great-great uncle, Remus Rodham, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889….Judy e-mailed Hillary Clinton for comments. Hillary’s staff of professional image adjusters sent back the following biographical sketch:

“Remus Rodham was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets…In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform which he was standing collapsed.”

This is certainly one form of recycling: turn an anecdote into a lie. Senator Dirksen has been plagiarized, and perhaps so has Hal. Of course, I am indignant that the Republican flacks are not plagiarizing me.

I have written about Catherine de Medici. Why not accuse Hillary of planning the massacre of Sunday schools?

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