The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 25, 2012

2012 debates lacked lasting zingers

By Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger

The Washington Post

How will the 2012 debates rate in the campaign history books? Lots of political drama — but not a single breakout one-liner.

Sure, Internet wags had fun with Mitt Romney's comments about Big Bird and "binders of women," but neither will likely have the staying power of Lloyd Bentsen's devastating riposte to Dan Quayle in 1988: "You're no Jack Kennedy."

With the millions and millions spent on presidential campaigns, you'd think the candidates would be able to deliver a zinger that perfectly captures the moment — but it's harder than it looks.

"One characteristic of a memorable line is that it's simple," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania.

The president's "horses and bayonets" jab may have delighted the Democratic base, but the line probably won't translate into pop culture — too much context required. And rehearsed quips that work in a stump speech are harder to drop into a debate: President Obama's "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back" didn't work because he bungled the delivery.

The best lines, Jamieson said, capture something that is widely believed to be true or dispatch a vulnerability. Quayle, in fact, was correct when he stated that he and JFK had the same level of political experience. But the little-known senator was dogged by the perception that he was wet behind the ears — and then crushed by Bentsen's now-famous putdown. (So famous that Joe Biden tried a version, less successfully, on Paul Ryan: "Oh, and now you are Jack Kennedy?")

Other long-lasting quotes: Ronald Reagan brushed aside criticism from Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale with his affable "There you go again" — which became the catchphrase of the 1980 election. Mondale scored his place in history by nailing Gary Hart's "new ideas" with a borrowed Wendy's slogan: "Where's the beef?"

But there's nothing memorable from this month's debates, said Karlyn Campbell, professor of political communication at the University of Minnesota. Great lines have some link to voters' personal experiences and can translate into their lives. "That's why 'binders of women' isn't going to stick around. It's just an awkward phrase."

Although debates now have an afterlife on YouTube, there's only a handful of great moments. . . and when you stop and think about it, it's not really surprising, said Campbell: "Guys like this are not great performers."

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Beyonce's quest to trademark the name of daughter Blue Ivy Carter is alive and well — just slowed a little by the gold rush of folks hoping to monetize the hottest baby name of the year.

When the superstar and husband Jay-Z filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just days after their daughter was born Jan. 7, the wheels of bureaucracy seemed to turn unusually fast for the VIP couple: Officials quickly handed denials to rival entrepreneurs seeking to slap the name on perfume and children's clothes, noting that buyers might assume that the products were approved by the celebrity family. But one of the merchants still has time to appeal, so feds have put a hold on Beyonce's application.

Meanwhile, the USPTO last week granted trademark rights to a Boston wedding planner who has operated under the name Blue Ivy since 2009 — but only for use in event planning. Since the Carters weren't trying to get in on that particular field, the two trademarks didn't conflict, contrary to widespread reports. What do the superstars want to use the name for? Well, skin care products, key chains, CDs, ringtones, eyeglasses, curlers, strollers, stickers, handbags, wallets, playpens, baby bedding, scrunchies, teething rings, soccer balls and movies — among other things. Stay tuned.