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Political Retorts: Do’s and Don’t’s

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on July 15, 2010

As the summer starts its slow slide into fall (although you can’t tell it by the weather lately), people are starting to pay more attention to politics in preparation for September’s primary and November’s general election.

With that attention, comes more and more statements from politicians, with their opponents often offering a retort of sorts. Some are more effective than others in doing this. The politicians that are good at political retorts tend to keep them short (to make a nice sound bite) and on topic.

An example of a good and a bad retort, deals with the recently enacted smoking ban.

Mark Neumann was the first to comment on it, saying that he would act to repeal it.

Scott Walker, who first said it was too early to consider repealing it, came out four days later and said that he was against the ban and also would try to repeal it.

Tom Barrett scored big with his retort to Walker’s newly found position:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat in the race, is not seeking to repeal the ban.

“It’s clear Walker will say and do anything in this campaign, even if it means blatantly contradicting himself within just a few days or hours,” Barrett said in a statement Saturday. “Wisconsin needs a governor the people can trust, not someone who will change their positions at the drop of a hat.”

Now that was a good retort. Short, sweet and to the point, and also able to get a good shot in at one of his potential opponents.

On the other hand, some retorts are not so good.

For example, on Monday, Tom Barrett announced a proposal regarding how redistricting is done:

Milwaukee mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett said Monday that redrawing legislative and congressional lines should be put in the hands of a nonpartisan board.Barrett’s plan also hinges on changing state law so that as many districts as possible are highly competitive, with half the voters Democratic and half Republican in each district.

“This takes the sharp partisanship out of the drawing of the plans,” Barrett said at a news conference.

Team Walker came up with a long, rambling and whiny response to Barrett’s proposal, which can be boiled down to “Oh yeah, well, Barrett’s a Democrat.” They talk about the high speed rail, President Obama, global warming, Governor Jim Doyle and a number of other things, but they never address the issue of redistricting.

In other words, it is a very bad and completely ineffective retort.

But that is the kind of empty rhetoric that we have become used to from his campaign, no matter what the topic.


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