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Witty Comebacks That Could Have Changed History

Turns out there is a fancy French word, “l’esprit d’escalier” to describe an artful, witty comeback.  It literally means “staircase wit” as in one only realizes their missed opportunity for a great comeback too late, as they are exiting down a staircase.  Writer Joseph Epstein had a fun column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that suggested a few clever gamechangers.

Dan Quayle [was] the victim, in a 1988 debate with Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, of a notable put-down. Mr. Quayle compared his experience to that of John F. Kennedy, to which Bentsen famously replied: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” I wonder if it might have occurred later to Mr. Quayle that he should have responded, “Then again, neither was Jack Kennedy.”

Elizabeth Warren might have saved herself much grief after Donald Trump mocked her as “Pocahontas” if, instead of running off to have a DNA test, she had offered a politically incorrect rejoinder: “Mr. Trump, I wish I were Pocahontas, so that I might have your preposterous scalp on my belt.”

When Joe Biden claimed, in response to Mr. Trump’s unfortunate remarks about grabbing women, that if he were in high school he “would take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him,” Mr. Trump replied that if Mr. Biden, tried, he “would go down fast and hard crying all the way.” But how much better if Mr. Trump had said, “O.K. Let’s do it. Shall we say hair-spray at 20 paces?”

Epstein even ponders what if Brett Kavanaugh, during his confirmation hearings, had responded to Sen. Cory Booker’s “Spartacus moment” by greeting him the next day with “Hail, Spartacus!”  Howerver, Epstein agrees, that is perhaps too much wit to display for a potential Supreme Court Justice.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.

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