flying seagull
Photo by Engin Akyurt on

There are still a few weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, which means we’ll doubtlessly need to bob and weave as mudslinging continues apace.

Possibly, though, this has already peaked in Rhode Island. How can you top the recent exchange in which the camps of Democratic Gov. Dan McKee and Republican challenger Ashley Kalus clashed over a Kalus ad that mispronounced Pawtucket?” 

McKee jumped at the opportunity to declare Kalus, who bought a house in Newport last year after living in Illinois, a carpetbagger – a seagull, “crapping all over the state of Rhode Island.”

The Kalus folks termed McKee corrupt and the worst governor in the country.

An errant PAW-tucket? A blitzing seagull? It doesn’t get more Rhode Island than that.

One can only be grateful that the Kalus ad didn’t try to bite off a mouthful of Quonochontaug.

And in view of McKee’s avian imagery, the best advice a voter can follow is, Duck!

On the national and international level, though, political animosity over the decades has run at least as deep.

And McKee is not the first to invoke metaphors with feathers. In the 1932 presidential election, eventual winner Franklin D. Roosevelt called GOP incumbent Herbert Hoover a “fat, timid capon.” 

Hoover retorted with his own foray into the animal kingdom, charging that FDR often flip-flopped on the issues and comparing him to “a chameleon on plaid.”

The Brits have their own way with disparaging words. Winston Churchill once said of Prime Minister Clement Attlee,  “He is a modest man with much to be modest about.”.  

Prime Minister William Gladstone was referred to by his admirers as the G.O.M., or Grand Old Man, but his political enemy Benjamin Disraeli parsed the acronym as “God’s Only Mistake.” To some, Gladstone seemed self-righteous, and Disraeli pounced on that by observing, “He has not one single redeeming defect.”

Texas Gov. Ann Richards was on a similar tack when she thusly dismissed George H. W. Bush: “Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” 

Sen. Bob Dole hit multiple targets at once when he remarked, “History buffs probably noted the reunion at a Washington party a few weeks ago of three ex-presidents: Carter, Ford, and Nixon – See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Evil.”

Ford also took a hit from Lyndon Johnson, who famously declared, “He’s a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off.”

Forbearance, or lack of it, has always played a role in political sparring, as when future president Teddy Roosevelt said of President William McKinley, “He has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.”

But former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating topped that when he said of politician John Hewson:  “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” 

And while it’s rare, some politicians have taken to hurling insults at their constituents instead of their opponents.

The late Ohio Sen. Stephen M. Young, known as a master of sarcastic retorts, once got a letter from a voter who disagreed with his politics, enclosed a phone number, and said, “I would welcome the opportunity to have intercourse with you.” Young replied, “You, sir, can have intercourse with yourself.”

With some time yet to go, one wonders if we can expect any late-campaign bon mots with such pizzazz.

On the other hand, perhaps we should take caustic levity with a grain of salt and adopt the view of satirist Jon Stewart, who once observed, “I don’t approve of political jokes; I’ve seen too many of them get elected.”

Gerry Goldstein (, a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnnist. 

Gerry Goldstein

Gerry Goldstein, an occasional contributor to What's Up, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years