Quoting the Wrong Irishman

David Brooks in his recent NYT column writes:

First, it was a good night for the Democrats and a bad night for the Republicans. The Democratic debate has been a love fest. The candidates have all (for very good reasons) decided to pull back from the mutual kamikaze tone of the past few days. Their discussion constituted a repudiation of the old Boss Daley of Chicago, who famously said that politics ain’t beanbag. Apparently politics is beanbag, because that’s all the Democrats threw at each other tonight. I’ve seen more conflict at a pacifists’ stir-fry.

Mr. Brooks is quoting the wrong Irishman. If the late Mayor Daley said it, he was quoting “Mr. Dooley”, the Chicago-born Irish American humorist and political satirist Finley Peter Dunne. Nearly a hundred years ago he wrote:

Politics ain’t beanbag: ’tis a man’s game, and women, children ‘n’ pro-hy-bitionists had best stay out of it.

“Mr. Dooley” is oft quoted but rarely read these days. He’s almost endlessly quotable on American politics and his stuff remains as fresh today as it was the day he wrote in it, probably because human nature is so constant. A lot of his stuff is incorrectly attributed to H. L. Mencken. Here’s one of my favorites:

When the American people get through with the English language, it will look as if it had been run over by a musical comedy.

And it might have been helpful to remember this one a week or so ago:

Among men, Hennessy, wet eye means dry heart.

Why should the Democratic presidential aspirants bicker? There isn’t a lot of substantive difference in their positions, mostly one of style and attitude.

However, I think that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards should beware: a contest based on style and attitude favors Barack Obama, at least in positioning the eventual Democratic candidate for the general election.

4 comments… add one
  • Hi Dave,
    I always loved Mr. Dooley..`tis a pity he’s not abuv th’ sod nowadays t’cogitate on the row and th’ eruckus o’ politics.

    Weekend Monkey is sort of in the same tradition, complete with Bushmills!

    All Best,

  • It always baffles me that the writers of today seem to think that they invented cynicism. We don’t even do it as well.

  • Endlessly quotable, like Pudd’nhead Wilson or The Devil’s Dictionary. Perhaps it’s the ethnic dialect that makes sensitive modern types shy away from Dunne. A few more that seem as fresh as the Michigan primary:

    “Th’ dead ar-re always pop’lar. I knowed a society wanst to vote a monyment to a man an’ refuse to help his fam’ly, all in wan night.”

    “Life’d not be worth livin’ if we didn’t keep our inimies.”

    “Th’ dimmycratic party ain’t on speakin’ terms with itself.”

    “When ye build yer triumphal arch to yer conquerin’ hero, Hinissey, build it out of bricks so the people will have somethin’ convenient to throw at him as he passes through.”

  • Harrumph. My grandfather (at least partially) made his living as a dialect comic. In my family being able to speak with a brogue isn’t just acceptable, it’s a sacred calling.

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