December 29, 2017

1970. The Agnew School of Alliterative Insult

An Age of Puerile Political Partisanship
Future vice president Spiro Agnew after his election as governor of Maryland, 1966 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

December 21, 1970

Whatever its questionable literary value, Vice President Agnew's emergence on the national political scene has brought the "alliterative insult" back into favor, a move which may or may not be dividing the country, as the more fearful pundits claim. But this reporter thinks it might have at least one good residual effect. It certainly has led a lot of people to rediscover the dictionary.

This was brought home to me in a recent letter from an irate listener who took exception to a news story I covered, and my report on that story which greatly upset the listener.

Since I switched from newspaper reporting to broadcast journalism some twenty-eight years ago, I've had no end of mail—the "you cur, sir" types—so the assumption was that I was doing something right at least part of the time.

But since Mr. Agnew got so much mileage attacking the news media, a whole passel of presumptuous politicians—if the VP will pardon the phrase—have taken up the thesaurus with a vengeance—like Samson who converted the jawbone of the ass into a fairly effective weapon.

The particular non-fan letter I received from this particular member of a state senate raised some pretty pertinent questions:

"Who is this pipsqueak Downs," it asked, "to interject his puerile political partisanship on the nation?...Who is he and other of his ilk pontificating their sniveling sentiments as the ultimate in wisdom?"

Since this is Ed Morgan's usual time and this is a vacation-relief stint, we'll have to wait a couple of weeks for the "other ilk" to reply. But for the most part, we who try to report, analyze, and comment on how men and nature perform in our universe can no more be classified, catalogued, or branded than any other group of free citizens—including elected public officials or, say, radio engineers.

One man's politics are always puerile to his critics, and it must be admitted that everyone's sentiments sometimes have a tendency to snivel one man's "pip" is another man's "squeak," and never are they the alleged "ultimate in wisdom."

The trouble with the Agnew school of alliterative insult is that it tends to get out of hand. There's a tendency toward overkill, like accusing the "ilk" in the media of being the real "polarizers of America."

Not so, says none other than Spiro Agnew. He said last Thursday in Akron, Ohio, that polarization is good for the country, and you'd better believe it.

This is Bill Downs in Washington with "The Shape of One Man's Opinion," a service of ABC News.