The Good Word

Speechwriter for a Day

The best antimetabole submissions from Slate’s reader contest.

Sarah Palin. Click image to expand.
Sarah Palin

Dear readers, ask not what Slate can do for you but what you can do for Slate. Last week, we sent out a call for your best antimetabole —the rhetorical device in which words are repeated in transposed order, as with this Sarah Palin zinger at the Republican National Convention: “In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.” So far, you’ve sent in more than 100 examples, suggesting that you’ve always dreamed of moonlighting as political hacks—and that you’re very bored at work.

Some of you concocted nonpartisan antimetaboles that would work equally well in a Republican or a Democratic stump speech. Peter Morreale led the pack in this category with “A great president must not only answer the question, he or she must also question the answer.” Look out for that one at the first debate.

Far more of you, however, dreamed up nasty attack lines—a reflection, perhaps, of the WWE turn the presidential race has taken in recent months. On the Republican side, we have James Cornell Behrens, who wants to hear McCain or Palin say: “Obama will not shut up about his record of change; I wish someone would change the record.” But James is outnumbered by Slate readers from the angry left living out some kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy in which Obama mans up and gets angry. Russell S. Braman came up with “The Republicans have turned the fear of terrorism into the terrorism of fear.” Bruce MacIntosh wants the Democrats to take on the religious right: “The GOP preach the power of religion but practice the religion of power.” And Joan Hancock must have watched An Inconvenient Truth before submitting her entry: “Republicans attack those who want to protect the planet, and protect those who want to attack it.” Last but not least, an attack-metabole from Alan Dybner: “Sen. Obama will use all his energy to pursue those who killed over 3,000 Americans, not get over 3,000 Americans killed to pursue energy.”

Other Slate readers fancy themselves would-be saboteurs, hoping to sneak a Kinsley gaffe onto the enemy camp’s teleprompter. The best one, from Michael Milligan: “We’re not going to raise corporate taxes, we’re just going to tax corporate raises.”

A fourth category is perhaps best labeled “not in a million years” or, maybe, “I wish”—the antimetaboles a politician might believe but wouldn’t dare say. Joe Hood will never hear McCain say, “Torture qualifies me to be president, but a president should never qualify torture.” Carlyn Meyer won’t live long enough to hear Palin unleash this imperfect antimetabole: “Ask not what you can do to prevent teen pregnancy, ask what teen pregnancy can do for you.” And no one on either side will ever use Jim Stahl’s submission: “Expect to get what you pay for, and expect to pay for what you get.”

Finally, there are the antimetaboles you hope to hear from media commentators. Some of these struck a PBS-type tone, like Mike Caverhill’s “Democrats try to make the intellectual argument feel emotional. Republicans try to make the emotional argument feel intellectual.” Others were more reminiscent of The Daily Show, like Allison B.’s: “It’s not which Levi’s jeans your daughter is in, but which Levi is in your daughter’s jeans.” This inversion, from John O’Connor, might show up in the Newseum one day:

2004 Headline, day after Kerry loss in November: “The most liberal senator is defeated by successful Bush surge.”2008 Headline, day after Obama loss in November: “Successful Bush surge defeats most liberal senator.”

Congratulations to all of our budding rhetoricians. And remember: You must never invert out of fear, or fear to invert.