6 Best 'Zingers' From Past Presidential Debates

News media and debate watchers tend to like sharp one-liners.


President Obama's aides say he won't be trying to deliver the best "zingers" in his debate Wednesday night against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, preferring to talk seriously about issues. But this could be a politically dangerous tactic because the news media and many viewers tend to measure debate performance by who has the sharpest one-liners and who puts the opposition on the defensive.

Here are some memorable lines from past political debates:


1.) "There you go again." Republican challenger Ronald Reagan used this barb in a 1980 debate against Democratic President Jimmy Carter. It came after Carter charged that Reagan had begun his political career by campaigning against Medicare. Reagan used the line to suggest that Carter made a habit of targeting him with untrue accusations.


2.) "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Perhaps the most famous one-liner in recent years, it was used by Reagan in his 1980 debate with Carter to remind Americans that they were worse-off under the incumbent.

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3.) "I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green." Reagan used this stern warning in a February 1980 debate with his Republican primary opponents after the moderator tried to quiet him. The moderator's name was actually Breen.


4.) "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." In 1988, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen mocked Republican opponent Dan Quayle's claim that his political experience was comparable to JFK's. Quayle was left steaming and looking dazed, like a deer in the headlights.

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5.) "Where's the beef?" Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale used this against Sen. Gary Hart during the 1984 primaries when Hart suggested in a debate that he had lots of new ideas. Mondale's put-down reprised a famous line from a TV commercial for Wendy's in which an elderly woman repeatedly wondered about the content of her hamburger.


6.) "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." Reagan, clearly a master of the one-liner, deployed this riff in 1984 against Mondale and anyone who suggested that at 73 he was too old to be an effective president.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com or on Facebook and Twitter.