Examples of verbal jujitsu?
September 26, 2012 9:36 AM   Subscribe

What are examples of situations--in politics or otherwise--when someone took a question or remark that would seem to corner or embarrass them and completely reframed it, turned the tables on their attacker, instantly reversed the crowd's sentiments?
posted by shivohum to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I've always like this from the Reagan / Mondale debate.
posted by The Deej at 9:41 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

In the Reagan/Mondale presidential debate, Reagan was asked a question about age. He replied, "I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I'm not going to exploit for political purposes my opponents youth and inexperience."

Mondale continued to make some pretty good arguments against a second Reagan term, but that comment disarmed Mondale so badly that he couldn't recover.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:41 AM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

DANGIT, Deej! I shoulda previewed. :)
posted by DWRoelands at 9:42 AM on September 26, 2012

This isn't a one-liner example, but: During one of Grover Cleveland's presidential campaigns, his opponent uncovered the fact that early in his career, he'd knocked a woman up, she'd had the kid, and he paid to have the kid put into an orphanage. Crowds started showing up at his campaign events chanting, "Ma, ma, where's my pa?"

Cleveland soon responded - by owning up. He confessed to having his initial "youthful indiscretion" when it came to the sex, and as for the pregnancy and adoption - he pointed out that look, the woman was pretty messed up at that time (she was an alcoholic) and they both agreed they shouldn't marry. So yeah, the kid was adopted away, but only because it deserved a good family, and by the way, he'd also paid to have the woman go to a sanitarium and dry out. And the last he heard, she'd turned her own life around and was doing well, and so was the kid, so he'd made the best of a bad situation and fixed what he'd broken, and that was the story.

And most people's reaction was that "damn, this is a stand-up guy," and so then crowds at Cleveland campaign events started responding to "Ma, ma, where's my pa" chants by chanting back, "he's going to the White House, ha ha ha!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

You had an option, sir.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:58 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

When JM Keynes was accused of inconsistency, he said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
posted by LonnieK at 9:59 AM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?.

This moment didn't only end a debate, it's credited with turning the tide of public sentiment against McCarthyism.
posted by adamrice at 10:08 AM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

After Ted Kennedy died, Republican Scott Brown ran for that office. During a debate, he was asked what he would do with Ted Kennedy's seat. He replied, it isn't the Kennedy's seat, it's the People's seat.

He won the election.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:12 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can we tell personal stories? In a college biology class we walked in a group to a nearby park to do some hands on activities. As I'm walking, randomly out of nowhere some guy in the class points to me and notes that my steps are short. "Uhh! you walk like a girl!!" he said. I somehow instantly replied with "That's because I'm usually walking with a woman." He broke into a goofy grin, said "nice" and had nothing else to say after that. And I was much too proud of myself for the rest of the day.
posted by cashman at 10:12 AM on September 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

JFK turned anti-Catholic sentiment around by making voters hate anti-Catholic voters. Only a relatively small number of voters were actively prejudiced against JFK. Their remarks had been fading away for a while.

However, during a tight period in the campaign, JFK sought to gain an edge. So, he brought up anti-Catholicism again. The more JFK defended himself as both a Catholic and a loyal American, the more voters came around to thinking that JFK was a noble, unfairly-maligned guy with bigoted enemies.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:14 AM on September 26, 2012

Not political, but I can think of two examples from MetaFilter discourse:

"With humility and charity, you jackass."
"How does that make you any different than those you rail against?"
posted by iamkimiam at 10:16 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also from Reagan: "There you go again."
posted by BurntHombre at 10:18 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nixon's "I am not a crook" statement did this, and it did instantly reverse the crowd's sentiments. But to his dismay, in the favor of his attacker(s).
posted by iamkimiam at 10:19 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Huh, that's odd - I've literally just read this Grauniad/Reddit story that fits the description perfectly..
posted by anagrama at 10:21 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

ack, messed the link up..
posted by anagrama at 10:24 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Winston Churchill was a master of verbal judo:

Lady Astor: (To Churchill) If you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea.
Churchill: Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it.

Bessie Braddock: Winston, you're drunk.
Churchill: But you are ugly, and tomorrow, I shall be sober.

GB Shaw: I reserved tickets for the opening night. Bring a friend--if you have one.
Churchill: Impossible to come to first night. Will come to second night--if there is one.

Then there is John Wilkes and John Montagu:

Montagu: Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox.
Wilkes: That depends, sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.

The Churchill/Shaw was probably written. I'm not sure how much of a crowd was present for the others, but I assume it worked as well then as it would now.
posted by Hylas at 10:27 AM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

Teddy Roosevelt is making a speech

Roosevelt: argle bargle dargle wargle
Heckler: I'm a Democrat! I'm a Democrat!
Roosevelt: May I ask the gentleman why he is a Democrat?
Heckler: Well, my grandfather was a Democrat and my father was a Democrat, so I'm a Democrat.
Roosevelt: What if your grandfather had been a jackass and your father had been a jackass? What would that make you?
Heckler: A Republican
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:35 AM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

NLP co-founder Richard Bandler had a patient come in with his teenage daughter.

"My daughter's a whore!" exclaimed the father.

Answered Bandler , "Why did you bring her to me? I don't need a whore."

This completely deflated the father's bluster and allowed a productive session to begin.

Another time, a patient stated, "I married the wrong woman."

Bandler said, "That must have been embarrassing."
posted by trinity8-director at 10:50 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

At the December 1999 Republican presidential candidates' debate, moderator Tom Brokaw asked the participants to what political philosopher or thinker they most identified with and why. Steve Forbes went first and mentioned John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Then Alan Keyes talked about the founding fathers. George W. Bush went third and came up with Jesus Christ, elaborating that "When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me." That was a very effective and crowd-pleasing way to sidestep a question he could have easily fumbled. Transcript here.
posted by carmicha at 11:11 AM on September 26, 2012

When Hepburn and Tracy met on the set of their first movie together, the reported conversation was:

KH: "I'm afraid I'm too tall for you, Mr. Tracy"
SP (or their director): "Don't worry, [I'll/he'll] soon cut you down to size."

They fell in love during the movie and were together for their rest of Tracy's life.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2012

Beyonce's Single Ladies took a club phrase "All the single ladies put your hands up" and turned it from (what some people viewed as) a sexist, chauvinistic DJ dance floor call-out to a female-empowering anthem overnight.
posted by unixrat at 11:19 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know I saw a youtube clip of Princess Diana shutting a heckler down during a speech, but I can't seem to find it for you. Here's an article referencing the event:

Three weeks later she Concorded to Manhattan to accept Humanitarian of the Year honors from the United Cerebral Palsy of New York Foundation. Air-kissed by Henry Kissinger (who introduced her at the Dec. 11 gala), she made a self-assured speech about compassion—soldiering on even when a heckler called out, "Where are your children, Diana?" ("At school," she promptly shot back.)
posted by internet!Hannah at 12:06 PM on September 26, 2012

This isn't a famous one, but I instantly thought of this clip of a comedian who appears completely floored by a heckler: the crowd turn on him, but he comes back with a one-liner and instantly has the crowd on his side again.
posted by greycap at 12:49 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Love her or hate her, there's a good example in the Joan Rivers "Piece of Work" documentary where she turns things around on a heckler with her trademark shock-shlock outrage
posted by sestaaak at 1:51 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to go to the world of stand-up comedy, google "comedian destroys heckler." This one's particularly good, because it looks like the heckler really won the audience over, then dude wins them back, while looking kinda nervous doing it.
posted by jbickers at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a great example on the Blue right now: http://www.metafilter.com/120301/Dbag-points-and-laughs-woman-shames-with-awesome.

I also like this bit from "My Best Friend's Wedding." Julia Roberts' character knows Cameron Diaz's character is an atrocious singer and puts her on the spot to embarrass her. No verbal jiu jitsu, but Diaz turns it around just by being sincere and adorable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTSBUUpoqRQ
posted by zanni at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

This perfectly describes the final rap battle in Eminem's 8 Mile (which is unsurprisingly very NSFW).
posted by Edna Million at 3:44 PM on September 26, 2012

Back in the mid-1940s, a notorious still photograph taken accidentally or surreptitiously of Carmen Miranda, which showed her without underwear, almost ruined her film career. Ten years later, when Marilyn Monroe’s nude photo surfaced and then appeared in Playboy, her response was: “All I had on was the radio.” The picture didn’t destroy her career, it helped make it.

In March 1952, Monroe faced a possible scandal when one of her nude photos from a 1949 session with photographer Tom Kelley was featured in a calendar. The press speculated about the identity of the anonymous model and commented that she closely resembled Monroe. As the studio discussed how to deal with the problem, Monroe suggested that she should simply admit that she had posed for the photograph but emphasize that she had done so only because she had no money to pay her rent.She gave an interview in which she discussed the circumstances that led to her posing for the photographs, and the resulting publicity elicited a degree of sympathy for her plight as a struggling actress.
posted by JujuB at 4:22 PM on September 26, 2012

I'm not sure if the intent was to embarrass, and I actually lean towards it not being intended as such, but Charles Babbage responded, later in some of his writing, to the following situation with great aplomb and wit.

On two occasions I have been asked,—"Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:37 PM on September 26, 2012

Nobody has mastered the art of the rebuttal/"flip" more than battle rappers. In fact, it's one of a battle rapper's the most important skills, and the question of who can rebut more effectively often decides the winner of the battle.

If you search, you'll find plenty of best-of lists of rap rebuttals. (Warning: many are NSFW/offensive)
posted by lunchbox at 6:34 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the lighter side, there's the student council trial scene in Animal House.
posted by lakeroon at 7:24 PM on September 26, 2012


Then Reagan turned to the activists. Initially he tried to engage them in dialogue, but he soon found that they only wanted to trade barbs and insults. Reagan's quick-wittedness is apparent from records of some of those exchanges. At one campus meeting, a student told Reagan that it was impossible for people of Reagan's generation to understand young people. "You grew up in a different world," he said. "Today we have television, jet planes, space travel, nuclear energy, computers." Without missing a beat, Reagan replied, "You're right. It's true that we didn't have those things when we were young. We invented them."
posted by anon4now at 12:17 AM on September 27, 2012

[as mentioned by futz on the blue, an Obama save] Obama: "First thing is, I want to see us export more jobs... uh... export more *products*... Excuse me. I was channeling my opponent there for a second."
posted by jaduncan at 5:28 AM on September 28, 2012

« Older Laptop shopping   |   Find vector art for symbols of accessibility Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.