Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse

Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse

by Calvin Trillin


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In his latest laugh-out-loud book of political verse, Calvin Trillin provides a riotous depiction of the 2012 presidential election campaign.
Dogfight is a narrative poem interrupted regularly by other poems and occasionally by what the author calls a pause for prose (“Callista Gingrich, Aware That Her Husband Has Cheated On and Then Left Two Wives Who Had Serious Illnesses, Tries Desperately to Make Light of a Bad Cough”). With the same barbed wit he displayed in the bestsellers Deciding the Next Decider, Obliviously On He Sails, and A Heckuva Job, America’s deadline poet trains his sights on the Tea Party (“These folks were quick to vocally condemn/All handouts but the ones that went to them”) and the slapstick field of contenders for the Republican nomination (“Though first-tier candidates were mostly out,/Republicans were asking, “What about/The second tier or what about the third?/Has nothing from those other tiers been heard?”). There is an ode to Michele Bachmann, sung to the tune of a Beatles classic (“Michele, our belle/Thinks that gays will all be sent to hell”) and passages on the exit of candidates like Herman Cain (“Although his patter in debates could tickle,/Cain’s pool of knowledge seemed less pool than trickle”) and Rick Santorum (“The race will miss the purity/That you alone endow./We’ll never find another man/Who’s holier than thou.”)
On its way to the November 6 finale, Trillin’s narrative takes us through such highlights as the January caucuses in frigid Iowa (“To listen to long speeches is your duty,/And getting there could freeze off your patootie”), the Republican convention (“It seemed like Clint, his chair, and their vignette/Had wandered in from some adjoining set”), and Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded “47 percent” speech, which inspired the “I Got the Mitt Thinks I’m a Moocher, a Taker not a Maker, Blues.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812993684
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/20/2012
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 7.12(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

A longtime staff writer at The New Yorker, Calvin Trillin is also The Nation’s deadline poet, at a fee he has been complaining about since 1990. His acclaimed books range from the memoir About Alice to Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff. He lives in New York.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 5, 1935

Place of Birth:

Kansas City, Missouri


B.A., Yale University, 1957

Read an Excerpt



The ’08 votes for President were in.

They showed Barack Obama with the win—

A solid win, a win that was historic.

Americans were moved to wax euphoric.

Yes, even some who’d voted for McCain

Were proud we’d have a man of color reign

As President. Historians took note.

Amidst the cheers, one versifier wrote,

“And foreigners from Rome to Yokohama

Were cheering an American: Obama.

From this vote, they were willing to infer

We aren’t the people they had thought we were.

And Lady Liberty, as people call her,

Was standing in the harbor somewhat taller.”

The task this man would face, of course, was humbling:

The whole economy had started crumbling.

As people lost their jobs and houses too,

The experts disagreed on what to do.

Some banks were saved, and some were left to fail.

As Hamlet said, “To bail or not to bail . . .”

The People in Charge

The people in charge of the bailout attempts

Are titans of Wall Street, with fortunes accrued.

They seem a bit clueless about what to do.

Remember when they were the guys who seemed shrewd?

Yes, Washington says, from both sides of the aisle,

That these are the shoulders upon which to lean.

But we’d feel more confident if we were sure

That they knew what “credit default swap” might mean.

And Congress seemed to any average voter

Irreparable, much like a seized‑up motor.

One hope persisted once Obama’d won:

That he would change the way that things were done.

His victory, some said, could also mean

The GOP was fading from the scene—

A party that was clearly in its throes.

The Sabbath Gasbags on the Sunday shows

Said at the least from now on we would see

A dismal decade for the GOP—

A period filled with sadness and regrets,

With losses like the early sixties Mets.

The Gasbags, though, had said the same before—

To be precise, in 1964.

They’d said the landslide won by LBJ

Might cause the GOP to fade away.

But this was all forgotten by the date

Of Nixon’s win in 1968.

The Gasbags have a minor brain affliction:

They can’t remember any wrong prediction.

The State of the Union, 2009

The State of the Union’s the President’s chance to speak, perorate, and evoke.

For this year’s an honest first sentence would be “The State of the Union is broke.”

To counter what Obama would orate

To Congress on the nation’s shaky state,

The top Republicans chose Bobby Jindal,

In hopes a rising star like him could kindle

Some sort of spark conservatives would find

Inspiring, and not become resigned

To wandering in the wilderness once more

While Democratic liberals ran the store.

But Jindal, thought to be a true past master

Of speaking, was, in fact, a true disaster.

This governor’s ideas seemed rather skimpy.

The governor himself seemed rather wimpy.

He proved to be an easy man to mock:

He’s like the dorky page on 30 Rock.

Bad Opening Night for the G.O.P.

Yes, poor Bobby Jindal has flubbed his premiere.

If this is the guy who they think is a star,

There’s one thing to say, and to say loud and clear:

Come back, Sarah Palin, wherever you are.

In stories from the capital we read

That now the GOP was close to dead

And Democrats would soon be dancing jigs,

Their opposition fading out like Whigs.



Recovery moved slowly, step by step—

Called sluggish, though most slugs have much more pep.

Obama’s health-care bill was passed—a feat

Republicans then demonized tout suite,

Although its main ideas all began

As part of a Republican-backed plan.

(The White House seemed afflicted with some shyness

While letting them brand quite a plus a minus.)

Some critics said that health care could have waited

Until our unemployment woes abated.

Barack Obama’s promised hope and change

Seemed far away and maybe out of range.

The Sabbath Gasbags then began to say

Obama’s mojo may have drained away.

Pundits Say Washington Must Instill Confidence

The pundits say Obama must discuss

Our plight but sound much less like Gloomy Gus:

We need the-only-thing-we-have-to-fear leaders,

Or, failing that, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.

And meanwhile all across this wounded land

Some angry people said they’d take their stand.

They said that what the Framers had in mind

Was not a government that seemed inclined

To dominate our lives at work and play

And grow much more intrusive every day.

They said that those who’d worked, obeyed the rules,

Were now supporting layabouts and fools.

These folks were quick to vocally condemn

All handouts (but the ones that went to them).

Quite quickly, they were ready to proclaim

They were a movement, and they took a name

From Boston patriots who took such glee

In tossing British tea into the sea.

Tea Party

(With particularly abject apologies to the creators of “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof)

Tea Party! Tea Party! We’re mad as hell.

Government’s huge, and growing pell-mell.

Immigrant numbers continue to swell.

No wonder we’re all mad as hell.

Tea Party! Tea Party! We hate those hacks

Governing now. They love to tax.

We’re mad as hell and we’ll never relax

’Til government gets off our backs.

We’re sick of supporting those slackers

Who think everything’s free.

Though we have billionaire backers,

We talk just as populist as can be.

Tea Party! Tea Party! We would dispel

Notions that we’re too bourgeois to rebel.

We’ll start electing some new personnel,

’Cause, trust us: we’re all mad as hell.

In midterms what these rebels meant to do

Was bid their party’s moderates adieu.

Their candidates in that election season

Were those who think that compromise is treason.

Sure, some of them ran weird campaigns wherein

They showed themselves just too bizarre to win.

Late Night Comics Bid Farewell to Christine O’Donnell, Tea Party Senatorial Candidate from Delaware

You surely were a hoot, Christine.

We’re sad to see you leave the scene.

We reveled in the revelation

That you’d condemned all masturbation.

(Not only us but even anchors

Enjoyed the way you fought those wankers.)

Until you came along one day,

Old witchcraft jokes had been passe.

Because of you, just for a while,

Those witchcraft jokes were back in style.

So though, Christine, we now say ciao,

We hope you’re back two years from now.

But many got elected, and were sent

To Washington, the place they most resent.

The House, now with a GOP majority,

Could face Barack Obama with authority.

The legislative battle recommenced:

Whatever he was for they were against.

Their heritage from Reagan now would show:

Not Ronald—Nancy, preaching “Just say no.”

On Revelations of Where the Secret Funding for the Tea Party Comes From

They’re meant to be a grassroots gang

Of populists who quickly sprang

From nowhere ’cause they’ve had enough

Of liberal bureaucratic guff.

Less government is what they’re for—

The very goal pushed heretofore

By every oil man who’s a foe

Of regs that slow up making dough.

And guess who’s funding them? No joke:

Two wealthy oilmen name of Koch,

With faux foundations in cahoots,

Provide the funds. Some grass! Some roots!

The weak economy proved hard to heal.

At times, the president seemed too genteel—

Unwilling still to knock some heads the way

Some heads were knocked around by LBJ.

His speeches far surpassed the other guys’.

His gamble caused Bin Laden’s quick demise.

But still the polls showed many folks believed

His promises, so far, were unachieved.

The punditry, its ’08 views forgotten,

Now said his reelection odds were rotten.

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