On Dec. 11, Chatterbox invited readers to help Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe improve on his pitiful comeback to George W. Bush when the two met recently in a White House receiving line. Here's how Lloyd Grove reported it that day in his "Reliable Source" column in the Washington Post:
President Bush (greeting McAuliffe): Great to have you back. Just don't steal the silverware!
McAuliffe: I have no intention of doing that, sir.
Chatterbox felt sure Slate readers could do better, and they did not let him down. More than 500 entries poured in, almost every one cleverer than what McAuliffe said. Sifting through this mountainous pile (does Chatterbox detect a certain nostalgie de "News Quiz"?), Chatterbox encountered many recurring concepts and more than a few outright duplicates. This helped clarify Chatterbox's thinking about the best gambits. (They were, on reflection, fairly obvious.) But it also raised a knotty problem: Who deserved the credit? Chatterbox decided to give preference to the most pithy version of any given riposte and, where the differences were small or nonexistent, to give preference to whichever reader sent his response in first. Timeliness was especially important in winning the top prize since Chatterbox received a great many duplicates—indeed, so many that he wondered why he hadn't thought of it himself. Honorable mention is also granted below to a few creative alternatives to our top winner.
"We didn't steal it Mr. President. We're only holding it on a material witness charge."
"I'm sorry sir; have you mistaken me for Mr. Lay?"
"I have no intention of doing that, sir, because you are the last person I'd want to be asking for clemency from!"
"That reminds me. I have a whole drawer full of 'W' keys I've been meaning to return."
"I didn't think we'd left any behind."
"Why sir, after President Clinton told me what he had done with it, I wouldn't touch it, let alone eat with it."
"If I steal it do I get a tax break?"
"Why steal? In three years I'll be charging donors $100,000 a pop just to use it!"
"Don't worry, sir—even if I took the rest of it, I wouldn't dream of touching your spoon."
And the winner is …
"That's OK. I'll just get Katherine Harris to steal it for me."
Honorable mention to some of the better variations on this theme:
"I have no intention of doing that, sir. I know how much you'd hate having to recount it."
"Oh, I'd need my brother's help to do that. ..."
"I don't have to steal it. I have a per curiam opinion from the Supreme Court that equal protection and due process require that I possess it. In fact, Anthony Kennedy is loading it in my limo as we speak."
"I am going to steal the silverware, and I hope that once I put it in my cabinet at home, we as a nation can all move beyond this issue to the things that really matter to the American people."