You’re a Hoosier.
That’s not the biggest insult that can be hurled at us, to humble us with who we are.
Apparently, to cut us to the quick, you have to sneer at who we are not.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden got into the name-calling recently. Feeling former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg nipping at his heels, he mocked the Indiana native’s experience as a small-city executive and declared that, “This guy’s not a Barack Obama.”
How horrifying it must have been for Mayor Pete. Think of it, going through life thinking you’re someone and then being rudely told it was merely an illusion. And he wasn’t just not Barack Obama. He wasn’t even “a” Barack Obama.
The shock must have been similar to that felt by fellow Hoosier Dan Quayle, vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, on being viciously cut down by debate opponent Lloyd Bentsen with the malicious taunt, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Poor Dan. He couldn’t even hint that Bentsen might be mistaken, since the Democrat had prefaced his put-down with, “I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.”
How could he contradict someone who knew so well the person he said Quayle was not? What was he going to say? You don’t know Jack?
I think there must be a good column somewhere in that notion that Hoosiers are so crippled by delusions of grandeur that we must have it constantly and patiently explained to us that we are not who we might think we are.
But I imagine running the idea by my editor and it not going very well.
“You want to do a whole column about two politicians being insulted in the same way?”
“Yeah, funny stuff, huh?”
“Isn’t your premise a little thin?”
“It’s a one-joke column. Where you gonna go with it? Gov. Holcomb is no Otis Bowen? Senators Braun and Young are no Evan Bayh and Dick Lugar? Attorney General Curtis Hill is no Perry Mason?”
“Use your imagination and think beyond politics. Hoagy Carmichael is no George Gershwin. Shelley Long is no Meryl Streep. James Whitcomb Riley is no Robert Frost.”
“It’s still the same joke over and over again. And, well, that’s the other problem. Face it, you’re no Art Buchwald.”
“Oh, come on. Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist. Made a whole career of writing sarcastic parodies of politicians.”
“That supposed to be an insult? Nobody even remembers Art Buchwald.”
“OK, you’re no George Will.”
“I don’t even like George Will anymore, since his pathological loathing of Donald Trump has eaten away his brain and left him a drooling idiot. How can you insult me by saying I’m not somebody I wouldn’t ever want to be?”
At this point, I can picture my editor’s wife interrupting us to ask what is going on.
“He is trying to talk me out of something he thinks I can’t handle.”
“Take what he says with a grain of salt. He’s no Dr. Phil.”
‘Well, you’re no Oprah.”
Now I feel derailed, my delight at the original premise being smothered by my anguish over who I would most like not to be.
As a writer, I should hope to be insulted by being reminded that I am no Mark Twain or Shakespeare. But perhaps I should restrain my ego. I could be not Joseph Heller or Jack Kerouac.
I toyed with the idea of being a stand-up comedian at one time. I could have been not Jerry Seinfeld. And I write a song or two occasionally. I could still be the next not Bob Dylan, although people who have heard me say I’m not even a good not Donavan.
Who would you like most not to be?
Wish I had a brilliant way to end this with an unexpected twist or the perfect ironic surprise.
Alas, I am no O. Henry.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.