At a reception before last night's roast in his honor, Mario Cuomo said, "I can think of no better joke about Mr. Buchanan than what he has to say."
Evidently, by the time he got to the microphone, he had come up with one.
"Pat Buchanan," said the New York governor of the White House director of communications with whom he has been bickering in none too pleasant terms over tax reform, "is one of a kind."
"If you don't count Qaddafi."
Your turn, Mr. Buchanan.
Political feuds do have their practical sides. Edward Coyle, director of the Democratic political action committee Independent Action, which held the fundraiser, said the $250 tickets for the event grew suddenly more attractive when the Buchanan-Cuomo war hit the front pages earlier this week.
"I was considering sending a thank-you letter to Pat Buchanan for helping us with the ticket sales."
The roast raised $200,000. Chances are, Buchanan will not be receiving a cut.
In the past, the Teflon presidency, former Interior secretary James Watt and former EPA administrator Ann Burford were especially popular among Democratic joke writers. Last night, before an audience of about 1,000 Democrats at the Washington Hilton, a new favorite emerged.
"He was deeply moved when he heard Pat Buchanan was taken to the hospital with lockjaw," said roaster Sen. George Mitchell (Maine) of Cuomo. "He sent his personal representative to visit him in his hospital room, and that's where Claus von Bu low is right now."
Mitchell, actually, was the surprise laugh master of the evening, despite the fact that he was called in at the last minute to replace New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and said he had yet to meet Cuomo.
After a string of anecdotes and jokes, he said warmly, "He's still the same old Mario I never knew."
A surprisingly subdued Geraldine Ferraro, who seems to have mellowed under the influence of private life and Pepsi, sent a barb toward her mentor, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, who recently signed a book contract promising more than a million dollars in comparison to the measly million she got for her autobiography.
"I just want you to know, Tip," said Ferraro, "I don't think they're going to ask you to do a Pepsi commercial."
As could be predicted on a stage that held both Cuomo and fellow Democratic rising star New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, there was some talk of presidential aspirations. Of course, Cuomo is still a governor, and as if to prove it, left early, before every last drop of publicity, humor and praise had been milked, to return to Albany, where a bill had to be signed before midnight. But even such a display of allegiance to home doesn't satisfy Washingtonians, who look at Cuomo and see only one thing.
"Mr. Governor, you insist you're not a candidate," said O'Neill to Cuomo, but added, "I notice you only accept honorary degrees in states where they have party primary elections."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk will probably not be flying out to Vegas to start a new career as a stand-up comic after last night's performance. He made the kind of jokes greeted more often with groans than laughs. Of course, Cuomo didn't support Kirk in his bid for party head until his first two choices had been defeated, so what can you expect?
"Mario Cuomo accepts defeat gracefully," said Kirk, who then described stopping next to the governor at a red light after the campaign for chairman ended. "I flashed him the V for Victory sign and he was so grateful he flashed half of it right back to me."
Which Cuomo, needless to say, couldn't leave alone.
"The only reason Paul was my third choice," he said, "was that there weren't eight candidates."