From an article in The Economist (May 26-June 1):
Language is no longer the heavy artillery of politics. It is tempting to say that, like its football, Britain's phrasemaking is not what it was. Who in Parliament today can put down an opponent as Churchill once did? "Mr. Attlee is a modest man, and he has much to be modest about." No present politician has matched Disraeli's dismissal of a tired government: "You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes."
The decline of political invective is not confined to Britain. Calling Ronald Reagan the Teflon man was a term more of affection than of criticism. Calling George Bush a wimp is merely uncivil. Franklin Roosevelt may have been the last wit to occupy the White House. "A radical is a man with both feet firmly planted in the air" was a nice line attributed to him in the 1930s, although, who knows, it may have been given to him by his playwright friend Robert Sherwood. America was alive with sharp words then, and they spilled over into the lyricism practiced by Gershwin and Cole Porter.
... In Australia the most damaging political rocket-launcher is Paul Keating, the deputy prime minister. Much of what Mr. Keating says is simply abusive. Calling your opponent brain-damaged does not do much to raise the tone of debate. But, when he puts his mind to it, Mr. Keating does well. Of Andrew Peacock's return to lead the Liberal party, he said, "Does a souffle' rise twice?" Another opposition leader, John Howard, was "His Oiliness." Australia may have a dismal economy, but give the place credit for keeping the marketplace of political insult healthily alive.