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Kentucky's archaic dueling law suggests a solution for modern gridlock in Obama's Washington

Duel Drawing aaron burr and alexander hamilton 1804

Anybody who's ever been to Kentucky knows how beautiful it is. Yes, sure, Abraham Lincoln left there for Illinois. And Davy Crockett was from Tennessee. But Kentucky's a great place to be from.

Now, comes word from our journalist colleague Bruce Schreiner over at Associated Press that Kentucky is taking the lead in updating its state's Constitution to eliminate the need for politicians to swear before taking office that they've never participated in a duel. As in, "Stop! Turn. Gentlemen, cock your pistols."

It seems that even in 2010 Kentuckians taking public office must raise their firing hand and say out loud that to their knowledge they've not dueled, as the state Constitution still requires. The spoken line routinely elicits chuckles from witnesses.

But now Kentucky state Rep. Daryl Owens has a bill that cleared a House committee Tuesday allowing voters to decide come November if the archaic constitutional provision should be removed.

But wait!

Maybe even in its constitutional inaction Kentucky is cutting edge and on to something -- still.

What if we re-introduced dueling to Washington?

No more dueling press-release rhetoric harmlessly flying across Capitol Hill. No more....

...interminable floor debates or town halls producing empty promises that go unfulfilled anyway. Presidents would be exempt, of course, because it costs so much money to buy them.

But if, say, some Democrat senator called a Republican president a liar, the chief executive could designate a second. So, Harry Reid vs. David Petraeus at sun-up.

Dueling could helpfully whittle down one side's ruling majority without waiting for tedious and expensive elections. Quicker even than term limits. And Sarah Palin's certainly qualified for this!

Dueling Pistols used in 1804 by aaron burr and alexander hamilton

Be good TV ratings too probably.

Speaking of TV, let's allow dueling challenges to TV talk show hosts too. Loudest first. (Nevermind bloggers; they don't matter anyway.)

Duels would help reduce these endless if well-coiffed Sunday talk show gotchas about what one guy said two years ago and how come he's maybe seeming to say something a little differently now perhaps?

If you're on the show and you feel your honor or your wife's has been sullied on-air, whip out that white hanky, slap the host's well made-up face and see you at dawn down by the river. (Tape-delayed for the breakfast crowd in Western time zones, except on C-SPAN, which would take live calls on lines labeled "Dead," "Wounded" or "Missed.")

Have those elected political folks put their own bodies where their overblown rhetoric is. See if that tones things down a bit on the sound bites that pass for political dialogue these days. A Republican leader insults Reid's secret healthcare legislation deals and in his own Nevada dialect Harry could challenge a duel.

Reid's a much smaller target than Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.

And they both wear spectacles.

But -- oops! -- 100-bucks on McConnell. He's from Kentucky.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: New York Historical Society (Dueling pistols used by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in July 1804).

 
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Oh what a treat it would be to witness a duel between Pelosi and Boxer.And then to watch the victor shipped to the happy hunting grounds by Michèle
Backman.

Such talk is nonsense, and outdated. We are, most of us that is, civilized enough to consider dueling one of dumbest things that ever occurred in this country. Something like witchcraft, or the pretended belief in it, so one could get rid of someone they disliked.

Of course some good could come out of dueling, if handled in the right way. It should only be allowed among members of the media, especially those like the ones on MSNBC. Maybe we could weed them out, and get back to the sort of news, repeat news, like we once had.

Dueling in Washington! Great idea. Imagine if the late Representative Murtha had challenged Dick "Five Deferments" Cheney, after the VP had called him a coward? Or if those soldiers returning from Iraq who oppose the war had challenged Rush "The Cysto Kid" Limbaugh, who called them phony soldiers? Saddam Hussein could have challenged either or both Bushes.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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