Great presidential wit
NICK THOMAS, Along These LinesSometimes, when presidents' give speeches, the result can be a hysterical gaffe. Gerald Ford's classic 1978 comment, "I watch a lot of baseball on the radio," is an oft quoted example.
Published: October 18, 2012
Published: October 18, 2012
So too are Eisenhower's "Things are more like they are now than they ever were before," Calvin Coolidge's droll "When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results," and George W. Bush's "Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?"
But presidents can also display a deliberate sense of humor, or at least their speech writers can. Along these lines, here are some witty presidential gems from over the years:
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." – Abraham Lincoln
"In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress." – John Adams
"Washington, DC, is 12 square miles bordered by reality." – Andrew Johnson
"Thomas Jefferson once said, 'We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.' And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying." – Ronald Reagan
"My esteem in this country has gone up substantially. It is very nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers." – Jimmy Carter
"These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin. You know, for a while I even thought my staff believed it. There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, 'Intelligence Briefing."' – George W. Bush
"Combining the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms with both the Bureau of Fisheries and the Interstate Trucking Commission - we're going to call it the Department of Guys." – Bill Clinton
"Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." – Ronald Reagan
"It was absolutely involuntary. They sank my boat." – John F. Kennedy, explaining how he became a war hero.
"I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again." – Bill Clinton
"Look, when I was a kid, I inhaled frequently. That was the point." – Barack Obama
"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim."' – Lyndon Johnson
"I just get up every morning to confound my enemies." – Richard Nixon
"When I take action, I'm not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to be decisive." – George W. Bush, after terrorist attack.
"I don't want to be invited to the family hunting party." – Barack Obama, after learning he and Dick Cheney were distantly related.
"The Hurst may have changed, but it's still the same old fanny." – Franklin Roosevelt, referring to novelist Fannie Hurst after she went on a diet.
"Milk them." – Abraham Lincoln's response when General George McClellen asked the president what should be done with six captured Confederate cows.
"I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency - even if I'm in a Cabinet meeting." – Ronald Reagan
"I have often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can't get my wife to go swimming." – Jimmy Carter
"Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter." – James A. Garfield
"[Washington is] the only city where sound travels faster than light." – Ronald Reagan
"I know only two tunes: One of them is 'Yankee Doodle' and the other isn't." – Ulysses S. Grant
"Being president is like running a cemetery: you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening." – Bill Clinton
"Blessed are the young, for they will inherit the national debt." – Herbert Hoover
"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" – Ronald Reagan
"Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth." – Barack Obama
Thomas' features and columns have appeared in more than 200 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor.