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Humor and Humility in Politics Seem in Short Supply Today

By February 25, 2024February 27th, 2024No Comments
By Tom Loranger, Principal


Politics in 1981 (when I arrived in Washington, D.C.) compared to 2024 is like comparing the fax machine to the Internet.  I’m not saying that politics wasn’t a rough and tumble sport in those days (in fact, it’s always been), but it was never as intensely personal as we see today.

The current state of affairs makes one pine for the days when humor – and humility – were a prominent part of our politics. As a minor antidote to what is sure to be a poisonous 2024 campaign – and for your reading pleasure – I’m highlighting some of my favorite bits of political humor.  As you’ll see, the best laughs were often self-targeted and replete with truisms.

Unknown: “Don’t take yourself too seriously in Washington; no one else will.”

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.”

President Harry Truman: “I remember when I first came to Washington. For the first six months you wonder how the hell you ever got here. For the next six months you wonder how the hell the rest of them ever got here.”

Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy: “It’s dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember.”

President Ronald Reagan: “I’ve laid down the law (to his staff)…”from now on about anything that happens –  that no matter what time it is I’m to be awakened, even if it’s in the middle of a cabinet meeting.”

President Jimmy Carter:  “My esteem in this country has gone up substantially. It’s very nice now when people wave at me, and they use all their fingers.”

President Lyndon Johnson:  “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: “President Can’t Swim.”

President Barack Obama (with tongue in cheek):  “People say I’m arrogant and aloof. Some people are so dumb.”

President Herbert Hoover: “Blessed are the young, for they will inherit the national debt.”

President Gerald Ford (upon being approached at a post-address reception by a little old lady who said, “I hear you spoke here tonight.”): “Oh, it was nothing,” he replied modestly. “Yes”, nodded the elderly woman, “that’s what I heard.”

President Bill Clinton (discussing his eating habits): “People say to me, if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. That’s the only room in the house I don’t want to leave.”

Senator Hubert Humphrey: “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.”

Senator Fred Thompson (also a noted movie actor): “After two years in Washington, I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood.”

Legendary Nevada legislator, Bill Raggio:  “In politics, no good deed goes unpunished.”

Hillary Clinton: “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.”

Senator Alan Simpson: “If you don’t know who you are before you get to Washington, this is a poor place to find out.”

President George W. Bush (while keeping his ego in check, was told that a company would be coming out with ‘presidential trading cards’ for kids): “I don’t dare ask how many hundreds of Bush cards you have to trade to get one Michael Jordan.”

Edward Everett Hale (former chaplain of the U.S. Senate when asked, “Do you pray for the senators, Dr. Hale?”): “No. I look at the senators and pray for the country.”

Satirist Will Rogers was known to say: “The more you read and observe about this politics thing, you’ve got to admit that each party is worse than the other.”

And finally, one of my all-time favorites comes from First Lady Barbara Bush: “Our new White House puppies are sound asleep on the Washington Post and New York Times.  It’s the first time in history these papers have been used to prevent leaks.”

In a political world dominated by 24/7 “news” coverage and jillions of dollars spent on negative advertising, it’s probably naïve to think politics will ever return to a more civilized (and humorous) era — but it’s nice to dream.