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Posted: September 2, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Morgan: Political humor

Ronald Reagan was always good for a funny, dry, wry or totally off-base comment. Even if he got facts or history wrong, he kept on smiling. "Politics," he said, "is not a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book." Take that, Dick Cheney, who's self-aggrandizing new book may do little to rehabilitate his image as a cold-hearted, vengeful warmonger, among other things. Reagan would seem to have been remarkably prescient.

If ever we needed some humor in politics, now is the time. The recent deficit debacle in D.C. did nothing to get us laughing. A record 87 percent of Americans in a recent poll view the congress in a glaringly negative light. The president's numbers are nothing to brag about, either, but Congress gets the brunt of Americans' frustrations with current politics. (Speaking of government deficits, Reagan said, "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself." He also said: "Facts are stupid things.")

Mark Twain had frustrations with the congress of his day, too. "Reader," he wrote, "suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." Don't tell me you haven't had the same thought this summer.

In the 1930s, Will Rogers, the actor and author and comic commentator, took a look around and had this to say: "Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." Yet another prescient statement.

"Politics," said Groucho Marx, "is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies." Ambrose Bierce, who composed "The Devil's Dictionary", defined politics as: "A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage." Amen.

P.J. O'Rourke, author of "Parliament of Whores", succinctly described the two parties: "The Democrats are the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then get elected and prove it." Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole revealed the Republican plan for dealing with the Clinton Administration: "Our intent will not be to create gridlock. Oh, except maybe from time to time." He didn't mean 365/24/7, but then he hadn't met the tea party.

Politics can be cruel. Consider what Republican Presidential candidate Jack Kemp had to say about fellow contender Dole: "In a recent fire, Bob Dole's library burned down. Both books were lost. And he hadn't even finished coloring one of them." Winston Churchill said, "In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times." President Lyndon Baines Johnson who had a friendly relationship with the press was nevertheless quoted in this regard: "If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that day would read: President Can't Swim." Joe Biden spoke to the frustrations of holding office and abetted the widely held impression that he speaks before he thinks: "If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong." (When it came to right and wrong, former President Richard Nixon kept getting it wrong. In an interview with David Frost, he famously said, "When the President does it, that means it's not illegal.")

On many occasions - just not now - politics can be seriously funny, particularly when it has to do with Texas. Who can forget what former Texas Gov. Ann Richards had to say about G.W. Bush's frequent misstatements? "He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Texas ag commissioner Jim Hightower clearly had an issue with the elder Bush when he said, "If ignorance goes to forty dollars a barrel, I want drilling rights to George Bush's head."

Poor W. His bumbling statements were sadder than funny and far too many to recount in full, something that could also be said about former Vice President Dan Quayle. Here are two famous lines from W: "Rarely is the questioned (sic) asked: Is our childrens (sic) learning?" and " They misunderestimated (sic) me." Not to mention: "Mission Accomplished." I wonder if GWB's one-time press secretary Dana Perino has surfaced since her egregious misstatement about his presidency: "We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term."

I've just noticed that more of the quotes in this column are by quotable Republicans. Sorry, folks. Democrats just aren't funny. They take themselves far too seriously, as did Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart trying to tamp down media suspicion of his after-hours comportment: "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." And they did.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee

 

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