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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Article written by Lindsey Williams

Political Jokes Topped in Florida - Politician Humor

Political Jokes Topped in Florida

The great humorist Will Rogers had the right outlook on politics: “There is nothing wrong with a political joke as long as he doesn’t get elected.”

He said, “Politics has got so expensive that it takes a lot of money to even get beat with.”

Humor has always been part of American politics. Perhaps this is a legacy of our Revolution -- to keep our leaders from taking themselves too seriously.

The current presidential campaign is rather grim. A litany of clever putdowns by late-night comedians. Nothing memorable – as this is written one week from showdown.

This is slim pickings for the most expensive campaign in U.S. history. Each side has a bevy of joke smiths on the payroll, but they seem to suffer from writer’s block. We are still waiting for humor to match the free-wheeling days of yore.

The only good one-liner in the last presidential election – one that hit the wall and stuck -- was tossed off by George W. Bush. He responded to Al Gore’s first-debate recitation of tax statistics: “Mr. Gore claims to have invented the Internet. Now it’s the calculator.”

Fortunately we have some choice sallies from previous campaigns to tickle our funny bones.


President Truman crisscrossed the nation by train with his 1948 “Do nothing Congress” whistle-stop campaign. It became routine for someone in the crowd to shout, “Give ‘em Hell Harry!”

To which he would reply to thunderous laughter, “I never give them Hell. I just tell the truth, and they think it is Hell.”

Republican Candidate Thomas E. Dewey denounced the Truman routine as a set up, but it did no good. A barrage of partisan taunts destroyed Dewey in a race that pollsters predicted he would win.

John Gunther, a member of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust,” declared: “Tom Dewey is the only man I ever met who can strut sitting down.”

Wolcott Gibbs, a prominent contributor to New Yorker Magazine, wrote: You have to know Mr. Dewey very well in order to dislike him.”

The most famous putdown of Dewey – who was distinguished by a closely trimmed mustache -- came from syndicated columnist Walter Winchell. He described Dewey as “the little man on a wedding cake.” This was the most quoted insult during the campaign.


So many unflattering things were said about Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater during his bid for the presidency he finally took note of them in a post-defeat interview.

“If I hadn’t known Barry Goldwater in 1964, and I had to depend upon the press and cartoons, I would have voted against the son-of-a-bitch myself.” Nixon-Agnew

The Richard Nixon campaigns of 1968 and 1972 were bitter. Texas Gov. John Connally switched from Democrat to Republican to become Nixon’s Treasury Secretary. The National Democratic Party chairman declared: “Connally’s defection to the Republicans raised the intellectual level of both parties.”

Harry Haldeman described his role as White House chief of staff: “I’m Nixon’s son-of-a-bitch.” One Democrat Congressman’s reaction to this was: “He’s given SOBs a bad name.”

Sen. Eugene McCarthy drove the last nail in Vice-president Spiro Agnew’s coffin by describing him as: “Nixon’s Nixon.”

A widely quoted remark of unknown origin about John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General, was: “When you first meet him, he may seem cold on the surface. But when you get to know him better you realize that’s only the tip of the ice-berg.”

Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Nixon, was often accused of pomposity. He deflected this criticism in a Time Magazine interview: “Every morning I pray to God to give me the wisdom to do the right thing during the day. Then I ask God, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?”


The 1976 presidential race was hotly contested by Gerald Ford seeking reelection -- and by challenger Jimmy Carter, a single-term governor of Georgia.

Ford, a former football star in college, stumbled while exiting Air Force One. Former Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson jeered that Ford “had played too much football with his helmet off.” Ford lost narrowly.

Though Carter was unscathed in that campaign, he became a butt of jokes as the economy worsened and his beer-swigging brother, Billy, entertained the media.

President Carter tried to sidestep the family embarrassment with lame humor: “Billy is doing his share for the economy. He has put the beer industry back on its feet.”

Billy snorted: “I have a brother who is president, one sister who rides motorcycles, and another who is a holy-roller preacher. That makes me the only sane one in the family.”


President Carter and his running mate Walter Mondale lost their 1980 bid for reelection to Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush.

President Reagan’s advanced age was a drumbeat issue by Democrats in the 1984 race. Mondale, the challenger, intimated in a formal debate that his opponent was too old for the job.

Reagan won a hearty laugh, and a second term, with his smiling reply: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Mondale later said he knew at that moment he had lost the election.

During the Nixon Watergate scandal, Democrats had loved to quote Republican Sen. Howard Baker’s piercing question: “What did he know, and when did he know it?”

During Reagan’s Iran-contra affair, Dems added a pinch of humor that simultaneously twitted his dilemma and his alleged senility: “What did he know, and when did he forget it?”

President Reagan, the consummate actor, maintained his likeability throughout two terms with memorable humor.

Of his distaste for big government, he liked to say: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are – I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

He stated often: “Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but Democrats believe every day is April 15.”

His abortion argument-stopper was: “I’ve noticed that everybody who is for abortion has already been born.”

Bush H-Dukakis

The 1988 campaign between Vice-President George H. Bush and Gov. Michael Dukakis produced several memorable jibes.

Keynote speaker at the Democratic national convention got the ball rolling with: “Now Bush is after a job he can’t get appointed to. Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

Ohio Senator John Glenn dubbed Bush a “carpet-bagging Texas wimp who thinks Mexican food is refried quiche.”

Republicans ridiculed Dukakis who was of short stature and Greek descent. They distributed thousands of bumper stickers boasting: “Our wimp can beat your shrimp.” Another popular GOP sticker was: “Beware Of Greeks Wearing Lifts.” Veeps

The vice-presidential candidates in that race were Republican Sen. Dan Quayle and Democrat Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

In their formal debate, Quayle invoked the memory of John F. Kennedy. Bentsen replied icily, “I knew Jack Kennedy. I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy.”

He who lives by the insult, dies by the insult. Dukakis’ oversize tank helmet in a military photo-op was perceived not to be “presidential.”

Bentsen’s mean put-down wowed the media but turned off voters. The Democratic ticket was swamped in the election.

President H. Bush capped the wimp assertion after he moved into the White House. He was laughingly accused by a television comic of refusing to eat broccoli at a state dinner. Bush replied:

“Look! my mother made me eat broccoli. Barbara served me broccoli for 40 years. I don’t like broccoli. Now I’m 65 years old and president of the United States. I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

He apologized to broccoli farmers next day, but he had demonstrated backbone in a homey way that everyone understood.

Clinton - Bush H - Perot

The 1992 Clinton-Gore/Bush-Quayle campaign spawned a couple of humorous rejoinders. A popular bi-partisan riddle was: “What is the difference between Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle and Jane Fonda?” Answer: “She went to Vietnam.”

Clinton admitted he had tried marijuana but had not “inhaled.” A popular late-night quip of that three-way presidential race was: “Ross Perot hasn’t said anything, Bush hasn’t done anything, and Clinton hasn’t inhaled anything.”

At the GOP National convention that year, retiring president Reagan had another opportunity to rub the noses of Democrats in their prolonged campaign to paint him as senile:

“This fellow (William Jefferson Clinton) they’ve nominated claims he’s the new Thomas Jefferson. Well, let me tell him something – I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine; and, Governor, you’re no Thomas Jefferson.”

Florida Killer

In the game of politics, successful attacks cloaked in humor are known as “killers.” The all-time masterpiece is a legendary leaflet supposedly devised by Florida Congressman George Smathers to defeat Sen. Claude Pepper in 1950.

It was delivered to rural Floridians and was said to be a significant factor in Smathers’ victory:
  • “Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert?
  • “Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law.
  • “And he has a sister who once was a thespian in Greenwich Village.
  • “He has a brother who was a practicing homo sapiens.
  • “And he went to college where he matriculated with coeds.
  • “Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy”
Smathers denied any connection to the leaflet and offered a reward of $10,000 to anyone who could prove otherwise.

Nevertheless, Pepper was never able to make it back into the Senate. He subsequently was elected to Congress and spent the rest of his distinguished career in the House of Representatives -- from a Miami district where he was well known.

October 31, 2004 .

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