If nothing else, Election Day is fodder for memorable quips
When I lived in Kenya, there was a sign often posted on the walls of bars and saloons, large and small, an admonishment apparently aimed at keeping the peace. “Never argue with a fool,” it read. “People might not know the difference.”
I thought about that tidbit of tribal wisdom more than once during this past presidential campaign cycle, most of the time not sure which side was the one that should be heeding the advice.
Whoever moves into the White House next, the sure winner of this US presidential race has been rancor. And just like listening to next door neighbors quarrel through paper-thin walls, it’s a relief when its finally ends.
One good thing about elections is that they are a time for famous quotes. Hearing them in the midst of the process, especially one as intense as this has been, reminds us of the power that words have to carry wisdom down through the ages. They also remind us that very little is new under the sun.
The quip of the late great George Carlin — comedian, actor, social critic and author — couldn’t be more apropos than today. “In America,” he said, “anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”
Winston Churchill left behind a record of opinions that might be seen as contradictory. “The best argument against democracy,” he said on one occasion, “is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
Yet at a different time, he reportedly said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
Adlai Stevenson had a famous quip that sounds so perfect for this race that it’s hard to believe neither side ever co-opted it. “I offer my opponents a bargain,” he said. “If they stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.”
Even famous Communists have weighed in on the electoral process. Joseph Stalin said, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
How do you say “the whole system’s rigged” in Russian?
And one of Karl Marx’s lines sounds right in tune with the anti-political elitism sentiment that echoed through some of this past year’s stump speeches. “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them,” he wrote.
Writing in his book Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, Georgetown history professor Carroll Quigley (and apparently Bill Clinton mentor) gives Marx a backhanded slap on the back. Political “parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can ‘throw the rascals out’ at any election, without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy.”
Mark Twain said, “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it,” a sentiment that was echoed by anarchist Emma Goldman: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
What quotes will Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump be remembered for when this election is finally in the books?
“As everybody knows,” Trump tweeted, “but the haters & the losers refuse to acknowledge, I do not wear a wig. My hair may not be perfect but it’s mine.”
Some of his quotes, of course, are too vulgar to repeat, and for a sign of how far the boundaries of what’s acceptable have been stretched, sometime google Earl Butz, who served as secretary of agriculture under president Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and see how quickly he got summarily drummed out of office for his garbage mouth.
Clinton’s biggest gaff is one she probably won’t live down any time soon and like Mitt Romney’s celebrated “47 percent” line was probably not put out there for public consumption. “To just be grossly generalistic,” she said, “you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.”
But the all-time winning Election Day quote is attributed to Henry Cate VII (whoever that is): “The problem with political jokes is they get elected.”
“In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.” George Carlin — comedian, actor, social critic and author