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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: Presidential Humor for the Ages

By Tom Morrow

The Washington Post newspaper staff tried to find at least one zinger from every U.S. president to mark President Obama’s final set of stand-up comedy at the recent eighth White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner. Some zingers have less zing than others. Some are flat, some are apocryphal, some are just threats and some. But they are Presidential, by definition, and therefore funny, by acclamation.

Barack Obama, at the 2012 White House correspondents’ dinner: “I have a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew.”

George W. Bush, at the 2006 White House correspondents’ dinner: “Cheney’s a good man. He’s got a good heart. [Pause] Well, he’s a good man.”

Bill Clinton, at the 2000 White House correspondents’ dinner: “Over the last few months I’ve lost 10 pounds. Where did they go? Why haven’t I produced them to the independent counsel? How did some of them manage to wind up on Tim Russert?”

George H.W. Bush, at the 1989 Gridiron Club dinner: “People say I’m indecisive, but I don’t know about that.”

Ronald Reagan, to protesters at UCLA: “Make love not war’? By the looks of all of you, you don’t look like you could do much of either.”

Jimmy Carter, riffing at the 1979 correspondents’ dinner about the old White House indoor swimming pool that Richard Nixon covered over to build the press room: “Press Secretary Jody Powell “has been trying to persuade me to reopen the White House swimming pool — suddenly. . . Any of you that survive would, of course, have permanent swimming privileges.”

Gerald Ford, at a 1974 boozy Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner: “At a time when funds for the defense budget may be cut, it’s comforting to see so many of the big guns from your industry still getting loaded.”

Richard Nixon, in Ms. magazine in 1971 when asked about women’s lib:  “Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I wouldn’t want to wake up next to a lady pipefitter.”

Lyndon Johnson, on Gerald Ford: “So dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”

John F. Kennedy, responding to criticism that Robert Kennedy wasn’t qualified to be attorney general: “I don’t see anything wrong with giving Bobby a little legal experience before he goes out on his own to practice law.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower, when asked to name one big decision that Nixon helped make as vice president: “If you give me a week, I might think of one.”

Harry S. Truman, on Adlai Stevenson: “He’s no better than a regular sissy.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, when told his wife was in a prison: “I’m not surprised … but what for?”

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

Calvin Coolidge, on Herbert Hoover: “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years —  all of it bad.”

Woodrow Wilson: “A conservative is someone who makes no changes and consults his grandmother when in doubt.”

William Howard Taft: “Some men are graduated from college cum laude, some are graduated summa cum laude, and some are graduated mirabile dictu.”

Theodore Roosevelt, on William Howard Taft: “A flub-dub with a streak of the second-rate and common in him.”

Grover Cleveland: “No man has ever yet been hanged for breaking the spirit of a law.”

Benjamin Harrison: “When I hear a Democrat boasting the age of his party, I feel like reminding him there are other organized evils in the world older than the Democratic Party.”