:American politicians have always been good for a laugh, if nothing else. This adage is particularly true of presidents. When a man is in the spotlight that much he is just about bound to make a few ridiculous statements — even when trying to be serious.
The great humorist Will Rogers once quipped, "I have poked fun at every prominent person of my time, but I never met a man I didn't like." Of course Will Rogers never met ... feel free to fill in the blank. Even before Will Rogers came on the scene the great Mark Twain was making fun of just about every American who made the mistake of taking himself too seriously. For instance, Twain once wrote, "America is a nation with no distinct criminal class, with the possible exception of Congress."
Modern comedians, like Jay Leno and David Letterman, have made careers of cracking jokes about the people we elect to lead our country. Let's face it. There is lots to crack on, and always has been.
Even the dour Republican Calvin Coolidge showed that he had a sense of humor. Coolidge didn't say much -- so much so that he earned the nickname "Silent Cal." When the aforementioned Will Rogers met President Coolidge for the first time a friend bet Rogers 10 bucks that the president wouldn't say more than two words to him. Determined to win said bet, Rogers sidled up next to the president and said to him, "Mr. President, my buddy bet me 10 dollars that you wouldn't say as many as three words to me," to which Coolidge responded, "You lose."
Most of the time, of course, the things our politicians say that get the biggest laughs were not intended in jest. Herbert Hoover was as sincere as he could be when he predicted, shortly before the stock market crash of 1929, that "prosperity is just around the corner." And Bill Clinton most certainly didn't expect that his statement would become a perpetual punch line when he pointed his finger directly into the camera and perjured himself with the now infamous comment, "I did not have sex with that woman!"
Georgia's own Jimmy Earl Carter suffered an embarrassing slip of the tongue at the 1980 Democratic Convention by referring to the late Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey as "Hubert Horatio Hornblower."
John F. Kennedy's most famous gaffe came in Berlin when, attempting to identify with the people of Berlin, said in German, "I am a jelly doughnut" -- instead of "I am a Berliner."
Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, was not immune from the occasional gaffe himself. He once came close to touching off an international incident when he picked up what he thought to be a dead microphone and joked, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We start bombing in five minutes." Always assume that every mic is live, folks, because Reagan's was. Oops.
Richard Nixon once appeared on television's "Laugh In" and uttered the show's catch phrase, "Sock it to me" -- this just months before all hell broke loose in Nixon's presidency with the revelations about the Watergate scandal that led to his ultimate downfall. Nixon, to his credit, had a sense of humor and reappeared on the show after having resigned the presidency and instead of saying "Sock it to me," said, "You can stop now!"
Of course we could fill a book with the gaffes and transfigurations of the English language for which George W. Bush was responsible during his eight years in the White House. He never could quite pronounce "nuclear," you might remember. It always came out "nu-cu-lar." Another time he said "One word sums up the responsibility of this office and that one word is "to be prepared."
He once stated, "I know that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully." Another time he said, "They misunderestimated me." My personal favorite Bushism, being married to a midwife, is, "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
Of course the current POTUS has made a few verbal missteps as well. He once famously stated that he had campaigned in 57 states and had only one to go. Another time, when referring to his poor bowling performance said, "I felt like I was in the Special Olympics or something."
Last week, however, Obama outdid himself -- and every other president in history -- when he claimed, with a straight face, that he was the fourth best president in history -- behind only LBJ, FDR and Abraham Lincoln. That may be the funniest thing I have ever heard a president say and I bet George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and about 35 other former presidents are rolling in their graves with laughter over that one.
Personally I would rank Obama fourth, too -- among Jimmy Carter, Millard Fillmore and Warren G. Harding. And let me point out -- Will Rogers never met Barack Obama.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.