Top 5: Political Quotes That Defined Presidencies
Politics is a cruel business, and soundbites are its modern currency. Love em or hate em, there are some quotes, mantras or slogans linked to political leaders that the public just can’t seem to forget. Here are five examples of simple statements that, right or wrong, have come to sum up the legacies of presidents. Lesson to politicians: be careful with that next sentence, it could one day be used to sum up your entire career.
Number 5: “Read my lips: no new taxes”
George H. W. Bush famously spoke these words at the Republican National Convention in 1988 while accepting the Republican nomination. Bush’s election platform was largely based on this pledge not to raise taxes and many credit this specific soundbite for engraining this pledge withing the public’s consciousness.
Low and behold, when Bush actually won the white house based on this promise, he was forced to eat his words. After refusing to raise taxes several times, pressure from both democrats and reublicans in the senate and house to raise money to reduce the deficit eventually forced Bush sr to agree to a tax hike.
Read my lips: fire that speech writer.
Number 4: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”
The scandal known as the Lewinsky affair, and its resultant discussions about things like hard to remove dress stains, embarrassed Clinton and his administration and made more than a few grannies blush.
Clinton made this comment at a White House press conference in January of 1998, and later,when it was confirmed that Clinton did have sexual relations with that woman, Clinton spokespeople made their best efforts to downgrade a blowjob from the list of things considered sexual relations. After the Lewinsky affair, a blowjob was pretty much considered something akin to a handshake…except much harder to come by.
Number 3: “It’s the economy, stupid”
This wasn’t quite a quote that defined a presidency, rather it was a slogan that defined the loss of a presidential race. Democratic uber-strategist James Carville originally coined this diddy for an internal audience of campaign staffers during Bill Clinton’s bid for the White House in 1992, but it quickly became an unofficial campaign slogan.
Incumbent George H.W. Bush had expected his high foreign policy marks earned in Gulf War I to earn him a second term in the oval office, but Clinton successfully parlayed recessionary fears into his first of two terms.
Alas, Bush had no strategist that could coin an adequate counter to Carville’s gem.
It’s the soundbite stupid.
Number 2: “I can’t recall”
The concept of plausible deniability, also known as lying about forgeting something, experienced somewhat of a renaissance with the Iran Contra affair during Ronald Reagan’s second administration. While appearing before the Tower Commision, Ronald Reagan was questioned about whether he had authorized arms deals with Iran. Reagan first aknowledged that he had and then later claimed that he could not recall.
The details of the arms-to-iran-for-hostages-and-money-that-went-to-the-contras are complicated and difficult to remember…at least that is our story…
Number 1 “I am not a crook”
Richard Nixon famously made this claim during a televised press conference in November of 1973 in response to growing pressure over the various lies and cover ups that are now referred to collectively as the Watergate scandal.
Acceptance of illegal campaign contributions, intimidation of “enemies” through wiretaps and last but not least, the break-in at the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate hotel were a few of the improprieties linked to the Nixon administration.
In the end, Nixon’s own recordings of conversations with aides at the White House revealed attempts at obstruction and links to the illegal activities. Facing almost certain impeachment and criminal charges, Nixon resigned.
Lesson: if you must break the law, take a moment to turn off the tape recorders. Suggested amendment to Nixon’s quote: “I am not a smart crook”
So what line will sum up the career of the next President? Listen to those soundbites…you never know if the next sentence you hear might serve as the Cliff notes for four years of leadership.
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