By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Famous people are often remembered by a single quote or phrase. It might not be completely fitting of their legacy but it can come to define them over time.
Take for instance U.S. presidents, normally a wordy bunch, yet we’ll let one quippy moment be burned into our memory. To make the point, let’s use free association with each of the president’s names in my lifetime.
Dwight D. Eisenhower — “I like Ike.” OK, he was only in office the first year of my life, so I don’t remember anything he said. That’s just as well because a Google of his quotes is just as boring as the man. But that campaign button phrase transcended the generations.
John F. Kennedy — “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” I was too young to remember hearing it, but that quote is likely the No. 1 presidential quote of my lifetime.
Lyndon B. Johnson — “I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” Strange that the most memorable phrase would be that one. The context of the time during the Vietnam War and the tremendous pressure the man felt was on him nationally and internationally made it memorable though.
Richard M. Nixon — “I am not a crook.” That one is pretty easy. I also like the quote at his last press conference when he told the press corps to think about what they would be missing, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.” Leaving office under a black cloud was his legacy and the quotes reflect it.
Gerald Ford — “Our long national nightmare is over.” Ford didn’t say a lot of profound things. Free association didn’t even work for me, I had to look some up. This quote sets him up to be the normal, low key guy who followed Watergate and the Nixon administration. That’s what we know him for.
Jimmy Carter — “I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” What the heck was perhaps the most religious president of our time doing giving an interview to Playboy magazine? Carter was confident in himself but he never quite seemed at home in the Oval Office or in the public eye.
Ronald Reagan — “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The moment at the Berlin Wall captured his entire presidency, which was all about defeating the Soviet Union through strength and use of an international stage. It was one of those quotes that as soon as it was offered, you knew it would endure.
George H.W. Bush — “Read my lips: No new taxes.” It quite possibly turned around an election for Bush and it was just what we all wanted to hear. Unfortunately, the quote lives on with even more luster because his lips were actually a little hard to read — he later raised taxes.
Bill Clinton — “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Despite all the good things the man accomplished, his presidency will forever be overshadowed by sexual misconduct. Apparently he did have sexual relations with Miss Lewinsky.
George W. Bush — “I can hear you. I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you!. … and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” In a digital age Bush uttered those words through a battery-powered, hand-held megaphone at Ground Zero in New York. It launched, in a real way, the war on terrorism and led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Those chapters are still being written but there’s little doubt they’re Bush’s legacy.
While those quotes are the legacy quotes that first come to my mind, here are a few more I stumbled onto in writing this column:
George Washington — “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Abraham Lincoln — “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower — “I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”
Lyndon B. Johnson — “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read, ‘President Can’t Swim.'”
George H.W. Bush — “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
George W. Bush — “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say, you too can be president of the United States.”