Monday, March 10, 2008

from Beaumont (TX) Enterprise, 2 March 2008

Texas' sense of political humor

Twenty years ago, during a television debate between vice presidential candidates Republican Dan Quayle and Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle tried to deflect questions about his youth and inexperience by comparing himself to President John F. Kennedy."I have as much experience as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency," Quayle said. Bentsen famously turned to Quayle and said, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Bentsen won the exchange but George Herbert Walker Bush and Quayle defeated Michael Dukakis and Bentsen in the presidential election in November. When asked why the Democrats could not carry his home state of Texas, Bentsen responded, "I just wasn't able to convince enough voters that `Dukakis' was Greek for `Bubba.'"

Bentsen's line about Quayle, however, will forever be etched in American politics - and it left Quayle forever tainted as a both a punching bag and a punch line for comedians, satirists and commentators.

It's worth noting that Quayle would be largely forgotten had it not been for Bentsen and George H.W. Bush, another Texan (albeit a transplanted one), who chose Quayle as his running mate.

Without Texas, American politics would have been deprived of some of its best wisecracks and comebacks. As the state approaches the March 4 primary, it's only fitting that we remember Texas' contributions to political humor.

To wit:

When the infamous Huey Long was governor of Louisiana, he informed James "Pa" Ferguson, then governor of Texas, "If there had been a back door at the Alamo, there wouldn't have been a Texas.""But," replied Ferguson, "there was a back door - and that's why there's a Louisiana."

No state has cast as big a shadow over the nation's politics over the last half-century than Texas - and few politicians cast as big a shadow as Lyndon Johnson.

In the 1950s, U.S. Senators began installing phones in their cars as a symbol of status. When Republican Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen got his phone, he immediately called Democratic Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson

"Lyndon," Dirksen said smugly, "I just got a car phone. I thought I'd make my first call to you.""Just a minute, Ev," Johnson replied, "while I answer my other phone."

LBJ always got the last word - except with his family.

LBJ and his family believed that he would be the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 1960. But the nomination went to JFK, who was to be formally nominated at the party's convention in southern California. Johnson would instead be JFK's running mate. Johnson's mood darkened when one of his daughters was late returning from Disneyland. As the Johnsons hurried for the convention, LBJ groused, "We didn't come out here to see Disneyland." "I know," his daughter answered dejectedly. "But we didn't come out here to see you run for vice president either."

George W. Bush, while born in Connecticut, grew up in Texas and developed a dislike for the Eastern news media.

"I don't read half of what you write," he once told reporters. "We don't listen to half of what you say," one of the reporters responded. Bush then answered, "That's apparent in the half of what I read."

Chris Lamb is a professor of communication at the College of Charleston. He can be reached at

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