Ohio has contributed much to political humor
by Chris Lamb
published March 5th 2008
During a meeting with President Warren Harding, whose administration was tainted by scandal, comic Will Rogers said, "I would like to tell you all the latest jokes, Mr. President."
"You don't have to," Harding answered. "I appointed them all to office."
Harding’s response may have been his greatest contribution as president.
As every Ohio schoolchild knows, no state has produced more presidents than Ohio. One wonders where America would be today without William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Harding.
Without Harding and the others, the American presidency and American politics would have been deprived of some of its best wisecracks and wittiest responses. As the state approaches the March 4 primary, it’s only fitting that we remember Ohio’s contributions to political humor.
After President James Garfield was wounded by an assassin’s bullet, he lay on his death bed for several weeks, restricted to a diet of oatmeal and lime water. When Garfield was told that the great Indian Sitting Bull was starving himself in captivity, Garfield snapped. “Let him starve.”
A moment went by, and the president added, “Better yet, send him my oatmeal.”
Before Grant was president, he was one of the Union Army’s top generals during the Civil War. He also was one of the Union Army’s top drinkers.
A temperance committee demanded that President Abraham Lincoln fire Grant because the general drank too much whiskey.
Lincoln paused for a moment and said, "Well, I wish one of you would tell me what kind of whiskey Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to every one of my generals."
As a general, Grant did not bear fools well. He once expressed his contempt for a certain officer. Another general protested that the man in question had been through ten campaigns.
"So has that mule, yonder,” Grant snapped, “but he's still a jackass."
Grant retained his dark humor while president. In 1875, Grant officially opened the State Department building, which was hideous in its architecture. A guide, who proudly gave Grant a full tour of the building, said, "One thing more, Mr. President. The building is fireproof."
"What a pity," Grant replied.
Ohio has the dubious distinction of having four of its presidents die in office before finishing their first term. Harrison and Harding died of natural causes. Garfield and McKinley were each assassinated.
McKinley inspired great loyalty – and apparently wit -- among his supporters when he ran for president.
During the 1900 Presidential Election between Democrat William Jennings Bryan and the Republican McKinley, a Democratic speaker announced confidently that Mrs. Bryan would be sleeping in the White House after Inauguration Day.
The Bryan supporter was then interrupted by a GOP supporter, who yelled, "If she is, she'll be sleeping with McKinley."
McKinley was succeeded by Teddy Roosevelt, who was succeeded by William Howard Taft, who was the last Ohioan to serve as president – though but not the last to run for president.
Most recently, Rep. Dennis Kucinich ran twice for the presidency. Other candidates got more votes but few got more laughs than Kucinich, an amateur ventriloquist who also does a killer Donald Duck voice – qualities rarely found in world leaders.
In a nod to his Eastern European roots, Kucinich famously once called the three pillars of civilization “polka, bowling and kielbasa.” Kucinich, who does not however eat kielbasa or any meats or dairy products, was once asked if he thought the Food and Drug Administration was always working in the best interests of the American people, Kucinich shook his head and replied, “That’s why I’m a vegan.”
Chris Lamb, a professor of Communication at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., is the author of “I’ll Be Sober in the Morning: Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns, and Ripostes.” He grew up in Kettering, Ohio, and received his Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University.