Patriot Quotes

Quoth the Gipper…
“Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid” “The most dangerous myth is the demagoguery that business can be made to pay a larger share, thus relieving the individual. Politicians preaching this are either deliberately dishonest, or economically illiterate, and either one should scare us… Only people pay taxes, and people pay as consumers every tax that is assessed against a business.”
“We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent”
“Peace is not the absense of conflict; it is the ability to manage conflict by peaceful means”
“Of the four wars of my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong”
“If the Soviet Union ever let another political party come into existence, they would still be a one-party state… because everbody would join the other party”
“How do you tell a communist? He reads Lenin and Marx. And how do you tell an anti-communist? Someone who understands Lenin and Marx.”
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction; it’s not something we pass along in our bloodstream. It must be fought-for, protected, and passed-along for them to do the same”
“Entrepeneurs and small businesses are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States”
“If you can’t make them see the light, let them feel the heat”
“They say the world has become too complex for simple answers… they are wrong”
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”
“Recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours”
“Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement…”
Patriotic Quotes

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. — John Stuart Mill

Quotes by Author

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 1

Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy. — Winston Churchill

Quotes by Topic

Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.— Alexis de Tocqueville, Discours pronounce a l’assemblee constituante le 12 septembre 1848 sur la question du droit at travail

They Never Said That!

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Are you guilty of spreading counterfeit quotes? Read on for some whoppers—and beware graduation speakers.

By Carl M. Cannon

The misstep was probably inevitable, given the many compari­sons made between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln. With seven weeks to go in Obama’s presidential campaign, the young candidate from Illinois inadvertently committed one of the most common sins in American politics—he used a phony Lincoln quote.

“Abraham Lincoln once said to one of his opponents,” then-senator Obama asserted, “‘If you stop telling lies about me, I’ll start telling truth about you.'”

William Randolph Hearst, who ran for governor of New York in 1906, also liked that line. But it was Republican senator Chauncey Depew, another prominent New Yorker, who is actually the first person known to employ a version of the phrase to bash his opponents back in the 19th century.

June is the month to celebrate the graduating class. It is also a month when bogus quotations flourish like spring flowers. For that we can thank commencement speakers, lazy speechwriters, partisan politics, and the Internet—that most powerful engine of misinformation. But special thanks should be reserved for American heads of state. Once a president misstates a quote, it’s especially hard to kill it.

John F. Kennedy was a repeat offender. In a 1963 speech, he misquoted Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, warning Chinese leaders that in the event of a nuclear war, “the survivors would envy the dead.” Kennedy twice gave Dante credit for the idea that “the hottest places in hell” are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis. But he made perhaps his most resounding misquote in a 1961 speech, when he credited British statesman Edmund Burke with saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Politicians—including presidents Ford and Reagan and, just this past year, Florida governor Charlie Crist—have repeated it ever since.

In fact, the “good men do nothing” line was voted the most popular quote of modern times by the editors of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. One Canadian minister even says the line inspired him to launch a charity devoted to stopping the slaughter and mutilation of Tanzanian albinos. But hold on—there’s no evidence that Burke ever uttered these words. The Oxford editors have since fixed this error, sort of. They list the quote under Burke’s name, along with the notation “attributed (in a number of forms) to Burke, but not found in his writings.” Speaking of Oxford, Nor did Alexis de Tocqueville ever assert, as Bill Clinton often said: “America is great because America is good.”

As for Kennedy’s “Khrushchev” quote? It’s from writer Herman Kahn’s 1960 book On Thermonuclear War. And while Dante wrote about hell, he did not say anything about reserved seating for moral neutralists.

Why don’t we check before repeating others’ words? Why is it that when we do, we can no longer be sure that even the reference books are correct? What motivates speakers—presidents, college professors, actors, and everyday Americans—to blithely misquote, miscredit, and fabricate?

Reader’s Digest has a particular interest in these questions, which we may as well get out of the way now. In The Yale Book of Quotations, published in 2006, editor Fred Shapiro sleuthed commonly misused quotes to their original sources. On numerous occasions, his search ended with a misattributed quote in our magazine. In recent decades, we’ve employed a diligent fact-checking team. But as penance for past sins, we offer the following handy guide.

Just as an exercise, go to your computer’s search engine and type in four words: lie, truth, boots, and world. You will get thousands of references to variations of the following quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” Most will cite Mark Twain as the author of this aphorism. Al Gore has given Twain credit for it. So has Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.

But Twain didn’t say it. Charles Haddon Spurgeon did, in 1855, and he attributed the wisdom to “an old proverb.” Spurgeon was a mid-19th-century British pastor, as famous in his time as Rick Warren and Billy Graham are today in the United States. But that’s the thing about fame: It can be fleeting.

“The voters have spoken—the bastards” is a frequent laugh line at political dinners, usually attributed to Morris Udall. The witty Arizona congressman may well have said it after losing the 1976 Democratic presidential primaries, but Dick Tuck said it first, in 1966 (though his exact words were “The people have spoken—the bastards”). Who is Dick Tuck? Precisely. For the record, he’s a now-retired political prankster.

“This suggests [a] key reason for getting quotations wrong,” notes wordsmith Ralph Keyes, “the need to put them in familiar mouths.” In his book on frequently misused sayings, The Quote Verifier, Keyes calls this phenomenon flypapering—because quotes stick to people like Twain and Churchill like flypaper. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” for instance, is often given to Twain, but Twain himself gave credit to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was so famous in his day—even in America—that quotes attributed to “a wise statesman” were assumed to be Disraeli’s. But times change.

Regardless of the slogan on T-shirts and beer council ad campaigns, Benjamin Franklin never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

What he did extol was wine, while making a larger point about the miracles of springtime. “We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle,” Franklin wrote (in French!) in a 1779 letter to his friend the Abbé André Morellet. “But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine—a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

Try putting that on a T-shirt.

Keyes calls this process bumper-stickering. It’s the process that renders Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” into “blood, sweat, and tears.” And turns baseball manager Leo Durocher’s “The nice guys are all over there—in seventh place” as the pithier “Nice guys finish last.” A full word is saved by saying “Beam me up, Scotty,” although the actual Star Trek line is “Beam us up, Mr. Scott.”

President Reagan certainly fit Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage—”grace under pressure” (yes, Hemingway really did say this)—when he told first lady Nancy Reagan, “Honey, I forgot to duck,” after he was shot. This may have been spontaneous, but it wasn’t original. Jack Dempsey said it to his wife after losing the heavyweight boxing title to Gene Tunney in 1926. The president perhaps assumed that everyone would know the reference. Nonetheless, it is often attributed to Reagan.

The past couple of years, as the federal budget has ballooned out of control, Washington wags have been reprising a line usually attributed to former Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen, who served on Capitol Hill from 1933 to 1969: “A billion here, a billion there—pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Actually, it’s an old Depression-era line; a variation of the quip was once even attached to Herbert Hoover. But Dirksen was more popular than Hoover. Who wants to hear from the politician most closely associated with the Great Depression? So the line caught on with Dirksen’s name attached.

Many of the sayings often attributed to Ben Franklin were ones he actually appropriated and put into the mouth of Richard in his Colonial-era guide to life, Poor Richard’s Almanack. Franklin didn’t pretend his sayings were original: “Why then should I give my Readers bad lines of my own,” he asked in his 1747 Almanack, “when good ones of other People’s are so plenty?” Thus, “A word to the wise is sufficient” and “Early to bed, early to rise …” are Franklin’s—but not originally.

As a flypaper figure, Franklin is also given credit for words uttered by his contemporaries, such as: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” If this was said at all, it was most likely by Richard Penn, the governor of Pennsylvania during the American Revolution.

There is an old newsroom saying, “too good to check”—meaning, if it’s too good to check, it probably isn’t true. Conservatives may wish that Dwight D. Eisenhower, when asked if he thought he’d made mistakes as president, had replied, “Yes, two, and they are both sitting on the Supreme Court.” It captured his frustration with the liberal tendencies of Earl Warren and William Brennan. But the oft-repeated story is unsourced. True, Eisenhower once told a Republican leader privately that appointing Warren was “one of the two biggest mistakes I made in my administration,” according to an oral history at the Eisenhower library. But the quip itself has been attributed to other presidents and is probably apocryphal.

This kind of thing has gotten worse in the era of the Internet. Surely, liberal activist and singer Barbra Strei­sand thought she was being profound at a 2002 fund-raising concert for the Democratic Party when she read what she thought was a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor … When the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry … How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.” Streisand was trying to allude to George W. Bush, but this was no more Shakespeare than it was Dr. Seuss. It was an Internet hoax, which Streisand was forced to acknowledge.

Another Web story involves Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, Texas’s first woman governor. Someone suggested that the new Spanish-speaking immigrants might benefit from classes taught in their native language. Furious, Ma picked up the King James Version of the New Testament and shouted, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas!”

Ma has been credited with this goofy statement by New York Times columnist William Safire and Texas humorist Kinky Friedman, among others, none of whom has ever cited a source. Of course, that would be difficult. Ma Ferguson was a college-educated progressive, and it’s highly unlikely she said it. The yarn, in fact, dates to at least 1881, when Ferguson was six.

Republican president Calvin Coo­lidge’s most famous line is “The business of America is business.” To this day, Democrats won’t give it a rest. Just last October, West Virginia senator Robert Byrd quoted it on the floor of the Senate. Did Coolidge really make the remark about the primacy of profit? The answer is, not really.

In a 1925 speech, Coolidge did utter these words: “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.” But he was building to a different point—the opposite one: “Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. We want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism.”

There’s another American trait that competes with idealism—and that’s our desire to sound hip and not overly sentimental, especially about our politics. Wasn’t it Harry Truman who casually dismissed his critics by stating that if you really want a friend in Washington, you should buy a dog? Actually, no. The line is fake, even though it’s often attributed to Truman. But President Obama still used it himself, although mercifully without blaming poor Harry. Appearing on The Tonight Show in March, the president said, “You know, they say if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Yes, “they” do say that. But perhaps what they ought to say is, “If you want to help a friend in Washington, get him a reliable quote book.” That’s Ben Franklin.

Well, no—but it could have been.


Lincoln is so often misquoted that there’s a two-volume set, “Recollected Works of Abraham Lincoln,” by historians Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher, that debunks hundreds upon hundreds of faked, dubious, or sketchy quotations attributed to the Great Emancipator. Lincoln, most especially, is always being blamed for saying things he would never have even thought. Whether he is predicting the end of capitalism or ruminating about fooling the people some of the time (but not all of the time), writers and politicians who wouldn’t know a Lincoln quote from a log-splitter are forever trying to posthumously enlist Honest Abe in their pet causes.


‘And Then President Bush Said . . .’ Dubious ‘Quotes’ Attributed to Dubya

by Carl M. Cannon

When he was president, Gerald Ford and his aides marveled at an “Oval Office Effect” that would make even seasoned political insiders quite passive when they called on the president. Intending to give Ford candid — or even unwelcome — advice, they would instead discuss their golf games and families.
This effect wasn’t limited to Ford — or to allies of presidents. In their book “Tell Newt to Shut Up!,” authors David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf relate Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich’s cringe-worthy confession to White House chief of staff Leon Panetta regarding President Clinton: “I melt when I am around him.”
Such attitudes derive from proximity to power and the trappings of the office, along with the seductive personalities of presidents. The upshot is that the nation’s chief executive is advantaged in one-on-one negotiations over issues like the budget, while being disadvantaged when what he needs to hear is constructive criticism of a particular policy. “If a president does not appreciate the differences between those two situations, a resource — the Oval Office — can become a liability,” says presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar.
A variation of the Oval Office Effect arose during the White House tenure of George W. Bush. Chagrined, perhaps, that they hadn’t dressed down the president the way they told their friends they would, some of those who met Bush would later attribute outlandish quotations to the 43rd President of the United States. Let’s call it the “Dubious Dubya Quotation Effect.”
In the latest example of DDQE, Bush is alleged during the 2008 presidential campaign to have told a delegation of visiting British pols that included Prime Minister Gordon Brown that: (1) he would have endorsed Barack Obama had he been asked; and (2) he probably wouldn’t even end up voting for John McCain. Claim No. 2 might be true — who knows what occurred when Bush went into the voting booth? But the whole story, related in the Financial Times, is utterly undermined by Claim No. 1, which is obvious nonsense.
It’s true that George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were uncommonly respectful of Sen. Obama and his wife, Michelle, during and after the 2008 election season, but it’s also axiomatic that the titular head of the Republican Party wouldn’t consider endorsing the Democratic presidential nominee no matter how thrilled he might have been by the historic significance of the Obama candidacy.
But this is hardly the first example of the Dubious Dubya Quotation Effect. And now that Bush is out there hawking his autobiography, “Decision Points,” some of these stories are making the rounds again.
In June 2003, an Israeli paper reported that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas asserted that Bush had made the following declaration: “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam Hussein, which I did.”
Skeptical that George Bush would rhetorically channel Richard the Lionhearted, The Washington Post obtained what were said to be the Palestinians’ minutes of the meeting and had them translated. This produced a much different, albeit still preposterous, version: “God inspired me to hit al Qaeda, and so I hit it. And I had the inspiration to hit Saddam, and so I hit him.”
In a 2005 BBC series, “Israel and the Arabs: Elusive Peace,” Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath reiterated the previous Abbas claim, adding a convenient new wrinkle: Bush was now quoting God as instructing him to “go get the Palestinians their state.”
Unlike in 2003, the White House responded to this yarn: Press Secretary Scott McClellan said it was “absurd,” adding that Bush never even hinted at such a thing. A senior administration official told Al Kamen of The Washington Post: “We checked contemporaneous notes from the meeting with President Abbas and did not find a single reference to God. The closest thing we could find that the president said is: ‘My government and I personally are committed to the vision of a Palestinian state.'”
A man who talks to God — and who is answered in plain English — is apparently an irresistible story line, especially in election season. In July 2004, or so the story goes, (and the story went viral) George W. Bush told a group of Amish people in Lancaster County, Pa., “I trust God speaks through me. Without that I couldn’t do my job.” Not that nutty a statement, really — nothing like claiming God told him to invade countries — but still. White House aides denied it, no member of the White House press pool heard it, and it turns out that by the time this quote showed up in The Washington Post or those hostile British tabloids, it was third-hand information, passed on by an Amish gentleman who was said to be present, to a part-time local columnist, and on into the blogosphere and the mainstream media alike.
“That is why presidents have staff members in meetings — to prevent just that kind of thing,” notes Professor Kumar.
“And joint news conferences with world leaders serve some of the same function by rendering a verbal account of the most important parts of their meetings.”
Nonetheless, disputes arise — and governmental aides tend to rally to the side of their own countrymen. In “Decision Points,” Bush said former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder betrayed his trust. Bush recalls Schroeder saying, “I will be with you” on Iraq, but the German head of state bailed before the first tanks crossed the Kuwait border. Schroeder responded this week that Bush “was not telling the truth,” and his own aides heaped insults on the American president.
Who is right? Who knows? But it’s worth remembering that the Oval Office Effect and the Dubious Dubya Quotation Effect are not mutually exclusive. During Clinton’s first term, one of the tasks taken on by Deputy White House Chief of Chief Roy Neel was having to tell people after they left the Oval Office that Clinton had not said “yes” to their ideas, but that he had said “no.”
Perhaps Kanye West put in perspective the best. The famous rapper was also singled out in “Decision Points” for his 2005 statement implying that Bush didn’t care about the fate of Hurricane Katrina’s victims because so many of them were black. But Kanye West chose a different path than a certain former German politician.
“I would tell George Bush, in my moment of frustration, I didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist,” West said in a pre-taped interview aired for Bush and shown to him during his Wednesday appearance on NBC’s Today Show. “But I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that, we as human beings don’t always choose the right words.”
To that sentiment, we can all safely say, “Amen.”