It's a Gaffe A Minute with Politicians


Politicians are, for the most part, able, verbose, convincing, persistent and clever. And some of them have been prone to include in their rhetorical flourishes a variety of malapropisms and word gaffes. Listen:

* A member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, James McSheehy, chairman of the Finance Committee, told a group of homemakers: 'Ladies, I have here some figures which I want you to take home in your heads, which I know are concrete.'

* He was also the one who observed: 'This has all the earmarks of an eyesore.'

* Speaking at a patriotic event honoring Abraham Lincoln, Dan Flood, who was then serving as the congressman in Pennsylvania's 11th District, declaimed: "It is fitting that we pay tribute to Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin that he built with his own hands."

* Anthony Imperiale, a New Jersey state senator, concerned about the possibility of a tax increase, protested: "My constituents are fed up with exuberant taxes."

* Advocating the passage of a tax reform bill, the same legislator promised: "It will go a long way toward nipping the bull by the horns."

* In 1989, Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. of Washington, D.C., declared: "Outside of the killings, we have one of the lowest crime rates in the country."

* It was Nevada Sen. Chic Hecht who said during a Senate discussion of a nuclear waste dump that he was "opposed to a nuclear waste suppository" for his state.

* Sheriff Clem Michalski warned that "Milwaukee is the golden egg that the rest of the state wants to milk."

* Speaking in a debate in the General Assembly, Del. Anthony M. DiPietro Jr. of Baltimore said: "I have my integrity to withhold and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

* Sen. Henry Fountain Ashurst of Arizona once assured his constituents: "The clammy hand of consistency has never rested for long on my shoulder."

* Seeking re-election to the Massachusetts Legislature, Sen. Ernest A. Johnson declared: "I have made no wild promises, except one -- honest government."

* Rep. Silvio O. Conte of Massachusetts noted: "This is no time to pull the rug out in the middle of the stream."

* The late Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago was a regular contributor of garbled language. He once told a group: "This is for the enlightenment and edification and hallucination of the uniformed [uninformed] aldermen."

Many still recall his classic: "Get this straight -- the policeman isn't there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder."

* Rep. Walter Rogers of Texas inveighed against a bill raising taxes thus: "If we don't stop shearing the wool off the sheep that lays the golden egg, we'll pump it dry."

* F. Edward Hebert, former chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, once observed: "The only way we'll ever get a volunteer army is to draft 'em."

* Frank Rizzo, the former Philadelphia mayor, stated in a discussion on discipline in schools: "If some big bully is going to get up and threaten a teacher, I think we ought to accommodate him."

* Baltimore's colorful councilman, the late Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, was well known for his malapropisms. In discussing a controversial expressway, he explained: "It was like a little snowball which rolled down the hill, gathered moss and when it got to the bottom, it became a big mushroom."

In describing a boyhood friend, he said, "We grewed up together and went to church. As a matter of fact, my friend here used to sing in the quarry." Telling a reporter about a restaurant that served great coffee, the councilman explained, "They keep the urinals running 24 hours a day." He criticized the court system because "there's too much flea bargaining."

* Wisconsin state Sen. Norman Sussman offered this criticism: "The bankers' pockets are bulging with the sweat of the honest working man."

* His colleague, Sen. Gerald D. Lorge, responded to an insult: "That was a low blow between the belt."

* Frank G. Bonelli of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors welcomed a presidential commission on drug trafficking and said: "I am sure that this commission will do an infinitesimal amount of good."

* Sometimes accused of dozing off during meetings, Sen. S. I. Hayakawa of California is also remembered for observing: "The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep."

* Nebraska's Sen. Kenneth Wherry once spent an hour in the Senate talking about the crisis in "Indigo-China"; another time, he referred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the "Chiefs Joints of Staff."

* John Rembetski, a Pennsylvania politician, reminded his fellow school board members after a key vote: "Gentlemen, a lot of sheep are going to come home to roost."

* Huey Long, the Louisiana politician, was once besieged by a political follower pleading for a government appointment. "I can't recommend you," Long said. "Not after the story of that hotel episode in New Orleans."

"That story is a damn lie," cried the aspiring office seeker. "Why, there ain't even any Hotel Episode in New Orleans!"

* Morris K. Udall, the good-humored representative from Arizona, offered these master of ceremonies' gaffes from his experience:

"Our distinguished guest tonight, Congressman Cannon, is a public servant who is equal to few and superior to none."

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will ask Senator Crosby to come to the rectum."

* Maryland Del. William S. Horne was asked by a fellow legislator: "What is the charge for urinating in public?" He replied: "It's free."

* Wisconsin state Sen. Casimar Kendziorski exclaimed: "Why my barber never even graduated from the fourth grade -- but he sure learned how to shave while he was there."

* Pennsylvania legislator Charles Wright cautioned: "Don't cross your bridges until you've burned them."

* Al Smith visited Sing Sing prison soon after he was elected governor of New York. His verbal problems began as soon as he had toured the grounds and began to address the inmates. He was unsure how to begin, but he finally said, "My fellow citizens." Then he recalled that when one goes to prison, one is no longer a citizen. So, he then said, "My fellow convicts." This brought a roar from the inmates. Finally, Smith blurted out: "Well, anyhow, I'm glad to see so many of you here."

* And then there's the story that Harold Hoffman, former governor of New Jersey, swore happened:

A state employee was driving a truck along a New Jersey highway at an excessive speed. A trooper stopped him and asked, "Do you realize you were doing over 55 miles an hour?" "No, I didn't," said the driver. "Well," asked the trooper, "haven't you a governor on that truck?" "No sir," said the employee, "the governor's in Trenton -- that's fertilizer you smell."

Martin D. Tullai is chairman of the history department at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville.

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