20 Stupidest Quotes To Come From Politicians

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It's weirdly comforting that politicians of all ages and parties are able to say such agonizingly stupid things. Presidents tend to get the most press when it comes to gaffes — and some, like George W. Bush, are more a magnet for this than others — but the bottom line is that elected officials have been saying dumb things on the record for as long as we've had elections and records. For all their polish, practice, and the legion of advisors that follow them everywhere, there's no stopping a politician from saying something regrettable that will be preserved forever as a monument to their lack of control. It almost goes without saying that the quotes listed below are by no means an exhaustive look at the field, but they are a kind of "best of the best." Or, put another way, the best of the worst.

  1. "I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix." — Dan Quayle: Vice President Dan Quayle was the source of some of the best misstatements to come from the White House until his boss's son took office a few years later. This quote pretty much sums up his ability to make even the most basic pandering statement into something clueless and uninformed. Other favorites include, "The future will be better tomorrow." Kinda Zen, you know?
  2. "Can I explain to you what happened? First of all it happened during a period after she was in remission from cancer." — John Edwards: John Edwards, the VP pick of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, cheated on his wife, who everyone agreed was a pretty great lady. During an ABC interview about the indiscretion, he let slip this damning quote, and although he immediately followed it with qualifications that that was "no excuse in any possible way for what happened," it still felt like he was trying to have his cake and cheat on it, too. Bad move, and one that contributed to low public opinion about him.
  3. "They misunderestimated me." — George W. Bush: Picking the dumbest quote from President George W. Bush is ridiculously hard to do, but this one rises above the rest for the way it succinctly captures his flagrant fouls when using the English language and the sheer bravado with which he greeted domestic and foreign problems.
  4. "I think that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman." — Arnold Schwarzenegger: Uttered during the 2003 recall that would eventually put him in the California governor's mansion, Arnie's misstatement was a result of trying to utter the party line that "marriage should be between a man and a woman" when asked what he thought about gay marriage. Unfortunately, he accidentally inserted the wrong word into his response, leading to a classic blunder. He won the election by more than a million votes, too.
  5. "If you don't mind smelling like peanut butter for two or three days, peanut butter is darn good shaving cream." — Barry Goldwater: Um, OK, I guess? The quote isn't political, but what it lacks in voter impact it makes up for in sheer empty repetitiveness. On one hand, yeah, shaving with peanut butter would probably make you smell like it. On the other, what prompted Goldwater to try this in the first place? Was Barbasol deemed too Communist?
  6. "We had no domestic attacks under Bush; we've had one under Obama." — Rudy Giuliani: Speaking on Good Morning America in January 2010 in attempt to attack President Obama's approach to the war on terror, Rudy Giuliani told host George Stephanopoulos that the country suffered no domestic attacks in the Bush administration. Weird for the former mayor of New York City to forget 9/11. Critics were quick to point out his glaring error.
  7. "This is a f***ing valuable thing, I'm not just going to give it away for f***in' nothin'." — Rod Blagojevich: Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went from unknown idiot to national joke when he was caught on tape talking about his attempts to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Needless to say, this is a pretty big no-no, legally speaking, and he was impeached and removed from office. Then, to prove he really had no shame, he appeared on NBC's The Apprentice.
  8. "I've now been in 57 states — I think one left to go." — Barack Obama: Blame it on the campaign trail. When Barack Obama spoke at a campaign event in Oregon in May 2008, he claimed to have visited 57 states (presumably stopping in Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbook along the way). The likeliest explanation is that he was shooting for 47, meaning almost every state in the continental U.S., hence the "one left to go." Still, a pretty big facepalm moment.
  9. "Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country." — Marion Berry: Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Berry definitely had a way with words (and with crack pipes). His quote about Washington, which appeared in USA Today, shows a staggering lack of honesty and an unwillingness to confront the truth. It's also ridiculously stupid. It's like saying, "Outside of the rain and floods, Hurricane Katrina wasn't that bad." Yikes.
  10. "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either." — Trent Lott: Political speaking 101: never go on record supporting someone who used to be a nutbar segregationist unless you are prepared to praise their drive while simultaneously condemning their human rights statements. Senator Trent Lott learned that the hard way when he said in late 2002 that he and other Southerners had proudly voted for Strom Thurmond when Thurmond ran for president, and that a Thurmond administration "wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either." Just for the record, here's a Thurmond statement from 1949 as he was campaigning: "I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the niggra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." A real charmer.
  11. "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." — Richard Nixon: President Nixon was a deeply flawed and territorial guy — there's no shortage of books digging into this — but no public statement comes of his comes closer to describing his approach to executive power than this statement, given in the infamous interviews with David Frost in 1977. The guy was, indeed, a crook through and through.
  12. "It depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is." — Bill Clinton: President Clinton had already lied about having sex with Monica Lewinsky, and this inane hair-splitting over tenses in an attempt to deflect his previous misstatement was not well-received by the press or the public. Clinton's managed to rehabilitate his image slightly in recent years in the manner of all ex-presidents who go on to work with global charity organizations, but his administration was forever tainted by his indiscretions and head-slapping efforts to rationalize them.
  13. "Stand up, Chuck, let 'em see ya." — Joe Biden: Vice President Joe Biden has a reputation in the press and public as a bit of a meathead (this awesome Onion article sums it up nicely), but even by his reduced standards, this is a brutal gaffe. Biden called on Senator Chuck Graham to stand and take a bow, unaware that Graham is wheelchair-bound. Someone probably got fired for not doing their homework on this one.
  14. "You know, education — if you make the most of it — you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." — John Kerry: John Kerry: nice guy, terminally boring. He was also frequently unable to express himself in complete, coherent sentences. This blown joke was originally intended to be a jab at President Bush's education, but it wound up sounding like a broad swipe at U.S. troops in general. Despite his own record of Navy service, the remark helped turn military sentiment against him.
  15. "Hunger can be a positive motivator." — Cynthia Davis: Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis wrote that "hunger can be a positive motivator" in a newsletter in which she argued against summer programs that provide food for poor or low-income children who receive free or reduced-cost meals at school during the academic year. She didn't address the fact that churches were behind much of the charity, or that the programs were pretty tightly budgeted. As a result, she came off pretty uncaring. Bad idea to look like you're opposed to feeding hungry children.
  16. "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King." — Mitt Romney: It makes for a cool story, but it's the classic political suicide: it just isn't true, and the revelation of its falsehood is damning to the campaign. Mitt Romney's statement about watching his father march with MLK turned out to be totally invented, though his campaign office later issued a statement that his claim was meant to be figurative. Nice attempt at a save, but it didn't work.
  17. "Read my lips: no new taxes." — Politician: Pro tip for all aspiring office-holders: never promise what you can't deliver. George H.W. Bush's line at the 1988 Republican convention was a huge hit and instantly entered the pop culture lexicon. But not long after he took office, he found himself raising taxes. Some argued that the taxes weren't technically new, merely old ones that had been raised, but Bush had also promised not to raise existing rates. As a result, a statement that had seemed so powerful looked stupid and reckless in hindsight.
  18. "Our clear goal must be the advancement of the white race and separation of the white and black races. This goal must include freeing of the American media and government from subservient Jewish interests." — David Duke: David Duke was a Grand Wizard in the KKK and noted for being an all-around hate-mongering fruitcake, but that didn't stop him from getting elected as a state representative in Louisiana. This statement is just one of the many idiotic ones he made attacking racial and ethnic minorities, and emblematic of the many things that kept him from attaining higher office, despite his attempts to run for Congress and President.
  19. "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream." — George W. Bush: OK, one more from our 43rd president. It has nothing at all to do with policy, honestly; this list has covered both sides of the aisle. But this quote from 2000 is downright poetic in its insanity. You get what he was trying to say, and even recognize that he was going for a nice sentiment, but yowza, did he ever crash and burn on this one. Poor guy. It did not set a good tone for the eight years to follow.
  20. "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." — Nancy Pelosi: Representative Nancy Pelosi was nothing if not a sharply divisive figure on the right and the left. Her biggest gaffe came when she told people that the Congress would have to pass the health care bill so that the people could find out what's in it. What she probably meant was that they would have to pass the bill for the people to feel its benefits; it was likely intended as a "this is great, and if it gets passed, you'll see how awesome it is" kind of statement. But it was so horribly worded that it made it seem as if Pelosi didn't even know what was in the bill, or at any rate didn't feel like telling people till after it was passed. Not smart, Nancy.
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