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Great Presidential Wit:
Friends and foes alike recognize that Bob Dole is one of the funniest men in American politics, and Great Presidential Wit is an excellent collection of wit and wisdom drawn from public life. It reads much like Dole's previous book, Great Political Wit, even if it has a narrower focus. Dole begins by ranking every president on a humor scale, and in doing so, he makes an interesting point: "At the top of the heap ... I place Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and the two Roosevelts. By most accounts they are also among the most effective chief executives. Coincidence? I don't think so." (At the bottom of the heap is Millard Fillmore. Writes Dole: "Don't get me wrong. Fillmore's been good for many a chuckle over the years. It's just that most of the laughter has come at his expense.")
Dole frankly assesses each president for his wit: "Now comes the part sure to keep this book out of several presidential birthplace gift shops," he deadpans. Here he is on John Adams: "Often cranky and full of insults--an eighteenth century Don Rickles." On George Washington: "First in peace, first in war, but middle of the pack when it came to humor." On Richard Nixon: "Those weren't jokes that were deleted from the Watergate tapes."
The bulk of Great Presidential Wit, however, is a collection of jokes and humorous stories. Sometimes they are old-fashioned knee-slappers. When Stephen A. Douglas called Lincoln two-faced, Lincoln asked the audience, "I leave it to you. If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?" Sometimes they have a deeper meaning. "It has been my experience," said Lincoln on another occasion, "that folks who have no vices generally have very few virtues." Ronald Reagan fills up quite a few pages: "An economist is someone who sees something happen in practice and wonders if it'd work in theory," he once said. Calvin Coolidge, one of the most underrated presidents, turns out to be one of the best at combining wisdom and humor: "Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business." Here's John F. Kennedy answering a reporter's question about how he became a war hero aboard PT 109: "It was absolutely involuntary. They sank my boat." Bill Clinton delivered this howler in 1995, on (humorous) ways the government can save money: "Combining the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms with both the Bureau of Fisheries and the Interstate Trucking Commission. We're going to call it the Department of Guys." Great Presidential Wit is a joy to read or browse, and highly recommended for anyone who likes politics served with a dash of humor. --John J. Miller [via]