Presidential pun-ishment: Take our presidents. Please.

Columnist May 1, 2011

Okay, let’s give it up for Silvio Berlusconi. (Apparently, everyone else has.)

Engulfed in yet another tawdry sex scandal, the Italian prime minister may well have now surpassed, for the title of history’s horniest head of state, Caligula. But what Berlusconi lacks in restraint he makes up for in brio. Facing criminal trial, loss of office and possible incarceration, the prime minister immediately responded by taking a vacation at a Mediterranean beach resort, where he was quoted joking:

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

“According to a survey, when asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30 percent of women said ‘yes’ while the other 70 percent replied ‘What, again?’ ”

We never hear anything like that from American pols when they are engulfed in scandal. It’s too bad. A little humor never hurts, and who knows — at critical times in our history, it might even have helped.

Richard Nixon’s news conference on Nov. 17, 1973, as he faced imminent impeachment:

(Eric Shansby)

“I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether their president is a crook. And I’m not a crook. Sure, I may be a stubbled, reptilian-eyed thug with the physical demeanor of a vulture cackling over a pile of rotting meat. But a crook, no!”

(Laughter.)

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be here all week. ... I hope!”

(Laughter.)

Newspaper account, April 1923:

When reporters asked the president about reports that members of his Cabinet had accepted bribes from businessmen for the leasing of petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome, Warren Harding responded:

“Tut, tut, gentlemen; get your facts straight. These gas reserves have been leased before! Therefore, if we are guilty of anything here, it is only the minor social faux pas of, ahem, re-leasing gas.”

When decorum was restored, Mr. Harding was no longer at the podium. Curiously, he was later found in a White House coat closet with Nan Britton, a young friend with whom he has been lately keeping company. Asked to explain this unusual encounter, Mr. Harding quipped: “I am a statesman, and I was merely attending to the important diplomatic duty of continuing to ensure satisfactory relations with Britton.”

Much merriment ensued.

News conference, the White Houfe Rofe Garden, 1803:

Reporter: “Mr. Jefferson, I have been hearing rumors that you have a romantic interest in a certain Miss Hemings. What are the facts? Can you fill me in?”

Mr. Jefferson: “That’s what she said!”

The Affembled Prefs Corpf: Hahahahahahahaha.

Mr. Jefferson: “Meanwhile, I have purchased Louisiana from the French. The good news is that it was only $15 million. The bad news is that I had to agree to take North Dakota.”

The Affembled Prefs Corpf: Hahahahahahahaha.

Ronald Reagan news conference, July 1987:

Dan Rather: “Mr. President, can you respond to charges that the Iran-contra fiasco was caused by your extreme inattention?”

Reagan:

Dan Rather: “Mr. President?”

Reagan: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

(Laughter.)

Dan Rather: “Seriously, sir.”

Reagan: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

(Very nervous laughter.)

Reagan: “Ha-ha! Kidding.”

(Relieved laughter.)

Reagan: “What was the question again?”

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com.

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