When President Trump was still a GOP primary candidate, he posted this popular quote attributed to Mohandas K. Gandhi on his Twitter and Instagram accounts: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
It was a prescient moment. Trump sure was laughed at and — because of the electoral college — he sure did win.
One problem, though: Gandhi never said that.
The source of this quote appears to be a speech by union organizer Nicholas Klein at a Baltimore convention in 1918. He said: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America …”
But the field of politicians who misquote is far broader than that. Researchers at book-summary platform Blinkist analyzed 25 years of the Congressional Record to find the most frequently misattributed quotes by members of Congress. Here are the top 10:
1. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” — not Albert Einstein
The origin of this expression is unknown, but there is no evidence Einstein ever said it. Try telling that to former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), though. He said it on the Senate floor at least 13 times in three years.
2. “Let them eat cake.” — not Marie Antoinette
This expression first appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Confessions” in 1782, when Marie Antoinette was only a child, so it probably didn’t originate with her. Complaints to Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.), who misquoted this on the House floor in 2000, can be made here.
3. “Government that governs least, governs best.” — not Thomas Jefferson
While this expression and its variants may be in line with Jefferson’s political beliefs, he never said it, according to the encyclopedia maintained by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Former GOP congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough does not appear to know this. In fact, he misattributed that quote 18 times in seven years, Blinkist said, more than any other lawmaker.
4. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — not Voltaire
You may have noticed the pattern here by now: Voltaire never said this. Evelyn Beatrice Hall did, in her 1906 book “The Friends of Voltaire.” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) misquoted it on the House floor as recently as November 2018, in an address he called “The Speech Police” — to which we say: 🚨You are busted.🚨
5. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — not Mohandas K. Gandhi
What Gandhi actually wrote was a lot less pithy: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” Former congressman Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) was the first to misquote this in records Blinkist analyzed, in 2004.
6. “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” — still not Jefferson
This expression appears to originate during the Vietnam War era, which was a little bit past Jefferson’s heyday. It has been misquoted by not one but two former senators from Massachusetts — Edward Kennedy and John Kerry — and by current Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
7. “There are only two certainties in life — death and taxes.” — not Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin or William Hazlitt
Honestly, there are three: death, taxes, and political leaders misattributing this quote, which actually comes from British actor Christopher Bullock in 1716. Former Republican congressman turned pundit J.D. Hayworth couldn’t resist quoting it in 2004.
8. “An army marches on its stomach.” — not Napoleon Bonaparte
And a misquote travels on the lips, including those of Grassley, again, and the late senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
9. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” — still not Gandhi
This one is contested. The Yale Book of Quotations says the Gandhi family believes this is a legitimate quote of the famed Indian leader, although no printed record exists. The first record of this expression appears in a 1914 speech in the Canadian House of Parliament against capital punishment. It was not attributed to Gandhi, who was a 45-year-old lawyer in South Africa at the time.
In any case, McDermott did not cite this complication when he said it on the House floor in 2009.
10. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — not Maya Angelou
This one is so commonly misattributed to the great poet that the official Twitter account for Angelou’s estate tweeted it on Saturday. However, the sentiment appears to have originated with Carl W. Buehner, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1960s and 1970s. (The website Quote Investigator has a fascinating and thorough explanation for the misattribution.)
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) cited this quote in a tribute on the Senate floor to outgoing Vice President Joe Biden in 2016.
And in the days of hyperpartisanship, the study would not be complete without answering the question: Which party is misquoting more?
The answer, according to Blinkist, is Democrats, and it isn’t close. Of the misattributed quotes in Congress identified in the past 25 years, 63 percent were made by Democrats, 37 percent by Republicans.
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