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John O'Toole

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Quote/Unquote

Posted: 04/25/2012 5:55 pm

In the book that I dream I am writing, Great Quotations of the 20th Century (due on Amazon in April 2019), my favorite quote so far remains Deep Throat's "Follow the money" because it not only explains Watergate. It explains everything. Except possibly love and sex, and they really shouldn't be explained. Or studied. Or worse yet, turned into a how-to book or a documentary.

Every time I see a documentary of those poor exhausted Galapagos turtles dragging themselves out of the sea to give birth, I know the next shot will be a gaggle of grinning tourists with cameras! Is nothing private?

Washington, D.C., is a city of monuments, facades and eloquent statements chiseled in marble. The really great ones are most often written by gifted people like Jefferson and Lincoln, not concocted by committees or consultants or speechwriters. Most 20th century quotes, even the good ones, are manufactured verbal sausage.

Quotations from 20th century presidential candidates are tricky, especially with the advent of radio and television. Roosevelt read copy beautifully, which depends on sounding as if you're relaxed, talking, not reading. FDR had that knack. Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt's first presidential opponent, read all his own speeches stiffly, as if he were a hostage reading at gunpoint.

By the 1960s, JFK had learned to sound "cool" (relaxed). But Richard Nixon's "sincere" tone sounded to many people like someone trying to sell you life insurance you didn't need. Some 20th Century pols never did adapt to the microphone. Ted Kennedy tended to bellow his speeches no matter the size of the audience.

Then there's the question of authorship. Did FDR say or did he also write "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" or was it speechwriters Sam Rosenman or even playwright Robert Sherwood?

Was Jack Kennedy the author of "Ask not what you can do for your country" or was it speechwriter Ted Sorensen?

Actually, my favorite political quote from the first half of the 20th century was from a "comic," the "cowboy" wit Will Rogers.

"Being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation that has to keep a government for four years no matter what it does."

I like a few t-shirt quotes such as "I'm with stupid." That's a two-fer, working on a verbal and visual level. I'm tempted to mail one to every delegate at the upcoming Republican convention.

I also love Dorothy Parker's quote on a debutante ball: "If all the girls in this room were laid end-to-end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised!" Again, Parker had the verbal and the visual.

All quotes involving God will be banned from my book, particularly ones that give Him or the Bible a really dumb opinion like "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." If He didn't create Steve, who did? Mattel? IKEA?

My only contemporary quotation will be from Ira Gershwin in "Porgy and Bess": "The tings that you're liable to read in the Bible dey ain't necessarily so." Unless Pat Robertson comes up with something pithier that missed, I'll go with Ira.

Most quotations remain in our lexicon because they seem apt decade after decade, such as "War is not the answer." (Though I often wonder what the question is.)

My thoughts on the subject of quotations are far from book-length. So if you have a favorite, send it in for consideration.

Meanwhile, aside from the Deep Throat quotation with which I started, two other favorites of mine are George Orwell: "All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others." (Animal Farm.) And "It depends on what the meaning of the word is is." I don't need to tell you who said that. Do I?

 
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