POSTCARD USA: Politics, the funny side —Khalid Hasan

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Harry Truman, going over his life in politics, summed it up thus: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference”

Pakistani politicians are not the only ones who make odd and funny statements, though so full of hot air they are and so utterly convinced of their own greatness that it may never occur to them that some of what they say, their audience may find amusing. Editorial desks in our newspapers and electronic media are most generous in reporting what comes their way. For instance, isn’t it time they stopped publishing stories that say: “Hakoomat Ali Khan or Ms Dilnawaz Khatoon shocked by bomb blast on train.”

Were Hakoomat Khan and Dilnawaz Khatoon not to be shocked by the train blast, that would be news. For instance: “Dilnawaz Khatoon delighted by GT Road accident.” That indeed would be news. It is the same old criteria. ‘Dog bites man’ is not news, but ‘Man bites dog’ is news.

Another story that continues to appear without fail when someone dies is “Zorawar Warraich prayed for the soul of the departed tycoon and offered heartfelt condolences to his grieving widow, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

What is the purpose of such stories? There can only be one, namely that Zorawar Warraich — or Sharmeeli Begum MNA — are persons of great piety who carry enough influence with the Almighty to have the departed tycoon get lodged in heaven.

This being election year in America, the foibles of American politicians and some very strange things they have said, both in recent and earlier times, regardless of what end of the political spectrum they were on, makes interesting reading. It may also be sort of reassuring to know that our politicians are not alone in this department. However, they are seldom funny.

Let me start with President George W Bush who made the following profound observation about Africa once: “We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.” Ronald Reagan, who had quite a wit, said after his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale, “If I had as much makeup on as he did, I’d have looked younger too.” Dan Quayle, vice president under Bush Sr, said of Desert Storm, the first Gulf war, “Desert Storm was a stirring victory for the forces of aggression and lawlessness.” Result: Game, set and match Saddam Hussain.

And for those who have wondered why President Bush likes books, here is the explanation in his own words, “One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.” Congressman Tom Feeney of Florida has this to say about Congress: “The only difference between Congress and drunken sailors is that drunken sailors spend their own money.”

American politicians have had some most amusing things to say about government, Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I am from the government and I’m here to help.” However, one Grover Norquist of a group called Americans for Tax Reform said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the tub.” Reagan’s view of economy remains a classic. He said, “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it.”

Richard Nixon, who swore like a sailor, laid down the following qualifications for his new chief of internal revenue or income tax: “I want to make sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see, I see, that he will go after our enemies and not our friends. Now it’s as simple as that. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t get the job.”

Nixon could not stand Jews. He once said to his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, “You know, it’s a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalising marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.”

Politics, Nixon once said, “would be a helluva good business if it weren’t for the goddamned people.” Reagan, asked for his view of politics, observed, “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears very close resemblance to the first.”

President Bush’s defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, will always remain known for this observation, “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Harry Truman said of Washington, “If you need a friend, get yourself a dog,” while Fred Thompson, former senator and an actor in a popular TV series called Law and Order, said of the US capital, “After two years in Washington, I miss the sincerity and genuineness of Hollywood.” And President Herbert Hoover said, “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”

Harry Truman, going over his life in politics, summed it up thus: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”

And here is something that established a link between President John F Kennedy and President Asif Ali Zardari. Kennedy said, “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” Zardari, asked by a friend to help an officer who had gone out of his way to do Zardari in while working at the Ehtesab Bureau, expressed his reservations but when pressed, relented. “Thank you, Sai’n,” his friend said exiting the room, “Forgiven and forgotten?” “Forgiven, but not forgotten,” Zardari was quick to remind him.

When I heard the story, I thought of the Nawab of Kalabagh, who once said that he kept two books, one listing the names of his friends, and the other, those of his enemies. “From the first book, you can move to the other book; but you can never move from the second book to the first.”

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is\10\19\story_19-10-2008_pg3_3

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