Our American presidents have been amazing leaders, innovators, diplomats and statesmen. They have begun wars, ended wars as victors, healed nations and changed the world. Every one of our presidents has made significant contributions to the country, and to the world, but so often, their accomplishments are overshadowed by what they’ve said, and how they said it. Because quotations are easy to remember, particularly if they invoke a strong emotion such as anger or joy, they are often remembered more than specific accomplishments of the president who spoke the words. It’s a sad truth, and in today’s age of Twitter and 24-hour news channels, the sillier statements made by our presidents have longer lasting life than the important, serious statements made by the same president.
As an example, how many people can recite a quote on a serious topic from president Clinton? Not too many. Some might be able to remember vaguely what he had said or accomplished on welfare reform, the Bosnian conflict or the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, but almost everyone will remember him saying “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is”, or “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinski.”
Take President George W. Bush, for example. If you ask what he accomplished in office, so many people will not be able to answer definitively, but ask for some quotes, you’ll find phrases like “put food on your family”, “Bring it on” and “fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”
Even our current president is known for misspeaking and said “I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go” on the campaign trail. Vice president Quayle is almost entirely known for misspelling “potato”. President George W. Bush is known for mispronouncing nuclear as “new-cue-ler”.
It’s unfortunate that words can have so much power, but it’s a reality. There’s no way to control the spread of misstatements, but at least we can remember the accomplishments of our illustrious presidents.