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“Thanks, Folks. I’m Here All This Term.”

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
August 22, 2020 

How about a little humor, mirth and merriment this month? I think we’ve earned it, don’t you? National Presidential Humor Day was August 11th, but I decided to celebrate it all month long. In presidential leadership, self-deprecating humor is a great approach to take with people.

Now for this month’s pop quiz! Read the presidential joke and match the names to the jokes. Here are some of my favorites:

This president joked with everyone, royalty included—and he was an accomplished horse rider. It was reported that one day, he was on a horseback ride with the Queen of England on the grounds of Windsor Castle. The queen’s horse experienced some flatulence. The queen reportedly said, “Oh dear, Mr. President, I’m so sorry!” And the president supposedly replied, “Quite all right, Your Majesty. I thought it was the horse.”

Your Answer: ____________________

Even after leaving office, this president continued to poke fun at himself: “My esteem in this country has gone up substantially. It is very nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”

Your Answer: ____________________

The ribbing this president got almost daily was well received in his White House. He took it in stride and was fully able to laugh at himself. His daily staff meeting was actually renamed, “The Strategery Meeting,” after a humorous poke by Saturday Night Live. Terms such as “misunderestimate” and “nook-ya-ler” (nuclear) were often laughed about at the White House.

Your Answer: ____________________

Name this president: “In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.”

Your Answer: ____________________

Who said: “When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘present’ or ‘not guilty.’”

Your Answer: ____________________

This president was informed by an aide that the First Lady (who was conducting a fact-finding tour of a penitentiary) was “in prison.” He answered, “I’m not surprised, but for what?”

Your Answer: ____________________

He said: “Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening.”

Your Answer: ____________________

This president joined the set of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. He gave the nation a new catchphrase: “Sock it to me!”

Your Answer: ____________________

 This president quipped: “There are few things in life harder to find and more important to keep than love. Well, love and a birth certificate.”

Your Answer: ____________________

And finally: I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency—even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.

Answers (not in order):

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Bill Clinton

Ronald Reagan

Richard Nixon

Barack Obama

Teddy Roosevelt

Jimmy Carter

John Adams

George W. Bush

Why is humor important?

Humor can be the great equalizer. It can quickly defuse tense situations. For example, some years ago, the president of a major university, the school superintendent and I once had an impromptu meeting in the parking lot of the local country club. The superintendent was telling us all about a new strategy he had devised to try and attract new teachers and pay them more money. He said, “Well, you know they will still have to come to work every day.” I immediately responded, “Aw, I knew there was a catch!” We had to pause for spontaneous laughter before resuming our conversation. That’s just one example—I can think of so many more.

Why is Presidential humor important?

Sometimes we tend to put our presidents in a larger than life perspective. It helps a president to be able to poke fun at himself—as citizens, we love it. Ronald Reagan was a master of these techniques. One of his great quips: “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” It’s fairly difficult to criticize a president who has that sense of humor. Yes, you have to have substance, lead well and get people excited about America—but humor is what provides the vehicle for action to be accepted and accomplished more quickly.

Summary

President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “A sense of humor is a part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” Many of us can’t stand a dry presidential speaker or worse yet, a caustic one. If I were president, I would seek to find ways to inject humor into tense situations and with the American people. Most Americans love that and seek alignment with a national leader who can poke fun at himself. Humor and humility go hand in hand. Leaders must be self-confident, not egotistic. That’s where humor comes in to save the day.


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia is a senior executive with service to the nation in military, business, and education. He respects the wisdom of generations, promotes learning, and teaches ethics to university students. Bob’s latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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