Politicians can be funny. No, really



Since 2020 has been such a train wreck, Landon asked me for a post-election essay on political humor. If you want a smile, click here for some of my favorite anecdotes about George & Barbara Bush, Dana Carvey, Raisa Gorbachev and Al Gore. Yes, Al Gore.

Here’s an excerpt:

“President Frank Underwood was right when he said about Washington, ‘Nobody’s a Boy Scout. Not even Boy Scouts.’ [But] if today’s political divisions are deeper than 30 years ago, it’s only by degree.

“That said, this will not be a diatribe on politics. Interested readers can find plenty of political commentary on blogs and cable networks, argued by advocates demonstrating their months of experience. But though much of modern politics evokes dystopian scenes from Hunger Games, I’ve been lucky enough to see just enough humor to keep politics tolerable.”

Remembering 41: “If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri”

Filed under: George Bush,White House


The outpouring of kind words after President Bush’s passing is a deserved tribute to his leadership as President and his public service. For two exceptionally good testimonials, click here and here.

But no tribute to Mr. Bush would be complete without mentioning his zeal to win – especially on the softball field. This man did not like to lose even if it was “just a friendly game” of softball with his staff. And woe to any staff member who didn’t appreciate this!

Mr. Bush’s passion to win and a young staffer’s naiveté were both on splendid display at a 1987 staff softball game at the Vice President’s residence on Observatory Hill. I was playing shortstop when Mr. Bush came to bat. He hit a one-hop and sprinted to first. I moved toward second base, grabbed the ball and then realized I had two options:

#1: Throw it hard to first, likely throwing him out though risking “beaning” the nation’s second most powerful elected official.

This would not have been a good career move.

#2: Deliberately overthrow the first baseman, my fellow speechwriter Joe Casper.

After a nanosecond of introspection, I made the throw. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the height of his career couldn’t have grabbed the ball I tossed over Joe’s head.

More than 30 years later, I still vividly recall that look Vice President Bush gave me while standing on first base. He knew I’d deliberately overthrown and he didn’t like it one bit.

If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri.

George Bush was a tough and demanding boss but never unfair. If a speech text wasn’t to his liking, he would stress firmly what needed to be improved. But he was always respectful to his staff. In turn, this fostered the intense loyalty that so many of us have felt toward him for these past decades.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. Thank you for everything.

Remembering Barbara Bush

Filed under: George Bush,White House


With former First Lady Barbara Bush’s passing, the nation mourns a wonderful, remarkable First Lady whose signature issue was a lifelong campaign for literacy. Those who knew her have posted well-deserved tributes to her and her exemplary life (click here and here, for example).

No tribute to Mrs. Bush would be complete without a reference to her sense of humor. She was a funny person but not in a comedic way. Rather, her humor was purposeful and sharp – often very sharp.

I was a speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush from June 1986 to January 1989. The Bushes were exceptionally kind about inviting staff to their home for softball, drinks and jokes. Mrs. Bush would always come out for those events and more than a few times, when she offered an especially barbed or bluff bit of humor, those of us in the conversation would shoot each other a look that asked, “Did she really say THAT?!”

My favorite Barbara Bush story took place in early December 1987. That month, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev came to DC for a summit with President Reagan and Vice President Bush. Shortly after he left, the Bushes invited staff members, including me, to their home for drinks and jokes. (See photo)1988 Bush holiday party

Midway through, Mrs. Bush turned to the Vice President and said, “Tell them what Raisa [Gorbachev, wife of the Soviet Premier] said to you at the concert.” “No,” replied Mr. Bush, waving her off. “Oh go on!” she prodded and once more, he said no, shaking hs head.

At that point, she told us what happened: Gorbachev had hosted a dinner at the Soviet Embassy for the Reagans, Bushes, and other U.S. officials. The post-dinner entertainment was a Russian opera singer. Vice President Bush seated next to Raisa Gorbachev and as the singer reached for the high notes with visible passion, Mr. Bush said through the interpreter, “I think I’m falling in love.”

“Be careful,” Mrs. Gorbachev replied, “Remember what happened to Gary Hart.”

I don’t recall the look on Vice President Bush’s face when Mrs. Bush told this story but something tells me that he probably wasn’t entirely pleased. Then again, it was so typical of Mrs. Bush to dispense with formalities and share something she thought was funny.

Mrs. Bush, we will miss you. R.I.P.