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The Best Political Quotes and Epigrams

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch

This page contains some of the greatest political quotes and epigrams of all time, produced by people like Woody Allen, Aristotle, Catherine the Great, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martial, Groucho Marx, Plato, Ronald Reagan, Will Rogers, Jon Stewart, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Voltaire and Oscar Wilde.

Let's begin with the genre of epigrams called "raillery":

If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.Marcus Valerius Martial
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.Jonathan Swift
If you think you're too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.—Edith Sitwell

But epigrams can also be wonderfully touching and moving:

The births of all things are weak and tender,
therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.
Michel de Montaigne

If we are to have real peace in the world,
we will have to begin with the children.
—Mohandas Gandhi

As an Israeli, I have come to understand:
there is no way to love Israel and reject a two-state peace,
no way to love Israel and reject Palestine.
Yael Dayan, daughter of Moshe Dayan, Israel's most famous general and Defense Minister

Epigrams can also be wise, and liberating:

It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.—Ana´s Nin

Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.—Native American

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp; the man’s the gowd [gold] for a’ [all] that!Robert Burns (epigrams like this one helped fuel the American and French revolutions; Burns was saying that commoners had the same "mettle" and worth as royals)

Other types of epigrams play on words. The chiasmus repeats the same or very similar words in a different order, often to scintillating effect:

It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog.—Dwight D. Eisenhower
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.Ronald Reagan
The difference between them and us is that we want to check government spending and they want to spend government checks.Ronald Reagan

Then there are are "dead serious" epigrams, called epitaphs. These are the inscriptions that appear on headstones. Here's one of mine called "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child":

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch

An epithet characterizes someone or something. In Homer's day epithets were often complimentary, sometimes sublimely so. Today epithets are generally non-complimentary, if not insulting or downright offensive. Modern epithets often descend into derogatory slang and racial invective. But in the hands of a master epigrammatist like Will Rogers, they can still be sublime in effect:

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.—Will Rogers
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers

Political epigrams can be wonderfully scathing, whether aimed at liberals, conservatives or politicians in general:

I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.—Will Rogers
A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.—Groucho Marx

Other epigrams engage in parody and lampooning. Here's one I hope to someday include it in a book of poems to be titled Why I Left the Religious Right:

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch

 Sometimes the epigram is the salvo a brilliant, battle-savvy epigrammatist launches against human ignorance, intolerance, cruelty and insanity:

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.Mark Twain

To determine the truth of Twain's remark, just ask black American slaves, or Native Americans who walked the Trail of Tears, or any Palestinian who's been herded inside the walled ghetto of Gaza and had the gates slammed shut in his face. None of them will admire the white man's supposedly "advanced civilization," his "democracy" or his "Judeo-Christian ethics." If you don't agree with Twain, please be assured that he is the keener  observer and savvier student of history and human nature. But if you read his epigrams, you may quickly close the gap! And I believe Einstein was in general agreement with Twain when he said:

I don't know what weapons will be used in World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.Albert Einstein

One has only to be able to put two and two together, and arrive at four, to understand why Twain's remark relates to Einstein's. Just consider the millions of Palestinians who suffer inside squalid refugee camps and walled ghettoes, thanks to the "advanced democracies" of the USA, Great Britain and Israel, while 1.5 billion Muslims see and share their agony. If we don't understand why denying other people human rights and dignity will cause us to end up fighting with sticks and stones after a nuclear Armageddon . . . well, we're just not as observant or wise as Twain and Einstein. But we certainly can't say they didn't warn us, as did an American president who was a master of the chiasmus:

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F. Kennedy, Jr.

The history of such epigrams goes far back in time. In the 6th century B.C. the legendarily rich King Croesus of Lydia said:

In peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.—Croesus

When we consider the expensive, bloody follies of the U.S. government in the Middle East, we can only wish our politicians had heeded Will Rogers:

If there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs. ― Will Rogers

And a great French essayist can explain why American freedoms seem to be vanishing:

The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.Michel de Montaigne

Now without further ado, here are collections of political quotes and epigrams by the all-time masters ...



The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.
Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decencies without civilization in between.
To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity.
Do not speak ill of society . . . only people who can't get in do that.
The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.



The Twain Well Met: Epigrams by Mark Twain

It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand.
To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and less trouble.
Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it ain't so.
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
Facts are stubborn; statistics are more pliable.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you do know that ain't so.
Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish.
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do, you are misinformed.
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.
There is probably no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.
In our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.



The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Wilson Reagan

I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things.
There are simple answers to the nation's problems, but not easy ones.
While I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future.
We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.
I've always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program.
I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
A friend of mine was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.
Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.
Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
Detente — isn't that what a farmer has with his turkey — until Thanksgiving?
Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.
I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.
 The difference between them and us is that we want to check government spending and they want to spend government checks.
Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.



Humor Equals Wit Times Genius Squared: The Epigrams of Albert Einstein

Whoever sets himself up as a judge of Truth is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former.
Our technology has exceeded our humanity.
I don't know about World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.
Politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity.
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.
The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax.
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
Information is not knowledge.
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.
Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.
To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.
There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.



Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne

The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.
Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it.
Everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.
No man is a hero to his own valet.
There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.
There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.
The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom.
The thing I fear most is fear.



Dowager Power

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.—Eleanor Roosevelt
If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher



Pierced by Bierce: Epigrams by Ambrose Bierce

Applause, n. The echo of a platitude.
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.



The Death of Class

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
—Alexander Pope



Errors and Terrors

Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
—Sir John Harrington

The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool
.
—William Blake

Bigotry is the sacred disease.—Heraclitus



Type Cast


a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham



A Word to the Wise, by the Wordwise

It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.—Aristotle
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.—Plato
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.—Adlai Stevenson



Funny Money

It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.―Aeschylus
Money is the wise man's religion.—Euripides
When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.Voltaire
The shortest road to wealth lies in the contempt of wealth.Seneca
If you'd know the power of money, go and borrow some.Ben Franklin
If God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he need my tithes?Mike Burch
I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.—Mark Twain



Aeschylus

In war, truth is the first casualty.
Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.
I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope.
It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.
Destiny waits alike for the free man as well as for him enslaved by another's might.



Where there's a Will there's a Way: the Epigrams of Will Rogers

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
A fool and his money are soon elected.
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.
Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.
Communism to me is one-third practice and two-thirds explanation.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
The U.S. Senate opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.
Congress in session is like when the baby gets hold of a hammer.
You can't say civilization don't advance...in every war they kill you in a new way.
A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.
America is becoming so educated that ignorance will soon be a novelty.
An ignorant person is one who doesn't know what you have just found out.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.
Buy land. They ain't making any more of the stuff.
Everything is changing. People are taking comedians seriously and politicians as a joke.
Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else.
Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him "father."
It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so.
Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier 'n puttin' it back in.
Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches.
One-third of the people in the United States promote, while the other two-thirds provide.
Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.
People are getting smarter nowadays; they're letting lawyers, not their conscience, be their guide.
Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.
The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.
The only way you can beat the lawyers is to die with nothing.
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
There is no more independence in politics than there is in jail.
There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off his subject.
There ought to be one day , just one, when there is open season on senators.
Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it.
We don't seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?
We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.
What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.
When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.
Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
I have a scheme for stopping war: no nation can enter a war till it's paid for the last one.
 Take diplomacy out of war, and the thing would fall flat in a week.
Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.



Woody Allen

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.
Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. The worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.



Jonathan Swift

Every dog must have his day.
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.
Government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.
Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions.
Poor nations are hungry, and rich nations are proud; and pride and hunger will ever be at variance.
Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.
We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not do we are told expressly.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.



Martial Law: the Epigrams of Marcus Valerius Martial

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.
To the ashes of the dead glory comes too late.
Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.
Too late is tomorrow's life; live for today.



Douglas Adams

Anyone capable of getting made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news.



John Adams

You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.
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.



Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of Ben Franklin


Little strokes fell great oaks.
There never was a good war nor a bad peace.
A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Fish and visitors smell after three days.
Genius without education is like silver in the mine.
He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing.
If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.
We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.



Immersed in Emerson: the Epigrammatic Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson

To be great is to be misunderstood.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.
If you would lift me you must be on higher ground.



Miscellanea

Quoting one is plagiarism; quoting many is research.—Unknown
Space is a dangerous place . . . especially if it's between your ears!—Unknown
The man who can't make mistakes, can't make anything.—Abraham Lincoln
Success comes in cans, not can't s.—Unknown
The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer but rather what they miss.—Thomas Carlyle
When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.—Henrik Ibsen
Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.—Rudyard Kipling
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.—Helen Keller
I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.—Voltaire
Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.—Ovid
The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray.—Robert G. Ingersoll
There is none so blind as they that won't see.—Jonathan Swift
If I have seen a little farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.—Sir Isaac Newton



More Epigrams of Richard Moore:

Logic, like Rilke's angel, is beautiful but dangerous.

The social animal—at least, in the human case—is necessarily an imitative animal; for it would seem to be our capacity to imitate others and to let their thoughts and personalities invade ours that makes coherent society possible.

We descendants of Christianity, we creations of that book, The Bible, can't endure Lucretius' lush relish and appreciation of the sensuous life here on earth. Everything in our abstract, celluloid-charmed, computer-driven, and, above all, money-maddened lifestyle separates us from that life on earth.

Christians, humanists, existentialists—whatever we are—we gaze toward higher, or at least more interesting things.

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

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