Millions of Americans have been frustrated with the dysfunctional mess in Washington in recent years. They’re angry about the bitter partisanship, broken promises and corrupt politicians. The common sentiment: It would be great if we could just go back to the good old days. But there was no golden political age. Dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, politics and government have always been rife with corruption, inefficiency and other problems. Here are a few famous quotes that show the current situations in Washington and state capitols around the U.S. are nothing new.
10. “Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
— John Kenneth Galbraith
This could have been the tagline of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Galbraith served as one of the leading voices of American liberalism in the 20th century.
9. “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”
— Milton Friedman
Not a surprising remark from the man considered the leading exponent of free-market capitalism. Another Friedman gem: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”
8. “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”
— P.J. O’Rourke
The above comment appeared in O’Rourke’s 1991 book, Parliament of Whores, about corruption and inefficiency in the U.S. government. One of his more recent books: Don’t vote — It just encourages the bas*****.
7. “In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.”
— Charles de Gaulle
This quote should be must reading for anyone who gets elected on the promise of improving the country and then bends to special interests. The French statesmen had some other thoughtful quotes on politics, including, “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”
6. “Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government.”
— President George Washington
That’s an intriguing statement from one of the Founding Fathers.
5. “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”
— George Orwell
Orwell wrote that in his essay, Politics and the English Language. That work foreshadowed the concept of “Newspeak” he introduced later in his classic 1984.
4. “The United States brags about its political system, but the president says one thing during the election, something else when he takes office, something else at midterm and something else when he leaves.”
— Deng Xiaoping
The Chinese leader made a very astute statement about the American presidency.
3. “I remember when I first came to Washington. For the first six months you wonder how the hell you ever got here. For the next six months you wonder how the hell the rest of them ever got here.”
— President Harry S. Truman
Truman had many political enemies in his era, but has generally come to be seen as a man of great principle.
2. “Laws are like sausages. Better not to see them being made.”
This quote is often misattributed to 19th century German leader Otto Von Bismarck, although its origins may actually be traced to American poet John Godfrey Saxe in the 1860s. Either way, anyone who has ever sat through a lengthy city council meeting to hear discussion of the minutia in a zoning decision or other matter can agree with the sentiment here.
1. “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
— Charles Dudley Warner
Such a pithy quote — just who was Charles Dudley Warner? The 19th century American essayist is best known for co-authoring (with Mark Twain) the 1873 book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. Another popular quote by Warner, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” is often misattributed to Twain.
One More: “One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government.”
— President Donald Trump
Whether you love Trump or hate him, this is a common refrain, that the dog-eat-dog world of politics and media microscope politicians face discourages many qualified candidates from running for office.