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Quotations about Government


The adventure in popular government has gone on in this country for 150 years. And attended by the new risks of this revolutionary era, it is still the greatest adventure in the world today. And still worth one's faith, and one's courage, and one's perspicacity. ~Dorothy Thompson, speech, 1937

That's what government is, it's an unwieldy jalopy but you have to use it all the same. ~Richard Stengel, on Deadline: White House, MSNBC, 2020

If George Washington were to come back and see Congress, he would lose no time delivering another farewell address. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1906, George Horace Lorimer, editor

We in the United States operate like a hastily organized football team of individual stars, with each player thinking of next year's contract; and we have an elected quarterback whose popularity fluctuates with the success of each play. We work out our game plan as we go along, sometimes in the huddle and sometimes in angry debate at the line of scrimmage. ~Gerald Raftery (1905–1986), "Choosing sides," December 1973

It might be more worthwhile if we stopped wringing our hands and started ringing our congressmen. ~Author unknown

I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments... ~Lord Byron

Democ'acy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor...
~James Russell Lowell

Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the Powers That Be whether they are the Powers That Ought to Be. ~Sydney J. Harris, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, as quoted by The Reader's Digest, 1972

The White House is haunted by a vague, helpless abstraction, a kind of ghost of a nation, called the people. ~Gerald Stanley Lee, The Ghost in the White House: Some Suggestions as to How a Hundred Million People (Who Are Supposed in a Vague, Helpless Way to Haunt the White House) Can Make Themselves Felt with a President — How They Can Back Him Up — Express Themselves to Him, Be Expressed by Him, and Get What They Want, "Chapter II: The Lonesomest Job on Earth," 1920

We want to live in a world in which we have such things as contentment, freedom, personal pride, opportunity for self-development, love, affection and spiritual purpose. We want to live in a warm world, a kind world, a human world. We want to be on good terms with ourselves, and with one another. And whatever new program or governmental system fails to assist these very simple human desires is a ghastly failure, even if it produces more goods, greater wealth, more economic stability and more national power... ~Dorothy Thompson, Political Guide: A Study of American Liberalism and Its Relationship to Modern Totalitarian States, 1938

I'm not sure I learned anything except that giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. ~P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. ~Bernard Shaw, "Maxims for Revolutionists"

Government defines the physical aspects of man by means of the printed form, so that for every man in the flesh there is an exactly corresponding man on paper. In this way, man becomes a function of the State. ~Jean Giraudoux, The Enchanted: A Comedy in Three Acts, 1933, adapted by Maurice Valency, English Acting Edition, 1950

It would appear, however, that we have not even begun to apply the scientific spirit, the inquiring mind — Reason, and even its lesser brother, Common Sense — to our communal affairs. If we had, we would certainly not have the systems of taxation that we do. If we had, we would certainly not have the waste that we do. If we had, we would certainly not have nincompoops occupying positions of enormous responsibility and power in the field of politics. ~Dorothy Thompson, Political Guide: A Study of American Liberalism and Its Relationship to Modern Totalitarian States, 1938

If all the economists in this country were laid end to end, they would never reach a conclusion. ~Author unknown

I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." ~Ronald Reagan, 1986

The presidency itself is not a partisan institution. It’s the one office in this nation that represents everyone and it demands a duty of care for all Americans. ~Joseph R. Biden, Jr., 2020

Statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions. These often settle themselves. It is where the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for world-saving decisions presents itself. ~Winston Churchill

Democracy is a government where you can say what you think even if you don't think. ~Author unknown

What I'm getting at, of course, are the consequences
      of despotism. Ecclesiastic or secular, it's the same.
      Submission to the mindless planets of authority
      generates delirious belief, entertains hallucination
      and stuffs our heads with horrifying compromises.
Santayana, the philosopher, warns of a long winter
      approaching—one of those seasons which periodically
      overtake civilization. We might argue; nevertheless
      bleak signs blow across the wind.
~Evan S. Connell, Jr., Points for a Compass Rose, 1973

The cure for capitalism's failings would require that a government would have to rise above the interests of one class alone... ~Robert L. Heilbroner, The Great Economists, 1955

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. ~Edward Abbey, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, 1989

Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want — and their kids pay for it. ~Richard Lamm, c.1986

Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven’t had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln. ~Will Rogers

But when there is a lack of honor in government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned. ~Herbert Hoover, 1951

There is nothing in the world today so perilous and exciting as the adventure of democracy, and nothing so dull as a book on democracy. That dullness is, of course, partly the occupational disease of writers on government; but it is mainly the outcome of the need we have felt for making democracy such a good thing, like a scrubbed and shining schoolboy. Actually democracy partakes of the sweat and blood of the real world. It is grimy and dangerous and will never survive until it can learn to understand the ways of bullies and take its own part. I happen to care for it not because of any moral perfection it may have, but because it is by and large the best instrument I know for giving us the kind of world we want to live in. ~Max Lerner, It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy, 1938

A cheerful obedience is universal, when the worthy bear rule. ~Publilius Syrus, 1st century BCE, from the Latin by D. Lyman, 1856

I never accept anything about the Government until it has been officially denied; then I know it is true. ~The Tri-Weekly Gleaner, 1897  [Garson O'Toole of has found several variations of this quotation but this is the earliest thus far. Another: "It is an axiom of practical politics never to believe anything until it has been officially denied." ~The Times (London), 1900. For more history on this quote, see —tg]

Holding government accountable... is difficult without essential information, without the ability to assess official conduct. That is a key reason why government actions, in so far as is possible, should be transparent. ~Editors of Issues of Democracy: Accountability in Government, August 2000

A good State legislature is an able body of men not in session. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1904, George Horace Lorimer, editor

No government, no matter how democratic or efficient, can long be effective if it is corrupt — if institutions or individuals lack integrity and are motivated by self-interest and private gain rather than public good. Jane S. Ley, deputy director for government relations and special projects at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, explores the vital issue of ethics in government. She discusses the legal framework that has evolved over the years to foster ethical conduct — dealing with such issues as codes of conduct, conflict of interest and financial disclosure. She concludes that the system in place, as elaborate as it now is, "will need to continue to adapt to new challenges." ~Editors of Issues of Democracy: Accountability in Government, August 2000

A real patriot is one who is willing to do more for the Government than he expects the Government to do for him. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1904, George Horace Lorimer, editor

Debt, National.— Mortgaging the property of our posterity that we may be better enabled to destroy our contemporaries. ~"Specimens of a Patent Pocket Dictionary, For the use of those who wish to understand the meaning of things as well as words," The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1824

It's not the voting that's democracy, it's the counting... ~Tom Stoppard, Jumpers, 1972  [Dotty —tg]

Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds. ~John Perry Barlow, 1992

All forms of government are pernicious, including good government. ~Edward Abbey, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, 1989

Evolution trumps revolution. Great changes are achieved incrementally, each step building naturally on the last. It is the folly of government to believe in the efficacy of great leaps — and its hubris the attempt to implement them. ~Dr. Idel Dreimer,

      The great political battle of our generation is the battle over what democracy means and how it can survive. The great political task of our generation is the task of giving economic content to democracy and of keeping power in a collectivism from becoming tyrannical... Until we learn to make the distinction more sharply than we have done between a small-d democrat and a liberal, we shall never fashion a militant and disciplined democracy. Which is to say that our next meeting-place may be in a concentration camp or on a battlefield.
      We must make democracy militant enough and collectivism democratic enough to survive. And there is a sense of urgency; I am convinced that for starting vigorously on our tasks it is later than you think. ~Max Lerner, It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy, 1938  [a little altered —tg]

If I was a President and wanted something I would claim I didn't want it. Congress has not given any President anything he wanted in the last 10 years. Be against anything and then he is sure to get it. ~Will Rogers (1879–1935)

The answer is the one that Ortega attacks in The Revolt of the Masses. It assumes that we can leave all intellectual activity, and all political responsibility, to somebody else and live our lives as vegetable beneficiaries of the moral and intellectual virtue of other men... The democratic enterprise is imperiled if any one of us says, "I do not have to try to think for myself, or make the most of myself, or become a citizen of the world republic of learning." The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. ~Robert M. Hutchins, "A Letter to the Reader," The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education, 1952

INCIVILITY  What the public gets from Civil Service. ~Charles Wayland Towne, The Altogether New Foolish Dictionary, by Gideon Wurdz, 1914

A tariff is like a tax, but it's a little bit bitchy. ~Saturday Night Live, "Weekend Update," 2019 December 14th, written by Che, Jost, Sublette, et al.  [S45, E9, Chen Biao]

Morphine and state relief are the same. You go dopey, feel better and are worse off. ~Martin H. Fischer (1879–1962)

PRO and CON  Prefixes of opposite meaning. For example, Progress and Congress. ~Charles Wayland Towne, The Foolish Dictionary, Executed by Gideon Wurdz, Master of Pholly, Doctor of Loquacious Lunacy, etc., 1904

When a Stalin or a Hitler can predict the future because he has the power to make his predictions come true, the life of the average man becomes unpredictable. ~Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973

Democracy is being forced to choose between alternatives almost equally repugnant to the overwhelming number of people in the few democratic counties which are left. And nowhere is democracy itself taking the lead; nowhere is democracy itself offering a constructive program. It stands neutral in the midst of a world in which neutrality is rapidly ceasing to be anything more than a word. ~Dorothy Thompson, "Spain and Neutrality," 1936

Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time... ~Winston Churchill

The plague of government is senile delinquency. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1963

And another thing that congress is taxing now is the country's faith in the Republican form of government. ~Robert Quillen, 1921

Congress will never vote more intelligently than the voters who elected it. ~Arnold H. Glasow (1905–1999)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. ~Will Rogers

Bureaus are extrusions from the body politic — they are pus. ~Martin H. Fischer (1879–1962)

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. ~"Publius" (Alexander Hamilton), 1787

Confucius perspired out more knowledge than the U.S. Senate has vocalized out in the last 50 years. ~Will Rogers (1879–1935)

Ben Franklin thought the only hope for democracy was if people respected each other enough to compromise. ~The West Wing, "Jefferson Lives," 2003, written by Carol Flint and Josh Singer  [S5, E3, President Bartlet]

The Names of Henry, Lee, Bland, Pendleton, Washington, Rutledge, Wythe, Dickenson, &c will ever thrill through my Veigns with an agreeable Sensation. ~John Adams, 1818  [the First Continental Congress —tg]

The Ways and Means Committee is supposed to find ways to divide up the means. ~Will Rogers (1879–1935)

Of course, one advantage of a dictatorship is that you don't need a civics class to understand how it works. ~Robert Brault,

We tend to console ourselves in these distracted times with the reflection that our trouble cannot last; that the enemies of democratic humanism are doomed by the constellation of historic forces; that the dictators of today must crash as the dictators of the past have inevitably crashed... All this is very well. It is good to act with belief in yourself — provided that you act. It is good to gird yourself in the armor of a faith, and to march to the stirring notes of some poetic democratic myth — provided that the march is not merely a processional, and that at the end of it you are ready, if need be, to fight... We err if we trust blindly to the impersonal forces of history. ~Max Lerner, "History if Written by the Survivors," It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy, 1938–1943

A decision... may depend on its being accepted, or its not being reversed, by the Congress — for the President under our system is not empowered to remake the nation in his own image.... a President's authority is not as great as his responsibility... ~Theodore C. Sorensen, "The Outer Limits of Decision," Decision-Making in the White House: The Olive Branch or the Arrows, 1963

Every time a corrupt politician is convicted good government takes a stride forward. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1904, George Horace Lorimer, editor

Sedition among the citizens is the enemy's opportunity. ~Publilius Syrus, 1st century BCE, from the Latin by D. Lyman, 1856

In the fashioning of any government enterprise, efficacy is but a footnote to empire. ~Dr. Idel Dreimer,

Our weaknesses are built into the democratic system, and we wouldn't look too bad if we were competing only with other democracies. Lately, however, we have been dealing with countries like Russia and China and their client states, and so we keep stepping on our own necktie. ~Gerald Raftery (1905–1986), December 1973

They never seem to realize that the unity of the dictator governments is achieved by the simple method of executing their opponents. It works very well, and often you don't have to execute more than 15 or 20 percent before the message gets across. ~Gerald Raftery (1905–1986), "Choosing sides," December 1973

The man with the best job in the country is the vice President. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, "How's the President?" ~Will Rogers

      Actually the so-called "lessons" of history are for the most part the rationalizations of the victors. History is written by the survivors. That is why it will be scant consolation for the democracies to go down to extinction still believing in the ultimate rightness of their cause. And that is why the first imperative of democratic humanism is to survive... Democratic society, whatever its moral and cultural superiority, must first survive if it is to fulfill its function in world history. It must survive to write the history of its struggles; for it is the historian, in the role of the poet mythologizing the past, who is the effective architect of the future.
      It is not much that we ask of our era — only a chance to consolidate and continue the affirmative achievements of science and intellectual freedom in human history, to provide an enlargement of human life for the masses, to provide a base from which individuals can explore the possibilities of human effort. We want no daimon of Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, no superman of Nietzsche — only human men rising to the fullest stature of which they are capable. ~Max Lerner, "History if Written by the Survivors," It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy, 1938–1943

I have little on the score of interest, to animate my political feelings; far less than thousands of the community, who gaze with apathy on the triumph of the most profligate & abandoned faction, that ever vexed a State; but I cannot consent to Stifle my indignation, because the timid and the wavering have hood-winked themselves for fear of encountering the ghost of Democracy. ~Thomas Boylston Adams to John Quincy Adams, 1802

Am I the only guy in our country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind... I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution... That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for... You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. ~Lee Iacocca, "Had Enough?", Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, 2007

Thus the house of fascist thought is a sort of death-house of all nations. ~Max Lerner, It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy, 1938–1943

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. ~Mark Twain

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