January 26, 2015

The ironic dual anniversary of two famous Clinton quotations


Hillary Clinton looms so large in the political landscape today, it’s hard to remember when she didn’t.

But, in fact, she was relatively unknown to most Americans until January 26, 1992.

On that Sunday night, Hillary and her husband Bill Clinton appeared together on 60 Minutes, in a heavily watched interview with Steve Kroft that aired right after the Superbowl.

Their goal was to defuse “rumors” about Bill’s extramarital affairs with Gennifer Flowers and other women while he was Governor of Arkansas.

They didn’t quite directly address the “bimbo eruption” issue.

However, Bill did admit he had “caused pain” in their marriage. And they both tried to make it clear that they loved each other and their marriage was sound. 

The most remembered quote from the interview was uttered by Hillary, when she said (emphatically):

“You know, I’m not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him and I respect him and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And, you know, if that’s not enough for people, then, heck, don’t vote for him.”

In other words, Hillary was standing by man — like in Tammy Wynette’s hit 1968 country music song “Stand By Your Man.” 

The Clintons’ politically-adept performance that night boosted their public profile and Bill’s campaign. He went on to receive the Democratic nomination and get elected as President.

But the way Hillary stated her “standing by my man” position was highly offensive to fans of Tammy Wynette and to Tammy herself.

Tammy made it known to Hillary and the press that she was “mad as hell” about Hillary’s insulting comment on 60 Minutes.

TIME magazine quoted her as saying: “Nowhere in that song did I say, ‘be a doormat, take any abuse.’”

Other news stories quoted Tammy using variations of that line, including: “That song doesn't say be a doormat”; “Nowhere does it say be a doormat and let this man walk on you”; and, “That song doesn't say be a doormat for anybody.”

She also wrote a letter to Hillary that said: “With all that is in me, I resent your caustic remark. I believe you have offended every true country-music fan and every person who has made it on their own with no one to take them to the White House.”

The soon-to-be First Lady of the United States quickly apologized to “The First Lady of Country Music.”

Hillary told reporters: “I didn’t mean to hurt Tammy Wynette as a person. I happen to be a country-western fan, If she feels like I’ve hurt her feelings, I'm sorry about that.”

Hillary also telephoned Tammy to apologize directly. It apparently worked. Wynette later performed at a fundraiser for Bill, at Hillary’s request.

Six years later, Bill Clinton was back in the hot seat over a new bimbo eruption. Reports had surfaced that he’d been having an affair with a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

So, on January 26, 1998 — exactly six years after Hillary made her famous Tammy-bashing remark — Bill held a press conference to address the issue.

In it, he created an ironic dual anniversary of two famous Clinton quotes when he forcefully claimed:

       “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky!”

Of course, as we all learned later, he did — depending on what the meaning of did is.

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January 23, 2015

“I love it when a plan comes together.”


You may or may not be a fan of the ‘80s TV series The A-Team, but you probably know the famous catchphrase from the show:

       “I love it when a plan comes together.”

It was used frequently throughout the show’s five-season run from 1983 to 1986 by the team’s cigar-chomping leader, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, played by actor George Peppard.

Peppard first uttered the line in the 2-hour pilot episode “Mexican Slayride,” which originally aired on January 23, 1983 as an NBC “Sunday Night Movie.”

The first regular one-hour episode of The A-Team aired the following week, on January 30, 1983, following the Superbowl. After that, the show moved to a Tuesday 8pm time slot.

Other members of Hannibal’s team of good-guy mercenaries included: Templeton “Face” Peck, played by Dirk Benedict throughout the regular series but by Tim Dunigan in the pilot; “Howling Mad” Murdock, played by Dwight Schultz; and, Boscoe “B.A.” (for “Bad Attitude”) Baracus, memorably played by Mr. T.

Naturally, Peppard’s catchphrase in the A-Team TV series was resurrected and used several times in the A-Team movie released in 2010, which starred Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith.

Some people assume that the A-Team series is also the origin of another well-known catchphrase — Mr. T’s famous line “I pity the fool.” 

In fact, that line was first used by Mr. T in the 1982 movie Rocky III, in which he played Rocky’s boxing opponent “Clubber” Lang.

According to the A-Team experts (i.e., hardcore fans who have watched and rewatched the entire series) Mr. T never said “I pity the fool” in any of the 98 episodes of the show.

I’ll take their word for it. I did enjoy watching The A-Team back in the 1980s. But rewatching all 98 episodes and paying close attention to every line uttered by Mr. T is a bit more research than I’m willing to put in for one blog post.

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January 14, 2015

“V for Victory!”


Almost everyone is familiar with the phrase “V for Victory” and the two-fingered V-for-victory hand gesture popularized by Winston Churchill during World War II.

But few people today are aware of their origin.

The use of “V” as a symbolic message of defiant resistance to tyranny was first proposed by Victor de Laveleye, a member of the Belgian Parliament who went into exile in England after the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940.

De Laveleye worked for the BBC during the war, broadcasting regular shortwave radio announcements to his countrymen in Belgium.

In his broadcast on January 14, 1941, de Laveleye proposed what became the “V campaign.”

“I am proposing to you as a rallying emblem the letter V,” he said, “because V is the first letter of the words ‘Victoire’ in French, and ‘Vrijheid’ in Flemish [the two major languages of people in Belgium]...the Victory which will give us back our freedom, the Victory of our good friends the English. Their word for Victory also begins with V. As you see, things fit all round.”

Shortly after de Laveleye’s broadcast, Belgians began surreptitiously chalking and painting V’s on the walls of buildings in Belgium.

Soon, the V symbol began appearing as defiant graffiti in other Nazi-occupied countries.

In a radio speech on July 19, 1941, British Prime Minister Churchill announced an effort to actively promote the V campaign throughout Europe.

“The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny,” Churchill said. “So long as the peoples continue to refuse all collaboration with the invader it is sure that his cause will perish and that Europe will be liberated.”

The V campaign was heavily publicized by the BBC and soon became highly popular throughout Europe.

As the hand gesture and “V” graffiti spread in German-occupied countries, it annoyed the Nazis enough for them to try to undercut its symbolic value.

Nazi propaganda started claiming that V stood for the German word viktoria and that the use of V’s by civilians was a sign of their support for victory by Germany.

But, as most people knew, that was just another example of a “big lie” by the Nazis.

Further reading:

     • Historic July 20, 1941 New York Times article “British Open ‘V’ Nerve War; Churchill Spurs Resistance” 

     • Historic article about the V campaign in the July 28, 1941 issue of Time magazine

     • Wikipedia entry on uses of the V hand gesture in various cultures

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January 11, 2015

The origin of the movie cliché “We have ways of making you talk!”


The threatening words “We have ways of making you talk” are now a familiar cliché in movies.

It’s usually said for comedic effect, often with a heavy foreign accent, like: “Ve haf vays of making you talk!”

If you’re a classic film buff you may know that the origin of this movie quote is a line in an old Gary Cooper movie titled The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

If you’re a major film quote geek you may know that the familiar version used today is actually a misquote of the actual line in the film.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is a Rudyard Kipling-style tale set in India during the days when it was a British colony.

It premiered in New York City on January 11, 1935.

The film is loosely based on an autobiographical book of the same name, written by British Army officer and author Francis Yeats-Brown in 1930.

The heroes of the movie are three British officers in the famed Bengal Lancers: Lieutenant McGregor, played by Cooper; Lieutenant Forsythe, played by Franchot Tone; and, Lieutenant Stone, played by Richard Cromwell.

The plot deals with their efforts to thwart a revolt against British rule by an Indian leader named Mohammed Khan, played by the great character actor Douglas Dumbrille.

When Stone is taken captive by Khan, McGregor and Forsythe go undercover to try to find and rescue him. But they are also captured by Khan.

The famous quote from the film comes during a scene in which Mohammed Khan has the three officers brought to him for what starts out as a deceptively cordial dinner.

Soon, Mohammed Khan gets to the point.

He offers to let them go free if they tell him the location of a huge supply of British ammunition he needs to provide firepower for his planned rebellion.

Khan explains: “You have only to answer two very simple questions. By what route is the ammunition train coming? And, just where does the regiment plan to meet it for convoy?"

Forsythe says flippantly: “Well, when the furry little animal jumped out of the bag he really jumped, didn’t he?”

Khan responds by making his ominously memorable threat — in perfectly good English, with no silly accent:

       “Well, gentlemen? We have ways to make men talk.”

The Lancers refuse to give Khan the information he wants.

So, as threatened, Khan uses his ways of encouraging answers.

One by one, starting with Gary Cooper, sharp slivers of bamboo are inserted under their fingernails. Then the bamboo slivers are set on fire.

Lieutenant Stone eventually spills the beans. But by the end of the film he redeems himself heroically and gets his revenge by killing Khan.

Somehow, over the decades Mohammed Khan’s sinister line from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer morphed into a comedic cliché, usually in misquoted form.

Nowadays, most people who aren’t classic film buffs are totally unaware of its origin.

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January 06, 2015

“The Mother of All Battles”


In the Middle East and Greece, the idiomatic expression “the mother of all ---” has been used to describe the biggest, most extreme or ultimate examples of various things for more than two thousand years.

However, it wasn’t a common phrase in the United States until Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein uttered his famous line about “The mother of all battles” shortly before the First Gulf War in 1991.

In August 1990, Saddam had ordered Iraqi troops to invade Kuwait.

For the next five months, the United States and United Nations tried using sanctions and threats to get Saddam to withdraw, ultimately giving him a mid-January deadline.

Saddam was not impressed.

On January 6, 1991, in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the modern Iraqi Army, he boasted that Kuwait was eternally part of Iraq and predicted a long struggle in the Persian Gulf against the “tyranny represented by the United States.”

Saddam told the people of Iraq: “The battle in which you are locked today is the mother of all battles…Our rendezvous with victory is very near, God willing.”

US Air Force video about Operation Desert Storm
News reports about this speech immediately made “the mother of all battles” a famous quote and soon gave rise to many variations.

On January 17, 1991, American military forces and troops from a coalition of other countries, launched Operation Desert Storm with massive airstrikes on Iraq.

That day, Saddam claimed to be confident that Iraq would repel the coalition forces. Once again he used his newly famous catchphrase, boasting “The great showdown has begun; the mother of all battles is under way!”

Saddam went on to predict that “the dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins...The evil and satanic intentions of the White House will be crushed and so will all the blasphemous and oppressive forces.”

Of course, Saddam was wrong. Iraq lost the First Gulf War, amazingly quickly.

President George H.W. Bush decided not to force Saddam out of power. But his son President George W. Bush decided to fix that “mistake” during the Second Gulf War, which he launched in 2003.

Not long after that war began, Saddam was captured. He was eventually tried for “crimes against humanity,” convicted and executed by hanging in 2006.

Today, in addition to being remembered as a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein is known as the father of the “mother of all battles” and its many linguistic offspring.

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