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The Wit and Wisdom of John Kennedy, R-La.
When I was 7, America elected a fellow named John Kennedy president. He had been a senator and he was witty. His daddy was rich as he made money the way John Hancock did, by smuggling. Hancock smuggled tea. Kennedy’s dad smuggled hooch.
In 1958, Kennedy began a speech to the Gridiron Club — a journalist organization when newspapers ruled the land — by saying, “I have just received the following wire from my generous daddy: ‘Dear Jack — Don’t buy a single vote more than necessary — I’ll be damned if I am going to pay for a landslide.’”
Looking back as an adult, I realize he was not joking. He was bragging. But he was so charming that I secretly have wished for a Republican John Kennedy. Ronald Reagan came close. Donald Trump too. Maybe the John Kennedy we need is the senator by that very name from Louisiana. He uses humor and common sense to make his point and his points are always good ones.
Early in his days in the Senate, the Republican John Kennedy said, “This is Washington, D.C. Politics is in everybody’s blood, kind of like herpes.”
He was a Louisiana Democrat until he decided he wanted to win election to an office bigger than state treasurer. He converted to Republican but skipped the testicle-removal ceremony. In 2016, his state sent him to the Senate. He wound up on a boring committee that overlooks banks and the like.
At a hearing on October 9, 2017, he said something that shocked the Advocate, Louisiana’s biggest newspaper.
It reported, “During a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing last week, members of Congress expressed bewilderment that credit reporting company Equifax, under siege after a data breach affecting more than 145 million people, has received a $7.25 million contract with the IRS to validate the identity of taxpayers communicating with the agency on the telephone or through its website.”
At the hearing, Kennedy said to former Equifax CEO Richard Smith of that contract, “You realize, to many Americans right now, that looks like we're giving Lindsay Lohan the keys to the mini-bar.”
Pearls were clutched. Vapors were taken. The Lohan family threatened to sue, but all that did was amplify the remark.
Kennedy was tougher on the Equifax man than his fellow committee members Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren, saying, “Credit monitoring companies collect our information without permission and sell that information to businesses. These companies then offer a premium service to make sure that the data they're collecting is accurate. It is ridiculous. I don't pay extra in a restaurant to prevent the waiter from spitting in my food.”
Six days earlier, he questioned Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan about the bank’s creation of 3.5 million unauthorized deposit accounts and more than 500,000 unauthorized credit card applications.
Kennedy said, “I am certainly not anti-business. You can’t be for jobs if you are against business. What I am curious about is what in God’s name were you thinking? I am not against big business. With all due respect, I am against dumb.”
He plays the blunt good old boy so well, he could have been Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit, but without the swearing. He also graduated from Vanderbilt, got a University of Virginia law degree and was educated at Oxford. Good old boys ain’t dumb, as Northerners who underestimate them learn over and over again.
He uses quips the way Zorro wields a sword.
On September 14, 2019, he told Fox, “I trust Russia and China and Iran and North Korea like I trust a Jussie Smollett police report.”
10 days later, he discussed impeachment on Fox. He said, “My Democratic friends just can't accept the fact that the American people chose Donald Trump to be president — it's called democracy. My advice to them, and I say this gently: Fill out a Hurt Feelings Report and let’s move on.”
Two years earlier, he told MSNBC, “I’d rather drink weed killer than support automatic tax increases on the American people.”
His wit works because it comes from a man who is not trying to impress his colleagues. He arrived at the Senate too late (he was 65) to acquire the seniority needed to make a mark. His value and power are in speaking plainly to the American people who 1. know Lohan has a drinking problem, 2. know Jussie Smollett lied, and 3. know not to drink weed killer. Judging by the shocked reactions to his comments, I am not so sure the media knows these things.
Igor Bobic at HuffPo called him the folksiest man in the Senate.
The first quote Bobic used was a winner: “Our country was founded by geniuses, but it’s being run by idiots. I think most Americans are wondering how some folks up here made it through the birth canal.”
Forget abortion; ban Caesareans.
Kennedy said of the DC riffraff hectoring Trump, “That’s why the aliens won’t talk to us. They look at us and say, ‘These people, they’re 13-year-olds.’”
He also said of the Senate, “It’s like a circus without a tent.”
“Capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than all the social programs put together. … That money to help our neighbors who are less fortunate than we are did not come from leprechauns.”
“Inflation is gutting the American people like a fish.”
“You will never win—never—the uber-woke sweepstakes. I understand that the pressure to run that race is fierce. You will never win it. Nothing you do will ever be enough. The uber-woke people in positions of power in this town think America was evil when it was founded and it’s even more evil today. You’re not going to convince them otherwise.”
He spoke that truth to power at a hearing on September 22, 2017, to Charles W. Scharf of Wells Fargo & Company, Brian Thomas Moynihan of Bank of America, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Jane Fraser of Citigroup, William H. Rogers Jr. of Truist Financial Corporation, Andy Cecere of U.S. Bancorp and William S. Demchak of PNC Financial Services Group.
Just one more. On June 9, 2022, he told Fox, “In my state, the price of gas is so high that it would be cheaper to buy cocaine and just run everywhere.”
Did I say just one more? OK, I was lying.
From February 27, 2019, he said of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, “Here’s what I think about Mr. Cohen. He’s a convicted felon. He’s a crook. He’s angry. He’s bitter. I’m not saying he’s a bunny boiler, but he’s a little bit unbalanced.”
And this, “Jesus loves him, but everybody else thinks he’s an idiot.”
And this about Roger Stone, “I think Mr. Stone is a total Beavis. … He talked his way into an indictment. I’ve never seen anything like it. When his IQ gets to 75, he ought to sell.”
And this about Congress, “Some of them are running around like sprayed roaches.”
He likes Mitch McConnell. As Joe E. Brown said at the end of Some Like It Hot, nobody’s perfect. Kennedy said:
“Mitch understands what makes the mules plow around here.”
“He is mad as a mama wasp, and he is determined to get these nominations through.”
“McConnell's tough as a pine knot. He's not going to give in.”
It is the sap that makes those knots tough.
But he loves President Trump. During a showdown on a government shutdown, Kennedy said, “Looks to me like he’s serious as four heart attacks and a stroke. He’s not bluffing. If I were playing poker with him and I didn’t have the cards, I’d fold.”
Nancy Pelosi? Kennedy said, “Billy goat brain, mockingbird mouth.”
Mrs. Potato Head face. I couldn’t resist. Sorry.
Kennedy is more than the Louisiana Lip entertaining the masses. He uses his power to do his job far more effectively than anyone else on the judiciary committee. Trump nominated Matthew Spencer Petersen for a lifetime federal judgeship. Kennedy ate him up and spit him out in 5 questions that totaled 14 words.
KENNEDY: Have you ever tried a jury trial?
PETERSEN: I have not.
KENNEDY: State or federal court?
PETERSEN: I have not.
Then Kennedy knocked him out: “Just because you’ve seen My Cousin Vinny doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge.”
Petersen subsequently withdrew his nomination. Kennedy spared the Republic one bad judge. After that humiliation, one would believe future judicial candidates would be prepared for him.
One would be wrong.
NBC reported on Wednesday, “A judicial nominee of President Joe Biden was apparently stumped by Sen. John Kennedy’s basic questions about the Constitution during her Senate confirmation hearing.
“Spokane County Superior Court Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, who was nominated to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Washington state, couldn’t answer when Kennedy, R-La., pressed her about articles of the nation's founding document.”
KENNEDY: Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does.
BJELKENGREN: Article V is not coming to mind at the moment.
Article V covers amending the Constitution. We shall see if I she withdraws or if Democrats rally around her because she would be the first woman of color to serve on the federal bench in the state of Washington. With Democrats, if you have the right skin, you’re in. Kennedy goes by the content of their character.
Kennedy told Neil Gorsuch when his nomination came up, “I guess what I want is a cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry, and I believe you just might be that person.”
He told Brett Kavanaugh, “I want someone who is willing to protect the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights and understands that the Bill of Rights is not an a la carte menu.”
The senator wanted a clean budget bill — hah — and said so on March 20, 2018, “I think they’re making a big mistake if they start tacking on extraneous issues to the budget. We have enough trouble doing a budget by itself. We haven’t had one since Moses walked the earth. It’s embarrassing.”
His folksiness was honed long before he went to DC. As state treasurer, he used it to fight the plan of Governor Bobby Jindal (remember him?) to borrow $700 million from a tobacco settlement to spend, spend, spend.
Kennedy said, “This is my worry: You dangle $700 million dollars in front of the Louisiana legislature right now, and it's going to be spent as fast as green grass through a goose.”
I see Louisiana has the same problem with geese that West Virginia has, as well as the same problem with spendaholic legislators.
Kennedy made a good case for the tax cuts of 2018, saying on C-Span, “If you believe that tax policy has nothing to do with the economy, you’re pretty much like a rock only dumber.”
He is not just a man mouthing off. He can do more than quip. He is great at communicating large ideas with few words.
On April 13, 2021, he told Fox, “Without order, there is no justice. We can't have a society without order, and we have decided to hire law enforcement officials to maintain order. We hire Whites, Blacks, Browns, men, and women to maintain order. Many of our law enforcement agencies are majority-minority. If you decide, just like you want to judge someone solely by the color of the skin, if you want to make a pejorative judgment about a cop — I'll put it this way: If you hate cops just because they are cops, you don't know a thing about them. The next time you get in trouble call a crackhead.”
Here is a better example. He told Fox on May 16, 2019, “Let me state the obvious. Illegal immigration is illegal, duh.”
Kennedy shows a respect for the American people that is MIA in Washington.
On October 25, 2017, he told CNN, “My advice to the president, very gently and respectfully, would be, saddle up and go. Talk about three things. Go to every state and talk about three things, tax reform, tax reform, tax reform. Because that's what is important to the American people right now, because it affects their pocketbooks. Look, the American people are smart. They don't read Aristotle every day, but they get it. Their take-home pay is just about the same as it was in 1999. Median household income this country is about the same it was in 1999.”
You are darned tooting he has read Aristotle.
He also pays attention to Louisiana. On November 28, 2017, he addressed problems in the state’s prisons, saying, “Look at their track record. I wouldn't hire these people to run a food truck. They don't even know where their inmates are.”
Kennedy’s lofty education — Vandy, UVa Law, Oxford — gave him an up-close and personal view of the credentialed class. He told the Washington Post, “You can find an analyst to say just about anything you want to say.
“Let me tell you about economic forecasting. There are 300 Ph.Ds and economists at the Fed, and not a single one of them called a meltdown in ’08. Economic forecasting around this place in the last 10 years — let's be fair, the last eight years — makes those psychic hotlines look reputable.”
Oh, this John Kennedy will never be president, but not every priest becomes a pope. The Lord needs more shepherds than pontiffs.
President Kennedy was inspirational. Unfortunately, one of the things he inspired was a book by Allen H. Loughry, a clerk in the West Virginia state Supreme Court. He wrote, Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid And Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia. Both John McCain and Robert Byrd wrote forewards to the book.
The book propelled Loughry’s political career. In 2012, the people elected him to the state Supreme Court as a reformer. His colleagues made him chief justice, where he made history by becoming the first chief justice in West Virginia to resign and go to prison as a federal jury convicted him on October 2, 2018, of seven counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of witness tampering and two counts of lying to the FBI. He spent nearly two years in prison.
I seriously doubt the new John Kennedy — the one from Louisiana — will inspire people to be anything but be straight-forward in both their words and their thinking.
Monday’s column is “Enough with black history month.”
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