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Tilting at Windmills

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May 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"BUT HE'S OUR SON OF A BITCH"....I'd never thought about this before, but inspired by an offhand comment here I went looking for the origin of the famous "son of a bitch" quote. Here are three contenders:

  • Reference.com: It was Roosevelt who made the often-quoted remark about the dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza: "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

  • Dick Morris: FDRs memorable characterization of Spains brutal dictator Francisco Franco: Sure hes a son of a bitch, but hes our son of a bitch.

  • Michael Wood: Rafael Lenidas Trujillo, long-term dictator of the Dominican Republic....The Americans supported him because, as Cordell Hull said, in a phrase since used countless times of other unappealing figures, 'he was a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch.'

Bottom line: we don't know who said it, who it was said of, or where it came from. Or whether anyone ever said it at all. Apparently the best we can do is this guy, who tracked it back to a 1966 biography of Trujillo written by Robert Crassweller. However, when he contacted the author, Crassweller told him that although the quote had "acquired a great deal of generality," he didn't have any way of tracking it down.

Yet another famous quote that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. How many more are there?

Kevin Drum 5:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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Comments

Dick Morris: FDRs memorable characterization of Spains brutal dictator Francisco Franco: Sure hes a son of a bitch, but hes our son of a bitch.

Dick Morris has made quite a career for himself talking out of his ass. Great grasp of history he has there.

Posted by: JeffII on May 16, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

One thing we know is that it will never be said of George W. Bush.

Posted by: Kenji on May 16, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Great quote by George w Bush From Brainy Quotes.

BrainyQuote.com

"The United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom."

Posted by: Al on May 16, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Kenji, maybe some former Bushites will say "He may be our son of a bitch, but he's still a son of a bitch."

Posted by: KCinDC on May 16, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

FDR would not have said that about Franco - we didn't control him or consider him an ally during FDR's lifetime. FDR's instincts were (as any patriotic American's should have been during the Spanish Civil War) anti-Franco and pro-republican, although there is little we could do about the situation as a government.
I've always heard it in reference to FDR/Somoza

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it originated in San Francisco when they signed Barry Bonds.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh on May 16, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

There was the famous quote by either Roosevelt or Truman about MacArthur: "I'd rather have him on the inside pissing out than the outside pissing in." Then again, it may never have been said at all.

Posted by: robertl on May 16, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Sure hes a son of a bitch, but hes our son of a bitch.

And I thought that this quote was attributed to a San Fransisco Giants fan.

Posted by: Keith G on May 16, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

OMG Doug

Great minds....

Posted by: Keith G on May 16, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Google check has this as an FDR quote all over the place.

The Wikipedia reference is a little warped, because it cites this in context of Somoza being anti-communist. FDR would have embraced him such as he did because of WWII concerns and before that pro-US business interests in Nicaraugua, with nothing to do with his later Cold War status.

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

there's the classic "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture", which i've heard most often attributed to Zappa, but to others, as well.

and, my favorite "shush, ____. the adults are talking now." it's from a memo pad in my kitchen.

Posted by: cleek on May 16, 2006 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

I have been looking for the original Kissinger quote "I never leakI declassify," but have had no success. Perhaps it was made up out of whole cloth.

robertl, I thought that quote was LBJ, though I don't know who they were talking about. Google says it was LBJ talking about Hoover, which is of course perfectly possible.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on May 16, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

I just realized why I don't like this blog. It's just a wonky game of Trivia and Jeopardy. I'm leaving. Bye.

Posted by: Sevenk on May 16, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

"well, he may be a fool, but he's our fool..."
--from "rednecks" by randy newman

Posted by: Jame on May 16, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm leaving. Bye.

bye. drive safe. call us when you get there.

Posted by: cleek on May 16, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I have been looking for the original Kissinger quote "I never leakI declassify," but have had no success. Perhaps it was made up out of whole cloth.

robertl, I thought that quote was LBJ, though I don't know who they were talking about. Google says it was LBJ talking about Hoover, which is of course perfectly possible.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on May 16, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Great quote by George w Bush From Brainy Quotes:

" 'The United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.' "

Um, Al, just because it's carved in metal on the furnace door doesn't mean it's anything more than, you know, boilerplate. Besides, ever syllable of that bland assertion is demonstrably wrong. ("See: NSA, abuse thereof" or "Gitmo, the full story".) The furnace people at least tell you the truth, instead of inspiring you with lies. But hey, whatever floats your lifeboat. Watch out for that 'berg!

Posted by: Kenji on May 16, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Bye, Sevenk. Don't let the door hitcha 'n' all ...

Cleek:

That's a Zappa quote. My other favorite of his:

Music journalism: People who can't think being interviewed by people who can't write for people who can't read.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on May 16, 2006 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know whose job is better. Kevin, who can research and write about this stuff for cash. Or the posters, who have the time who have the time to pay attention to this.

Posted by: lib on May 16, 2006 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

The second one is obviously wrong. Franco was never an ally of any sort during the FDR administration.

The third entry strikes me as most likely. Famous sayings by little-known people are often wrongly attributed to famous people. Additionally, Trujillo seems a more likely candidate for "our SOB" status than Somoza, whom the US supported much less energetically.

Posted by: ajl on May 16, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

I attributed it to Jerry Falwell talking about John McCain.

Posted by: gab on May 16, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

I see this quote all the time, and have no idea where it came from either.

"It's just a wonky game of Trivia and Jeopardy."

Posted by: Roger on May 16, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

There's a similar (possibly apocyryphal) quote from President Lyndon Johnson regarding why he didn't replace J. Edgar Hoover --

"I'd rather have him in the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

Posted by: Terry Ward on May 16, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it had something to do with Patton.

Posted by: cld on May 16, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Dick Morris: FDRs memorable characterization of Spains brutal dictator Francisco Franco: Sure hes a son of a bitch, but hes our son of a bitch."

This would make sense only if you completely ignored history. There was nothing about Franco that made him "our" son of a bitch at the time. He was too busy kissing the ass of Hitler & Mussolini.

I think Somoza more on target.

Posted by: liberalMinded on May 16, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

"You broke it you bought it."
"Discretion is the better part of valor."
"God helps those who help themselves."

Posted by: Catch22 on May 16, 2006 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

One thing we know is that it will never be said of George W. Bush.
Posted by: Kenji on May 16, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Behind closed doors, in the Israeli Knesset.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on May 16, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

"The road to tyranny, we must never forget, begins with the destruction of the truth" Bill Clinton in 1995
__________________________________________________

Would that include lying to a Federal Magistrate?

Posted by: Fish on May 16, 2006 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Here's another Hull/Trujillo citation:

US Secretary of State Cordell Hull summed up this attitude when he said of Trujillo, " He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch."

http://www.jlhs.nhusd.k12.ca.us/classes/soci ... merica/dominican_Republic.html

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

Would that include lying to a Federal Magistrate?
Posted by: Fish

About war and such, yes. But not when it's about a oral sex between consenting adults.

Posted by: JeffII on May 16, 2006 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

. . . or, it was said of Adolph Hitler by Henry Ford.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on May 16, 2006 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

President Bush may be a son of a bitch, but at least he's Guckert's bitch.

Posted by: Powerpuff on May 16, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Add Kennedy re Trujillo as another source.
Google the phrase is some combination with Trujillo or Somoza or Hall or FDR and you'll find this has never been resolved, but no one seems to find this mentioned before the 1960s. It has been the source of a lot of research.

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe."

Usually attributed to Einstein, but also to Benjamin Franklin, Bernard Baruch, and J. P. Morgan.

Posted by: penalcolony on May 16, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Check this link. Evidently a student wrote a report and attributed it to a book by Bernard Diederich. But if you read the book, it's not a quote. There's an earlier use in a 1966 book by Robert Crassweller. A guy named Louis Paulsen tracked down Crassweller, who's still alive, and Mr. Crassweller said that even in his time the quote had been attributed to both Roosevelt and to Hull as well as others.

So, it seems we don't know who first said it.

We can rule out Dick Morris' idea, because Franco was officially neutral, but in effect a Nazi ally, during WW2, and Roosevelt was not alive for the Cold War when Franco was officially neutral but an unofficial Western ally. Besides, "If Dick Morris said it, it's probably wrong" is a good algorithm to use.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 16, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Yet another famous quote that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. How many more are there?

Twelve.

Posted by: mk on May 16, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Love this one but never been able to find a valid source (right-wing reactionary sources lack the desired "validity")

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." - Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: daCascadian on May 16, 2006 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

It was said of George Bush by Ken Lay.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on May 16, 2006 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Said by Saddam Hussein about Donald Rumsfeld

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

Way to go, boys and girls. All of you calling aWol a SOB are now on the NO FLY list.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on May 16, 2006 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

There is also the controversey of the Benjamin Franklin quote of "those who would sacrifice essential liberty for temporary security. . ."

This quote was attributed to the Baron de Montesquieu, who was a contemporary of Franklin's, and were he to have moved to America, probably could be considered one of the Founding Fathers - he invented the concept of separation of powers (but he clung pretty firmly to classist, sexist, and racist litimus tests for citizenships or endowment of rights).

Though Montesquieu apparently wrote this quote first, Franklin was first to use it in English.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on May 16, 2006 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of Elvis Costello, this one I know is true.

"The reason most rock critics love Elvis Costello is that most rock critics look like Elvis Costello."

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

penalcolony >"...Usually attributed to Einstein, but also to Benjamin Franklin, Bernard Baruch, and J. P. Morgan."

and Maier Amschel Rothschild

probably more likely than any of the others except maybe Ben Franklin

"No place is so strongly fortified that money could not capture it." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Posted by: daCascadian on May 16, 2006 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

" 'tis better to be pissed off , than to be pissed on "
McCain airplane pilot / Falwell sky pilot.
If you seen one Son- Of - Bitch you've seen them all !

Posted by: APPLEJACK on May 16, 2006 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

I'd always seen that quote attributed to Truman.

File that Dick Morris attribution along with John Belushi's "when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor" (in Animal House) and this priceless bit from Jason Williams (the one who currently plays for the Miami Heat, not the one who killed his chauffeur):

"I will shoot all you Asian mother*******," said Williams while imitating machine gun fire. "Do you remember the Vietnam War? I'll kill y'all just like that. Just like Pearl Harbor, do you remember that?"
(source)

Posted by: kth on May 16, 2006 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

"The reason most rock critics love Elvis Costello is that most rock critics look like Elvis Costello."
Posted by: hopeless pedant

Perhaps. But most of them aren't fucking Diana Krall.

Posted by: JeffII on May 16, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

You can never be too rich or too thin.

Who said it.

Posted by: kathyp on May 16, 2006 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

You can never be too rich or too thin. Who said it. Posted by: kathyp

Either Christina Onassis or Karen Carpenter.

Posted by: JeffII on May 16, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Who said this? I can never remember:

Q: ...do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name? ...And, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

AUTHOR OF MYSTERY QUOTATION: Yes.

Posted by: shortstop on May 16, 2006 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm a Uniter not a Divider," apparently came out of Dumbya's ass.

Posted by: red_neck_repub on May 16, 2006 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Wallis Simpson (ex-King Edward's wife) seens to get credited with the thin/rich quote

Posted by: hopeless pedant on May 16, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

Who said this:

It is better to lose and not try than to win and fail?

Posted by: lib on May 16, 2006 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Then there's the one that could qualify as the current motto of the Bush Administration, "Anything you don't understand is trying to fuck with you". I've seen this in a number of places; the first person I can recall saying it was Jerry Garcia. I suspect the quote predates him, however.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on May 16, 2006 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Although I have played a modest role in spreading the meme, I've never been able to pin down the "It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes" line popularly attributed to Stalin. The earliest citation I could turn up was only about 25 years ago (in a tome by a disgruntled Soviet emigr), and close variants of sturdier provenance turn up to the credit of Anastasio Somoza in 1977 and Tom Stoppard in 1972. In connection with the same project I also came to suspect that the laws-and-sausages formulation we associate with Bismarck may not have been uttered by the Iron Chancellor. Who knew?

Posted by: Rand Careaga on May 16, 2006 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Too rich or too thin? That was Babe Paley, wife of the chairman of CBS back in the day,

Posted by: Rand Careaga on May 16, 2006 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

You can never be too rich or too thin.

Um, Karen Carpenter?

How about this catch all--

"The ______ from hell."

According to an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Richard Lewis used it first. I think it was to describe his mother.

Posted by: Ringo on May 16, 2006 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Like any good cliche it becomes more true in its statement than in its provenance. One can point to nearly any epoch since the post-Reconstruction and come up with an instance where we needed a "good" sonofabitch on the ground somewhere in the world to do our bidding. And if it was Trujillo to inspire the coinage, it was a little late in coming but also like Trujillo "our sonsabitches" tend to end up the same way.

Right Shah?

Posted by: paul on May 16, 2006 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think that son of a bitch quote could have been Nixon describing just about any member of his administration.

Posted by: Ringo on May 16, 2006 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

I thought the son of a bitch quote was by Bradley or Eisenhower about Pattton.

Posted by: natural cynic on May 16, 2006 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yet another famous quote that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. How many more are there?

There must be dozens of fake quotes circulating around attributed to Einstein, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. Pet peeve of mine.

Posted by: grytpype on May 16, 2006 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

See, there's this big state dinner and Eleanor Roosevelt asks the eastern European ambassador, "So, when did you last have an election?" and he blushes and sheepishly says, "Before blekfast."

(Bennett Cerf, I think.)

Posted by: David Weigel on May 16, 2006 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

"It's not who votes that counts; it's who counts the votes."

It is not by any means original to them, but it has been said most consequentially by William Rehnquist, Sandra O'Connor, Antoinin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Uncle Thomas.

Posted by: John in Nashville on May 16, 2006 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

"He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

As GHWB remarked to Barbara . . .

Posted by: rea on May 16, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Francisco Franco was never Franklin Roosevelt's son of a bitch. He was a friend and protege of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He disappointed them by staying out of WII, but he never helped Rossevelt at all. Years later, he became an ally of the Republican, Dwight Eisenhower.

Dick Morris is a brainless sack of garbage.

Posted by: Jim Nuccio on May 16, 2006 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, Google and other search engines are not going to be reliable on this -- what they track is the web, not the truth. As an experiment, I searched for a deliberate misquote of the Churchill/Lady Asquith spat -- "If you were my husband, I'd poison your coffee." "If you were my wife," quoth Sir Winston, "I'd drink it." I turned the coffee to tea and switched the poisoner from wife to husband. Scored a solid 1500 hits.

Please, contact your local reference librarian -- though the chat here is terrif!

Posted by: Jackson Braider on May 16, 2006 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

Re: the "inside the tent pissing out" quote. I had heard it was LBJ talking about George Ball, his anti-Vietnam foreign policy advisor. But according to Bartleby.com (http://www.bartleby.com/63/17/4617.html), it was LBJ talking about Hoover, and there's even a NYT cite.

Conservatives love to quote Pauline Kael saying of Nixon's re-election, "I can't believe he won; no one I know voted for him." Kael almost certainly never said it, though she did make a jokey reference in a Dec. 1972 speech that she didn't know a lot of Nixon voters (details, including another NYT cite, at Wikipedia -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_Kael)

Wikipedia also says George Smathers most likely never made the famous 1950 speech where he supposedly claimed Claude Pepper was an "extrovert" who "practiced celibacy before marriage" and whose sister was a "thespian". Time magazine reported that year that it was a "political yarn" circulating around, but none of the reporters covering the campaign mentioned it, and Smathers denied ever giving such a speech.

Posted by: Zorro for the Common Good on May 16, 2006 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, one more. The voter who allegedly sent a telegram to Herbert Hoover before the 1932 election: "Vote for Roosevelt and make it unanimous."

With the 'wingers in full revolt over Bush's immigration speech, that one seems rather appropriate right now. :-)

Posted by: Zorro for the Common Good on May 16, 2006 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I used the "he's our SOB" quote with regards to GWB. It was shortly after 9/11 and I was briefly hallcinating that he was competent enough to find bin Laden.

Posted by: mmy on May 17, 2006 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

Were Anastasio Somoza, Francisco Franco and Rafael Lenidas Trujillo actually brothers ? (you know, "...a bitch"; singular)

Posted by: D Joyce on May 17, 2006 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

I had always assumed it was said by FDR (or maybe Hull) about Trujillo. And by the way, let's not forget just how *much* of a son of a bitch Trujillo was--he killed many thousands of Haitian farmers in 1937 (their bodies were thrown into the appropriately named Massacre River). (A weird detail is that this was a modern version of the Biblical "shibboleth" story. To determine who was a Haitian, the Dominican soldiers held up some parsley, and asked "what is this?" Apparently the idea was that Creole-speaking Haitians had a hard time with the "r" so they said pelejil instead of perejil...)

But unlike Franco, he supported the US during World War II, which I suppose is where the "our son of a bitch" came from.

Posted by: David T on May 17, 2006 at 3:27 AM | PERMALINK

It's what my dad said before mom slapped him.

Posted by: godoggo on May 17, 2006 at 5:30 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for making me LOL at work, powerpuff, now my boss wants to have a word with me.

Posted by: gus on May 17, 2006 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

I was dissatisfied with this expression, "President Bush may be a son of a bitch, but at least he's Guckert's bitch."

I think I like "President Bush may be a son of a bitch, but he is Guckert's bitch," better, however it doesn't have the same meter as the original version. I do not like that 'at least' part, but it rolls off the tongue better. (No pun intended.)

Posted by: Powerpuff on May 17, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

"The reason most rock critics love Elvis Costello is that most rock critics look like Elvis Costello."
David Lee Roth said that.

Has anyone figured out who first said "For evil to triumph it is only necessary that good men do nothing." JFK used to say this all the time and attributed it to Edmund Burke. But nobody's ever found it in Burke's collected works. So it's dropped off the radar, which is too bad -- it's a good adage.

Posted by: Xboy on May 17, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

When I was a young teen, I remember mu Mothers sharp intake of breath when President Regan referred to a reporter as a son of a bitch. Apparently back then there was such a thing as displaying decorum and comportment while in the office of the President.

But hey, America loves folksy.

Posted by: Eric Paulsen on May 18, 2006 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: fsdfsdfsd on May 18, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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