Political Quotes You Need to Know

The political quotes that stick with us years, and even decades, later are the ones spoken in the midst of this nation's victories, scandals, and conflicts. They were spoken at the end of the Cold War, at the height of the Watergate scandal, and as the nation was tearing itself apart.​

'I Am Not a Crook'

Richard Nixon on a television screen

Keystone / Getty Images

On Nov. 17, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon uttered what has become one of the most famous political one-liners in American political history. The embattled Republican was denying his involvement in the scandal of all scandals, the one that led to his impeachment and resignation from the White House: Watergate.

Here's what Nixon said in his own defense that day:

"I made my mistakes, but in all of my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service—I earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I could say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got."

'The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself'

President Franklin Roosevelt looks at a stamp with a magnifying glass

Corbis / Getty Images

These famous words were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address when the nation was in a depression. The full quote is:

"This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

'I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman'

Bill Clinton
Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of scandals, a close runner-up to Nixon's "I am not a crook" is President Bill Clinton's denial of an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Said Clinton to the nation: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." He later admitted that he did, and was impeached by the House of Representatives for reasons including perjury and witness tampering related to the Lewinsky affair.

Here's what Clinton told the American people early on:

"I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people."

'Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall'

President Ronald Reagan
Public Domain

In June 1987, President Ronald Reagan called on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall and between eastern and western Europe. Reagan, speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, said:

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

'Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You'

John F. Kennedy
SuperStock / Getty Images

President John F. Kennedy called on Americans to serve their fellow countrymen in the face of threats from other parts of the world during his 1961 inaugural speech. He sought to "forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind."

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

'You're No Jack Kennedy'

Lloyd Bentsen
U.S. Congress

One of the greatest and most famous political lines in campaign history was uttered during a 1988 vice presidential debate between Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle and Democratic U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

In response to questions about Quayle's experience, Quayle claimed to have had as much experience in Congress as Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

Responded Bentsen:

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

'Government of the People, by the People, for the People'

Abraham Lincoln

Alexander Gardner / Library of Congress

President Abraham Lincoln delivered these famous lines in the Gettysburg Address, in November 1863. Lincoln was speaking during the Civil War at a battle site where Union armies had defeated those of the Confederacy, and some 8,000 soldiers had been killed.

"It is...for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

'Nattering Nabobs of Negativism'

Vice President Spiro T. Agnew

 Wally McNamee / Getty Images

The term "nattering nabobs of negativism" is used often by politicians to describe the so-called "jackals" of the media who are persistent in writing about their every gaffe and misdeed. But the phrase originated with a White House speechwriter for Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew used the phrase at a California GOP convention in 1970:

"In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."

'Read My Lips: No New Taxes'

George H.W. Bush

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful George H.W. Bush uttered these famous lines while accepting his party's nomination at the 1988 Republican national convention. The phrase helped elevate Bush to the presidency, but he actually raised taxes while in the White House. He lost re-election to Clinton in 1992 after the Democrat used Bush's own words against him.

Here's the full quote from Bush:

"My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.'"

'Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick'

President Theodore Roosevelt

Culture Club / Getty Images

President Theodore Roosevelt used the phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick" to describe his foreign policy philosophy.

Said Roosevelt:

"There is a homely adage which runs 'Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.' If the American nation will speak softly and yet build and keep at a pitch of highest training a thoroughly efficient Navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far."
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Murse, Tom. "Political Quotes You Need to Know." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/political-quotes-you-need-to-know-3368195. Murse, Tom. (2021, July 31). Political Quotes You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/political-quotes-you-need-to-know-3368195 Murse, Tom. "Political Quotes You Need to Know." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/political-quotes-you-need-to-know-3368195 (accessed March 27, 2023).

Watch Now: Overview: The Berlin Wall