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Presidents Day 2012: Carter's raging rabbit, Reagan's bean trick

February 20, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Ronald Reagan, with Bill Clinton in 1992, said you could judge a man by the way he chose his jelly beans.
Ronald Reagan, with Bill Clinton in 1992, said you could judge a man by the…

Presidents Day 2012 is a day to officially remember our first president, George Washington – cherry tree lore and all. But while we’re at it, let’s take a look at the lore of a few other American leaders. There’s plenty to be found.

President Reagan will always be remembered for reaching  an arms-reduction treaty with the Soviet Union and for helping to make it possible for Mikhail Gorbachev to begin restructuring Soviet society.

But his unintentionally funny lines are also memorable. Reagan said at the 1988 Republican National Convention: "Facts are stupid things." He was attempting to quote the John Adams line "Facts are stubborn things."

The Gipper also talked about why he liked to have jelly beans on hand at meetings: "You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful."

President Carter, human rights champion, "provided Americans with an ideal model of post-presidential life," says the University of Virginia's Miller Center.  His work as a mediator in international crises is legend.

Another legend: Jimmy Carter and the Swamp Rabbit.

Carter was fishing in a rowboat in Plains, Ga., in 1979 and used his paddle to splash a rabbit that was swimming toward his boat. Carter's press secretary Jody Powell shared the rabbit story with members of the press "in a bar after a lot of drinking had gone on," the former president told CNN.

In his book "The Other Side of the Story," Powell's passion for the tale is apparent:

"The animal was clearly in distress, or perhaps berserk. The president confessed to having had limited experience with enraged rabbits. He was unable to reach a definite conclusion about its state of mind. What was obvious, however, was that this large, wet animal, making strange hissing noises and gnashing its teeth, was intent upon climbing into the presidential boat."

The Washington Post put the story on its front page: "President Attacked by Rabbit." Powell said in the book that the fallout was a "nightmare," with the press picking up the killer rabbit story and pushing it for more than a week.

More than three decades later, the swamp rabbit lives on, as does this tale about President Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was giving a speech, only to be continually interrupted by a heckler. In "Political Humor: From Aristophanes to Sam Ervin," Charles Scutz called the man a "drunk, who kept shouting, 'I'm a Democrat.' Roosevelt finally addressed the drunk man, 'May I ask the gentleman why he is a Democrat?' " 

The man said his grandfather was a Democrat, his father was a Democrat and, thus, he was a Democrat -- a pretty good explanation for a man who'd had far too much to drink.  Roosevelt was said to have replied: "Suppose your grandfather had been a jackass, and your father had been a jackass, what would you be?"

The reply:  A Republican.

Republicans, likely, would hope that this and other tales would fade away with time.

What stories might Democrats like to forget? Well, there's the one about the Clintons leaving the White House with a needlepoint rug, kitchen table and chairs, sofas and etc. -- much of which they ended up either paying for or shipping back to the White House.

Were they gifts or donations to the White House? Either way, it's one incident many might prefer just to sweep under the needlepoint rug.

ALSO:

Election 2012 on Politics Now

No lie: It's Washington's Birthday, not Presidents Day

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