A couple of days ago I was discussing some quotations with a friend when he raised one: “Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.” I had heard it before but I confess that I did not know who said it and that I had only sketchy knowledge of the circumstances in which it had been said. Hence some internet research which provided not only the relevant information but also some laughs.
The words were spoken in 1988 during a Vice-Presidential debate by Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Republican vice-presidential candidate Senator Dan Quayle.
At the beginning of the debate, moderator Judy Woodruff had stated “Based on the history since World War 11, there is almost a 50-50 chance that one of the two men here tonight will become President of the United States." Woodruff was referring to the probability that the man elected Vice President would later become President, either by death or resignation of the president, or by election, based on presidential histories since WW11.
Senator Quayle’s campaign had been marked by issues of his youth (he was aged 41), his inexperience, his mistakes and nhis ability to lead the nation if anything should happen to the president.
Quayle had previously compared himself to President John F Kennedy previously but, in fairness to Quayle, on this occasion he did not compare himself to Kennedy in terms of accomplishments and ability but in terms of the period served in Congress. Quayle served for 12 years while Kennedy served for 14.
A transcript of the relevant exchange is:
Tom Brokaw: Senator Quayle, I don't mean to beat this drum until it has no more sound in it. But to follow up on Brit Hume’s question, when you said that it was a hypothetical situation, it is, sir, after all, the reason that we're here tonight, because you are running not just for Vice President — (Applause) — and if you cite the experience that you had in Congress, surely you must have some plan in mind about what you would do if it fell to you to become President of the United States, as it has to so many Vice Presidents just in the last 25 years or so.Quayle: Let me try to answer the question one more time. I think this is the fourth time that I've had this question.Brokaw: The third time.Quayle: Three times that I've had this question — and I will try to answer it again for you, as clearly as I can, because the question you're asking is, "What kind of qualifications does Dan Quayle have to be president," "What kind of qualifications do I have," and "What would I do in this kind of a situation?" And what would I do in this situation? [...] I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.Judy Woodruff: Senator [Bentsen]?Bentsen: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy. (Prolonged shouts and applause.) What has to be done in a situation like that is to call in the —Woodruff: Please, please, once again you are only taking time away from your own candidate.Quayle: That was really uncalled for, Senator. (Shouts and applause.)Bentsen: You are the one that was making the comparison, Senator — and I'm one who knew him well. And frankly I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.
You can view the shorter version at:
It is well worth the view. Click on the above link to see it.
Bentsen's comment was played and replayed by the Democrats in television ads as an announcer declared "Quayle: just a heartbeat away." Nonetheless the Bush-Quayle ticket won the election.
At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan was challenged by a Clinton-Gore ticket. Reagan answered comments by Clinton that had invoked Thomas Jefferson, at the same time poking fun at his own age, by saying "This fellow they've nominated claims he's the new Thomas Jefferson. Well, let me tell you something. I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine. And governor, you're no Thomas Jefferson.”
Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis paraphrased the quotation in reference to a number of Presidential candidates invoking her father's name during the 2008 Presidential campaign: "Where is Lloyd Bentsen when you need him? I knew Ronald Reagan... Senator, you're no Ronald Reagan.”