Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy
"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" was a remark made during the 1988 United States vice-presidential debate by Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Republican vice-presidential candidate Senator Dan Quayle in response to Quayle's mentioning the name of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. Since then, the words "You're no Jack Kennedy," or some variation on the remark, have become a part of the political lexicon as a way to deflate politicians or other individuals perceived as thinking too highly of themselves. Michael Dukakis (the Democratic presidential candidate) and Bentsen later went on to lose the 1988 United States presidential election to George H. W. Bush and Quayle, who thus became Vice President of the United States.
The debate was held on October 5, 1988, at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska. One of the moderators, Judy Woodruff, set the stage by addressing the audience: "Based on the history since World War II, there is almost a 50–50 chance that one of the two men here tonight will become President of the United States." She was referring to the probability that the man elected vice president would later become president, either by succession or by a presidential bid. Eventually, as of 2020, neither man ascended to the presidency; Bentsen died in 2006, and Quayle would make only one bid for the Republican presidential nomination, an unsuccessful one in 2000.
After Quayle became Bush's vice-presidential running mate, questions were raised in the press about his age (he was 41 at the time); his limited term of service in the Senate; his grades in college; his National Guard duty (which Democrats claimed helped him avoid serving in the military during the Vietnam War); and his overall ability to lead the nation in the case of the incapacitation of the president, which became a central issue in the 1988 debate.
Three days [before the debate], in rehearsal, [Bentsen] had been shocked when the Dan Quayle stand-in compared himself to Jack Kennedy. "Does he really do that?", Bentsen asked at the time. He did. "Can I say something?", Bentsen, ever the gentleman, asked us. We nodded enthusiastically. So as we sat backstage, and heard Quayle compare himself to Kennedy, I turned to the key supporters gathered in the holding room and said, "Here it comes." And it did.
Quayle did not directly compare himself with Kennedy in terms of accomplishment, but in terms of length of Congressional service; Quayle served for 12 years while Kennedy served for 14. When Kennedy successfully sought the Democratic nomination in 1960, he had less experience than his primary opponents, most of whom had more seniority in the Senate. While it was a statement of fact, some of Quayle's advisors suggested that this comparison could cause trouble.
The relevant portion of a transcript of the 1988 vice-presidential debates from the Commission on Presidential Debates:
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: (Admonishing applauders) 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.
Quayle's reaction to Bentsen's comment was played and replayed by the Democrats in their subsequent television ads as an announcer intoned: "Quayle: just a heartbeat away." It proved sure-laugh fodder for comedians, and more and more editorial cartoons depicted Quayle as a child. Saturday Night Live used a child actor to portray Quayle in several sketches.
Avoiding going head-to-head with a seasoned Bentsen, Quayle had spent the debate criticizing presidential nominee Michael Dukakis as too liberal. Quayle felt that he had successfully got that message across since Bentsen did not defend Dukakis.
Four years later at the 1992 Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan answered claims by Bill Clinton's campaign, while 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."
At the 1992 US vice presidential debate during his opening statement, Democratic nominee Al Gore took a humorous shot at Dan Quayle over the Jack Kennedy comparison. Quayle was running for re-election and trying to make up for his performance in the 1988 debate. Gore was also taking a shot at President George Bush's comparisons of the accomplishments of his administration to that of Harry Truman. Gore said to Quayle, "I'll make you a deal this evening. If you don't try to compare George Bush to Harry Truman, I won't compare you to Jack Kennedy." The audience reacted with laughter.
In 2008, 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 United States presidential campaign, "Where is Lloyd Bentsen when you need him? 'I knew Ronald Reagan ... senator (or governor), you're no Ronald Reagan.'"
At the 2012 US vice presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden made a similar statement in reaction to Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's citation of a policy taken by President Kennedy. Biden quipped at Ryan, "Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy?" to laughter.
At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, former Reagan administration official Doug Elmets, referencing the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, stated, "I'm here tonight to say: I knew Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan."
On November 25, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted on Twitter, comparing herself to the character C. J. Cregg from The West Wing on an incident involving a situation where the White House was receiving one of the White House Thanksgiving turkeys set to be pardoned by President Donald Trump. After her tweet, actor Bradley Whitford, who portrayed White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on the show, replied saying "I know C.J. Cregg. C.J. Cregg is a friend of mine. You're no C.J. Cregg." Actress Allison Janney, who played C.J. in the series, also replied, thanking Whitford for his sentiment.
Following a contested election that ousted Donald Trump from office in 2020 and in response to a NY Times article "The Post-Presidency of a Con Man" by Michelle Goldberg (column, Nov.15) which included a full page illustration of a Trump / Alfred E Neuman morph, long-time MAD magazine editor John Ficarra editor published a letter in the Times which read, “As the editor of MAD magazine for almost 35 years, I was shocked, disappointed and outraged to see President Trump visually compared to Mad's gap-tooth grinning idiot mascot, the ‘What, me worry’ kid, Alfred E. Neuman. I worked with Alfred E. Neuman. I knew Alfred E. Neuman. Alfred E. Neuman was a friend of mine. Donald Trump is no Alfred E. Neuman!"
In October 2012, at the UK Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Foreign Secretary William Hague made a response to a speech that Labour leader Ed Miliband had given at his own party conference in the previous week, in which Miliband compared his party with Benjamin Disraeli's One Nation Conservatism ideology. Hague said, "To borrow a turn of phrase, we were led by Disraeli, our predecessors knew Disraeli, Disraeli was a Conservative through and through, and, Ed Miliband, you are no Disraeli."
In June 2017, after the Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar nominated former attorney general Maire Whelan as a judge to the Court of Appeals and was accused of pressuring President Michael D. Higgins to sign off on her confirmation, he claimed appointments like this have precedent such as in the cases of Frank Clarke, Adrian Hardiman and Donal O'Donnell. Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin claimed it "stunk to high heaven" and quipped "with the greatest of respect, Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke, is no Adrian Hardiman, and is no Donal O'Donnell."
On June 10, 2019 Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland, grandson of former NDP leader and Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, posted a statement on Twitter, directed at Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford and responding to Lisa Macleod, a Minister in Ford's government, comparing their government's provincial budget to Douglas's fiscal record. The statement included the phrase, “I knew Tommy Douglas and you Sir, are no Tommy Douglas”.
Parodies and popular media
References to and parodies of the famous quotation have often appeared in popular culture.
- On an episode of Saturday Night Live, several candidates for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States were debating each other at a time when President George H. W. Bush was enjoying enormous popularity in the polls. All of the candidates tried to make the other ones look good since no one wanted to face Bush in the election. At one point, Bentsen, played by host Kiefer Sutherland, remarked, "I knew Jack Kennedy, I worked with Jack Kennedy. I am no Jack Kennedy."
- In the Disney film George of the Jungle, during the wedding, Ursula's mother (Holland Taylor) —pouting over multiple appearances of gorillas — complains to her husband, "Arthur, I wish you could do something about these monkeys. I feel like Jane Goodall". Ape (voiced by John Cleese) replies, "Madam, I knew Jane Goodall, and you are no Jane Goodall."
- In the Night Court episode "This Old Man", Dan Fielding (John Larroquette), while running for the New York State Assembly, spends the night with a wealthy woman who claims to have (for similar prurient reasons) donated a large sum to John F. Kennedy's campaign; the next morning, Dan is outraged to receive a pittance in the mail, along with a note: "Dear Dan, you're no Jack Kennedy."
- In the 30 Rock episode "There's No I in America", Jack Donaghy tells Liz Lemon in a presidential-style debate: "Miss Lemon, I know Scottie Pippen. I own a Fuddruckers with Scottie Pippen. And you, sir, look like Scottie Pippen."
- In the Ugly Betty episode "Giving Up the Ghost", while chewing out Amanda, Sheila tells her, "I knew Fey Sommers. I worked with Fey Sommers. I once made out with Fey Sommers. You are no Fey Sommers." (Fey was the late editor of Mode, the magazine Betty worked for.)
- On the episode "Secret Society" of Justice League, The Flash attempts to interrogate a thug by dangling him off the ledge of a building. The thug jibes, "Who do you think you are, Batman? Look, buddy, I know Batman, I once ratted out a counterfeiter to Batman, and believe me, you are no Batman."
- In the 2001 film Black Knight, Martin Lawrence's character Jamal gives a speech criticizing one of the film's antagonists, saying, "King Leo. He thinks he's King Arthur. Well I know King Arthur. And you, King Leo, are no King Arthur!"
- The Megadeth song "I Know Jack" from the album The System Has Failed contains the soundbite.
- In the Rugrats episode "Spike Runs Away", Tommy says to Chuckie, "Chuckie, I knew Spike, Spike was a friend of mine. And let me tell you, that poodle is no Spike!"
- In the 1999 film Olive, the Other Reindeer, Olive compares herself to other reindeer, causing her friend, Martini, to utter "Listen, Olive, I worked with reindeer. Reindeer are friends of mine. You, Olive, are no reindeer"
- In the 2002 film The Santa Clause 2, after the Tooth Fairy is caught by Scott Calvin, who is trying to return to the North Pole, Scott tries to tell him that he is Santa. The Tooth Fairy replies, "I know Santa. Santa is a friend. And you sir, are no Santa."
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- E.J. Dionne, Jr. (August 23, 1988). "Reopening an Old Wound; Quayle's Guard Duty in Vietnam War Era Puts the Focus Again on". NY Times.
- "'Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy' almost didn't happen. How it became the biggest VP debate moment in history". Los Angeles Times. October 4, 2016.
- Susan Estrich: "The Debates", Newsmax September 2004 (copy at the Internet Archive)
- Germond & Witcover 1989:440.
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- Kroll, Katy (August 18, 2014). "Public Meltdowns and Profane Dames: 20 Off-the-Hook Emmy Moments". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- Goldstein, Joel K. (January 17, 2017). "A reassessment: Dan Quayle as vice president". Indy Star. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- E. J. Dionne Jr. (November 9, 1988). "The 1988 Elections; Bush is Elected by a 6-5 Margin With Solid G.O.P. Base in South; Democrats Hold Both Houses How the Poll Was Taken". The New York Times.
- Toner, Robin (August 18, 1992). "In Their Own Words: The Overview; Bush Vows A Tough Campaign As G.O.P. Opens Its Convention". The New York Times.
- "THE 1992 CAMPAIGN; Excerpts From the Debate Among Quayle, Gore and Stockdale". The New York Times. October 14, 1992.
- "CPD: October 13, 1992 Debate Transcript". www.debates.org.
- Broder, John M. (January 20, 2008). "The Gipper Gap: In Search of Reagan". The New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- O'Brien, Michael (October 11, 2012). "Biden plays aggressor in debate as Ryan makes GOP case". NBC Politics. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- Easley, Jonathan (July 28, 2016). "Former Reagan official to Trump: 'You are no Ronald Reagan'". The Hill. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- Sinclair, Harrietr (November 25, 2017). "West Wing Cast Hits Out At Sarah Huckabee Sanders: 'You're no C.J. Cregg'". Newsweek. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- Ficarra, John (November 24, 2020). "'Donald Trump Is No Alfred E. Neuman!'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
- "Conservative conference: Miliband no Disraeli, says Hague". BBC News. October 7, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
- O'Regan, Michael (June 20, 2017). "Taoiseach defends new judge amid Micheal Martin criticism". Irish Times. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
- "Ugly Betty ". Quotes. Retrieved October 22, 2016.[better source needed]
- "My Favorite Quotes From "Ugly Betty". Ugly Is The New Beautiful. Retrieved October 22, 2016.[better source needed]
- Germond, Jack W.; Witcover, Jules (1989). Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency 1988. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-39187-5.
- Holley, Joe (May 24, 2006). "Lloyd Bentsen; Texas Senator, Vice Presidential Candidate". The Washington Post. p. B06. (Obituary.)
- "You are no Jack Kennedy". A video excerpt from the 1988 vice presidential debate.