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President Obama Could Have Topped 'Mama' Joke With 'That's What She Said'

By Mark Konkol | February 12, 2016 5:37am
 President Barack Obama made a
President Barack Obama made a "mama" joke in reference to mudslinging about President Andrew Jackson's mother in his speech to Illinois lawmakers lobbying for political civility.
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CHICAGO — President Barack Obama came to Illinois Wednesday to push for more civility and cooperation in politics, and he did it with grace, humor and a pretty decent “mama” joke.

He pointed out that no matter how nasty the name-calling and dirty language has been during this year’s presidential primary races, our founding fathers were even less civilized on the campaign trail.

“Thomas Jefferson’s opponent insisted he was a Muslim. So, I’m in good company,” Obama riffed, also ticking off the horrible things people said about President Abraham Lincoln. (They called Lincoln the obscene ape of Illinois and Obama's favorite, a facetious pettifogger, whatever that means.)

Obama also said, “I don’t even want to tell you what Andrew Jackson’s opponent said about his mama.”

The “mama” line got big laughs.

It made me wonder what a “Yo Mama” joke was like in the 1820s, so I looked it up.

The attacks made on our seventh president’s mother weren't teasing at all. They ranked atop a list of the “Ten Most Awesome Presidential Mudslinging Moves Ever” compiled by journalist Mac McClelland for Mother Jones in 2008.

They offered a history lesson that made it clear to me that Obama could have slayed the political crowd in Springfield with an even better zinger. All he had to do was spill the beans on the nasty things said on the 1828 campaign trail ... and steal a classic line from a legendary sitcom character.

According to McClelland's column, during the 1829 presidential race supporters of John Quincy Adams called Jackson’s late mother a “common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers,” after whose service she “married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children of which General JACKSON IS ONE!!!"

(Which, if true, could mean President Obama wasn’t America’s first African-American president after all. But let's not get distracted.)

The harsh words certainly illustrate that the things people said about Jackson's dead mother back then trump, so to speak, the nasty names and dirty words bleeped from the mouths of certain presidential candidates this year.

As things turn out, Elizabeth Jackson's supposed last words offer great advice on civility and possibly a better zinger in the context of Obama's speech.

President Jackson considered his mother’s final message to him “the law” of his life.

And these days, while our Democratic mayor and Republican governor lock themselves in a nasty standoff that leaves our city teetering on the brink of financial oblivion, it’s advice worth sharing.

Jackson’s mama told him:

Andrew, if I should not see you again, I wish you to remember and treasure up some things I have already said to you: In this world you will have to make your own way.

To do that you must have friends. You can make friends by being honest, and you can keep them by being steadfast. You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you.

To forget an obligation or be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime — not merely a fault or a sin, but an actual crime. Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty.

In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious. None will respect you more than you respect yourself.

Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always.

Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man.

Never wound the feelings of others. Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings. If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly.

If angry at first, wait until your wrath cools before you proceed.

That's more inspiring and powerful than funny.

But President Obama could have used his dry comedic timing and slipped in the perfect punch line to keep things light.

You know … “That’s what she said.”

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