This probably isn’t true for most people, but I can seldom think of President Dwight Eisenhower without thinking of Bob Hope, a comedian of rare talent who also played a more than respectable game of golf.
Eisenhower, of course, directed the D-Day invasion that led to the defeat of Germany and the end of World War II. He also served as president for two terms. I went from second grade through sophomore year in high school while he was president. He was a war hero who looked like everybody’s grandpa, and whether he was a great president or not, he was one I admired a great deal.
You want to know how strong my childhood admiration of the man was? Strong enough that just a few years ago, when Nancy had surgery in Denver, I was excited because from her hospital room window we could see the original Fitzsimmons Army Hospital where President Eisenhower spent more than a week recovering from a heart attack. When’s the last time you felt that strongly about a president?
I didn’t even care that Ike played a lot of golf. It’s my understanding that he was a pretty decent golfer. So was Bob Hope, and the two men played several rounds together during the course of Eisenhower’s time in office. That’s how I came to associate the two names as a young person. I’d see a black-and-white news photograph in the newspaper, with Hope and Ike teeing off or finishing out a round, and I’d be pretty happy that they were having a good time. I was too young to mope around griping, “Well, when is the guy going to get at the budget, anyway?’’
Ike said golf helped relax him, although I think Hope once said that if a person finds golf relaxing, they aren’t doing it right. Hope made a lot of golf jokes. He played golf with several presidents during his lifetime, and he made a lot of jokes about their golf games.
Of Eisenhower, Hope once said the president gave up golf for painting because it required fewer strokes. He also said, “If President Eisenhower slices the budget the way he slices a golf ball, the nation has nothing to worry about.’’
Ike wasn’t Hope’s only target. He poked a lot of fun at President Gerald Ford, who once hit a drive that struck a spectator standing along the fairway. Everybody in my age range remembers Ford striking a spectator with a golf ball. I honestly can’t remember whether he did it once or several times. Didn’t matter. It became a thing associated with Ford, and Hope got a lot of mileage out of it.
The thing is, the kind of jokes Hope used with Eisenhower, as I recall, were gentle digs. The gags clearly were good-natured, intended to result in a few hearty laughs but not intended to hurt the object of the joke. These days, many of the jokes told about presidents – and pretty much anyone else, for that matter – are primarily intended to wound. This is just my thought, and you can disagree at will, but too many of the jokes and other public comments are intended to “own’’ somebody.
You hear a lot about “owning’’ one group or another. Something is said or done not necessarily because it’s a good thing to say or do but instead because it will bring a reaction from someone else, whether the reaction is anger, disgust, sorrow or disbelief. It doesn’t matter, as long as the person saying or doing the thing “owns’’ some other person or group. The goal is to upset someone by what you say or do.
It’s pretty difficult to have a rational discussion about any significant public issue if the goal of one side is to own the other side. That’s kind of how things seem to stand in the country today. I can’t see how that’s going to change anytime soon.
Looking back, you could say Bob Hope’s golf jokes owned President Eisenhower. It never felt that way, though. I’d really like it if we could get back to those times.