Theo Lippman Jr.


December 12, 1992

THE NEW edition of America's favorite quotation book is out, and Maryland's greatest son is in it at last.

And depending on how you look at it, he's either quoted out of context or he's misquoted.

I refer, of course, to Spiro Theodore Agnew, elected and %J re-elected vice president of the United States in 1968 and 1972. No Marylander ever rose higher than he.

The book is "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations." General Editor Justice Kaplan chose not only Agnew, but also John Nance Garner and J. Danforth Quayle for inclusion in this the 16th edition.

That raises the total of vice presidents (who never became presidents) in the book to seven, from the four in the 15th edition published in 1980: John C. Calhoun, Thomas R. Marshall, Henry A. Wallace and Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

I doubt if the quotes attributed to Calhoun, Wallace and Humphrey are in fact familiar to any but the most dedicated of political trivialists. The entry for Marshall (v.p. 1913-1921), however, is known far and wide. He was presiding over the Senate one day while long-winded senators droned on about "the country needs this," "the country needs that," blah, blah, blah. And Marshall leaned over to John Crockett, the chief clerk of the Senate, and said, "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."

Agnew's quote in the new Bartlett's is, "To some extent, if you've seen one city slum, you've seen them all." It says he said that in Detroit in an "election campaign speech" on Oct. 18, 1968.

Wrong. He said it in a Detroit television studio interview. I was there, and I can tell you that what he actually said, in answer to a question about why he was not going to campaign in urban slums, was, "I didn't say I would not go into ghetto areas. I've been in many of them. To some extent I would have to say this: If you've seen one city slum, you've seen them all."

Slightly but importantly different. In context and fully quoted, Agnew does not come across as aloof and uncaring about the poor as the Bartlett's version makes him appear. Or so it seems to me.

Now, some conservatives will probably read this and believe the Justin Kaplans of the world want to make the Agnews look bad. Such conservatives will have their paranoia whetted (do you whet paranoia?) by the Dan Quayle quote in Bartlett's. It, too, casts a Republican vice president in a less than flattering light.

Quayle's entry is just a footnote to a main entry: "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste" (United Negro College Fund advertising slogan, 1972.) The footnote: "What a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to to have a mind is very wasteful." (Quayle to the UNCF, May, 1989.)

But it's the John Nance Garner entry that is the most interesting and shocking item in the new Bartlett's.

Thursday: Not worth a pitcher of warm what?

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