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Old 05 May 2007, 05:36 AM
Steve Steve is offline
Join Date: 19 October 2002
Location: Charleston, SC
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Default He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch

I've heard that FDR said this about Somoza. I've heard that Acheson said this about Tito. And I've heard that Dulles said it about some unspecified dictator.

Anyone know its origin?
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Old 06 May 2007, 01:52 PM
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Bonnie Bonnie is offline
Join Date: 01 January 1970
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Posts: 144

Well, Steve, it may be an old board, but at least it's our old board,

I think it's hard to know if FDR or Hull or Acheson or Dulles ever used really this line in anything but jest toward any number of dictators of the time (and even then there doesn't seem to be any strong evidence linking any of them to the quip), but KathyB made a good point in that earlier thread by bringing up the Stevens anecdote.

An excerpt of J.C. Franklin's The New Dealers, published by Simon & Schuster in 1934 [1], was printed in The Washington Post early that year. There, the general anecdote (involving unnamed politicians) appears this way,

After the Chicago Convention, Gen. Hugh Johnson, who had worked hard with Barney Baruch to stop Roosevelt, was asked what he thought of his nomination. Johnson replied by recalling a story of a county convention of Democrats in which the wrong man had been chosen. Driving home from the meeting, two politicians were comparing notes. Both had opposed the successful candidate. One said to the other, "Damn it all! We should never have let them put Blank over. He's a So and So!" The other man sighed and said nothing for a long time. Then he cheered up. "After all," he observed. "Blank isn't so bad. He's our So and So." [12 February 1934, Pg. 1]
Which at least harkens back to Thaddeus Stevens's "which one is our damned rascal?" version, which had appeared in U.S. newspapers at least as early as 1877. In fact, a version from 1882 already bears the now familiar delivery,

"He's a damned rascal," said Thad. Stevens bluntly on a similar occasions, "but as he's *our* damned rascal we must put him in."
[From "Credit Where It Belongs," The Washington Post, 22 July, Pg. 2.]
My guess is that an anecdote involving "he's a _____, but he's our _____" was already familiar to political types in the early part of the 20th century. Giving credit, then, to Hull or FDR for originating the line (and then using it with regard to Trujillo or Somoza or anyone else) would've been a stretch. And given the chronology I don't think there's any reason to credit Acheson or Dulles.

In the end, I think the suggestion in the previous thread is a good one: I think it's likely that someone (perhaps just for fun) recycled an earlier anecdote, attributing the line to a named President or to his Secretary of State.

-- Bonnie

[1] FDR appointed Hull as Secretary of State when he took office in 1933. Trujillo and Somoza came to power in 1930 and 1936, respectively. Acheson and Dulles served as Secretaries of State after WWII.

[2] For what it's worth, the earliest linking of FDR, Hull, Acheson, or Dulles to the quip itself that I've managed to find comes from Drew Pearson's 30 April 1952 column for The Washington Post ("President Somoza to Visit Here," p. B15),

Note -- President Roosevelt, less worried about dictators than Harry Truman, officially invited President Somoza to Washington. "He may be an S.O.B.," said FDR, "but he's our S.O.B."
At the same time, however, William S. White was confidently using the "unnamed politician" version in a column for the New York Times Sunday Magazine (8 June, Pg. SM13) a couple months later,

[T]here is the incident, often considered apocryphal but an incident that in this writer's own knowledge in fact occurred at least once, of an exchange between a professional politician and a reformer follower. The reformer, discovering to his shock that a supposedly unworthy local character of one day had become a faithful campaign associate of the next, complained to the Boss:

"Why, you told me a week ago that fellow was an S.O.B."

"Yes, son," said the Boss, "but now he's our S.O.B."
And a short piece written in 1948 on the death of Senator James Watson [Indiana], the "last Republican majority leader in the Senate before the Roosevelt era," also includes the "unnamed politician" version.

Senator Watson used to tell a story of Uncle Joe which shall be our contribution to the stock of reminiscences about Jim Watson. One day in the House the Speaker spoke about a party man as a deserving appointee for some vacant post. "But you couldn't recommend him," said young Watson. "He's a so-and-so." "Yes, he may be," said Uncle Joe, "but, my boy, he's our so-and so, isn't he?" [From "James E. Watson," The Washington Post, 3 August 1948, Pg. 10.]
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