'Politics ain't beanbag'

The phrase dates back to 1895, when writer Finley Peter Dunne used it as a quote from his fictional character Mr. Dooley, an Irishman who pontificated on the day’s issues from a Chicago pub. Pundits and politicians keep it alive because it still fits the times.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Freshman Jordan Baker jumps into a bean bag chair during a Rock the Vote road trip bus tour on the University of North Carolina's Charlotte campus on Sept. 5, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. Rock the Vote encourages young people to become register to vote. The bean bag (chair) may be an unintentional reference to a classic metaphor in US politics.

"Politics ain't beanbag." It's the archaic way of saying “life is rough; get over it” to a politician who receives bruising treatment from opponents, critics, or the media. A beanbag, obviously, doesn’t hurt when you throw it at someone.

It dates back to 1895, when writer Finley Peter Dunne used it as a quote from his fictional character Mr. Dooley, an Irishman who pontificated on the day’s issues from a Chicago pub. “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag,” Dooley proclaimed. “Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists’d do well to keep out iv it.”

Pundits have kept the expression alive. Just before Tuesday’s election, syndicated columnist Mark Shields wrote: “If Nov. 4 turns out to be a blue-ribbon day for Republicans, Obama will painfully learn once more the timeless wisdom of Peter Finley Dunne.” And after the election, The New York Post’s Bob McManus attacked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for running a campaign that was “thuggish, hypocritical and utterly without principal” before adding: “Big deal: Politics ain’t beanbag, as the Irish used to say, and Andrew Mark Cuomo woke up Wednesday morning sitting right where it matters most – in the catbird seat.”

But politicians often employ it, too. When Fox News’s Sean Hannity asked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) about the characterization of him and Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) as “wacko birds” in 2013, Cruz responded: “You know, listen, at the end of the day, you know, the old saying is: Politics ain’t beanbag. And fortunately, neither Mike nor I have thin skins.” Some mistakenly pluralize it, as Mitt Romney did in 2012 in talking about his then-presidential primary rival Newt Gingrich: “There’s no question that politics ain’t beanbags.... The speaker has been attacking me all over the state in ways that are really extraordinary; in some respects, painful to watch because it’s so revealing of him.”

Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Decoder Voices. 

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