Heard on the Hill

Kennedy on Kennedyisms: ‘I Try Not to Talk Like a Senator Is Supposed to Talk’

Louisiana Republican attributes his gift of glib to his constituents, his father and reading

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy's willingness to stop and talk to reporters comes from advice from his first boss in politics. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. John Kennedy  loves a good analogy and a witty one-liner, and they’ve gotten him more attention than most freshman senators get.

“For better or worse, this is the way my mind works, and it’s the way I talk, and some people like it, some people don’t, but we all are who we are,” the Louisiana Republican said.

“It’s good advice: Always be yourself unless you suck, and none of us think we suck,” he added.

Kennedy said he talks like the people who sent him to Washington do.

“People in Louisiana are very plainspoken. I try not to talk like a senator is supposed to talk,” he said. “Sometimes the way I articulate things is from being around my people.”

[How John Kennedy Sees Things]

Where does the gift of glib come from?

“Well, sometimes I don’t know. My mind works that way. I guess it’s a genetic defect,” Kennedy said, adding another one-liner to his repertoire.

Watch: Just a Few of John N. Kennedy's Greatest Kennedy-isms

But the way he speaks resonates with his constituents, he said.

“I began my campaign talking this way. I did a series of commercials. I wrote them myself. There I talked straight to the people of Louisiana about what I believed,” he said. “I looked the camera in the eye and said, ‘I’d rather drink weedkiller than vote for the Affordable Care Act.’”

“People understand that … without beating around the bush,” the senator explained.

He added that his constituents are people “busy living and who don’t have time to read the news every hour [so they] can understand what I’m talking about. The American people, I’ve said this before, they’ve very smart. They don’t read Aristotle every day because they’re busy earning a living.”

[Middle Schoolers Teach Sen. Kennedy ‘It’s a Lot Harder to Be a Kid Today’]

He said he was recently asked about President Donald Trump’s threats to shut down the government and if it was pushing the Senate to pass a budget.

He recalled his answer: “Yes, I think it encourages the Senate to get up off its ice cold butt and pass a budget.”

“I don’t know where it came from,” Kennedy added.

They might have come from his father.

“My dad used the expressions, ‘That guy’s tough as a bald owl,’ ‘That guy’s tough as a boot.’ Those things stick with you,” he said.

[Take Five: John Kennedy]

Others are from reading, which he does often. 

“I concede I don’t have much of a life, but I like it, I always like to read, I like policy, I like to read other points of view,” he said. “I admire clean, crisp, clever writing. When I see someone use a phrase that I like, I’ll remember it. Sometimes I’ll jot it down. A lot of times it just sticks in my mind.”

In his previous life, Kennedy was a partner at a Louisiana law firm that dealt with commercial and personal injury. He then spent 17 years as Louisiana state treasurer. During that time, he was also an adjunct professor at the Louisiana State University law school.

Kennedy often appears willing to stop and speak to the media in Capitol hallways and throw out an analogy on the news of the day. He said that stems from his first job in politics, which was working for former Louisiana Gov. Charles “Buddy” Roemer.

“Governor Roemer taught us you return the phone calls [and] the reporters on deadline, you return them first. Don’t lie. If you can’t tell them the truth, you say ‘I can’t answer that question,’” he said. “Some of my colleagues don’t agree with that approach.”

He doesn’t have a favorite one-liner yet, and he doesn’t have any in his back pocket he’s been wanting to use. But, he’s not planning on stopping.

“This is the way you ought to close your speeches — if you like what you heard, I hope you support me,” he said.

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