Neelyisms: Translating Louisiana’s Junior Senator

Illustration by The Bayou Brief

I cannot believe that I fell for Louisiana Sen. John Neely Kennedy’s tease. I spent the entire year insisting that he’d never give up the limelight and easy times in Washington for the grind of governing the Gret Stet of Louisiana. I weakened in November because it looked as if the GOP field was being cleared for the man I call Neely and others call Senator Soundbite. I was betrayed by Steve Scalise and Jeff Landry. #sarcasm

Neely’s non-candidacy is not the point of this piece, but I had to deal with the party switching elephant in the room. Perhaps he needs his own mythical critter: an elephant with a donkey’s head. He certainly brays like a jackass.

I’m surely not the only one to remember Slate’s Bushisms feature. It was compiled by Jacob Weisberg who started it when he covered George W. Bush 2000 campaign. Weisberg was among the first to note W’s weird use of the language and penchant for malaprops. Weisberg kept at it for Bush’s entire presidency and even produced a successful book of Bushisms.

The wit and wisdom of John Neely Kennedy isn’t quite as spontaneous as your basic Bushism. It’s part of a carefully, albeit mysteriously, calculated image to portray a well-educated professional politician as a cracker barrel philosopher; a character straight out of the long-running teevee show, “Hee-Haw.” In short, our senator and former state treasurer thinks he’s Grandpa Jones only without the banjo and the droopy mustache:

Neely may be a born-again Republican but his wisecracks are reminiscent of one of the most colorful politicians in Louisiana history: Three-time Democratic Governor and brother of the Kingfish, Earl K. Long. He was known in his later days as Uncle Earl. I use the term Gret Stet of Louisiana as an homage to Uncle Earl who knew his way around a colorful country wisecrack. As you will see directly, his favorite foil was New Orleans Mayor Delesseps (Chep) Morrison who he called Dellasoups. 

Since this is a piece about Neelyisms, I will restrict myself to two Uncle Earlisms:

“Dellasoups has $50 neckties, and $400 suits. Put a $400 suit on Uncle Earl — look like socks on a rooster.”

“When I die, I want to be buried in Louisiana, so that I can remain active in politics.”

In recent years, former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne has received undeserved credit from the East Coast media for the second Uncle Earlism. Byrne said, “When I die, I want to be buried in Hudson County, so I can continue to vote,” and no one, including the Observer (when Jared Kushner owned it), has realized that Byrne’s zinger wasn’t evidence of his comedic genius; it just proved he was a skilled plagiarist.

Okay. One more Uncle Earlism, which is probably his most well-known:

“Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.”

Earl Kemp Long in 1959. Photo by the Associated Press.

The difference between Uncle Earlisms and Neelyisms is that Earl was being real whereas Neelyisms reflect a carefully crafted persona. At First Draft, I’ve called it “hicking it up.” I don’t recall as many hickified aphorisms from Neely’s long tenure as state treasurer, but he was a chronic kibitzer and soundbite machine for the Gret Stet political media. The wave of Neelyisms seems to have started during the 2016 campaign and exploded when Neely hit Capitol Hill.

Here’s Neely’s own take on Neelyisms:

Kennedy said he mostly gets his expressions from reading and he makes an effort to remember the clever sayings he comes across. But most of the time, he said, they just pop out. “I know that is probably a sad testament to the way my mind works,” he said. “But it is what it is.”

After that long introduction, it’s time for some Neelyisms. I’ve assembled a Top Twenty list. They’re organized in a random order because I’m a random guy, but I’m appending the word Neelyism to each entry, so you won’t get lost in the verbiage. Besides, I’m trying to create a catch phrase, so repetition is in order.

Top Twenty Neelyisms:

Neelyism #1:

We begin with the seminal Neelyism, the senator’s stock line from the 2016 campaign trail.

“I’d rather drink weed killer than support Obamacare.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not. He has subsequently applied the term to a variety of situations. I’d rather drink weed killer myself than name them all.

On that note, let’s continue our round-up of annotated Neelyisms. I’m mostly omitting specific dates to protect my sanity; being knee deep in Neelyisms is hard enough.

Neelyism #2:

This one offended some people who are famous for being famous:

“You realize to many Americans right now, that looks like we’re giving Lindsay Lohan the keys to the minibar.”

In a headline grabbing move, her parents threatened to sue. They did not.

Neelyism #3:

The senator even quoted Meat Loaf lyrics during a hearing:

“Meat Loaf also said there ain’t no Coupe DeVille in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. In other words, we live in the real world.”

At least he didn’t quote the song “Bat Out Of Hell.”

Of course, Trump loves Meat Loaf who appeared on a season of Celebrity Apprentice. He cried a lot, Meat Loaf, not Trump. 

Though Neely may have wept when Donald (The Insult Comedian) Trump finally told Meat Loaf he was, in fact, “fired.”

Only a week ago, The Daily Advertiser conducted an interview with the senator, resulting in a Pulitzer-worthy report titled, “Sen. John Kennedy inspired by the music of rock legend Meat Loaf,” along with a two-minute long video testimonial. 

“I can’t think of a song  I don’t like,” Kennedy said.

Neelyism #4:

Befitting a former state treasurer, many Neelyisms involve fiscal matters:

“Our country was founded by geniuses, but it’s being run by idiots,” Kennedy said dismissively last week, as a government shutdown loomed. “I think most Americans are wondering how some folks up here made it through the birth canal.”

Quite a few Neelyisms have been inspired by the senator’s role as a member of the Judiciary Committee:

Neelyism #5:

I gotta link to Fox News for this one, what can I tell ya?

“By all accounts he’s an honest fella, he’s smart, but he doesn’t have any experience in federal court,” Kennedy said about Matthew Peterson, the nominee. “And as I said at the time, just because you’ve seen ‘Judge Judy’ or ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t make you qualified to be a federal judge.”

I’d love to hear Neely do a Joe Pesci imitation and say, “a pair of yutes.”

Neelyism #6:

Neely had some scathing comments about the Kavanaugh hearings:

“In my opinion, this has been an intergalactic freakshow. As far as I’m concerned, Congress has hit rock bottom and started to dig.”

Holy mixed metaphor, Batman.

Neelyism #7:

On Neil Gorsuch:

“I guess what I want is a cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry and I believe you just might be that person.”

The annotation below comes from Zombie Picayune’s Drew Broach whose work I have drawn on for this piece:

“This is another phrase that Kennedy has used several times: in 2015 to describe Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Vitter, in 2017 to voice his hopes for what Neil Gorsuch would be on the Supreme Court and the same year to encourage FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray.”

Neelyism #8:

On Facebook:

“Facebook is a great company, but it’s no longer a company; it’s a country. That’s how powerful it is. And its behavior lately has kind of been getting into the foothills of creepy.”

I believe the foothills of creepy are somewhere in the vicinity of Bunkie.

That reminds me of another Neely post from First Draft wherein I posted this image by my friend Cait Gladow:

Consider that lagniappe. What’s a Gret Stet political piece without a bit of lagniappe?

Neelyism #9:

On gun control:

“I am petrified of giving the power to confiscate guns and ask questions later to public officials. … If you trust government, you obviously failed history class. The Native Americans gave up their guns, too.”

Thank you, Big Chief Neely. He’d look pretty darn weird in a Mardi Gras Indian suit.

Neelyism #10:

On greedy defense contractors:

“We’ve got … some hogs who have all four feet and their snout in the trough. And we got to find out who they are gentlemen.”

In addition to being a cornpone comedian, Neely is a professional cheapskate.

Neelyism #11:

On Donald (The Insult Comedian) Trump after he fired Rex Tillerson:

“As we say in Louisiana, President Trump is a hard dog to keep on the porch. He’s not a porch dog; he’s a running dog. He likes to do things his way.”

Trump hates dogs. I doubt he cared for the canine characterization.

Neelyism #12:

On credit monitoring company fees:

“It is ridiculous. I don’t pay extra in a restaurant to prevent the waiter from spitting in my food.”

I must admit that this one was on point and made sense. It had to happen, y’all.

Neelyism #13:

This one is a tweeted quote with an embedded video:

Rock on, Neely.

Neelyism #14:

On police misconduct:

“My attitude is if you hate cops just because they’re cops, then the next time you get in trouble, call a crack head. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Is there a crack head hotline that I’m unaware of? Is it 666?

Neelyism #15:

A testicular euphemism:

“And some people, quite frankly need to grow some oranges. They were sent up here to do a job.”

No comment.

Neelyism #16:

An icky analogy:

“Upon leaving a private meeting about the GOP tax bill in December 2017, Kennedy told reporters: “This is Washington, D.C. Politics is in everybody’s blood, kind of like herpes.”

Neely is prone to say “it’s good to be back in America” when he’s in Louisiana. I’m relieved that it never calls it “herpes-free” America. I guess that’s implicit.

Neelyism #17:

Another oddball analogy in a question for plutocratic Education secretary Betsy DeVos:

“Now I can go down to my overpriced Capitol Hill grocery this afternoon and choose among about six different types of mayonnaise,” he said. “How come I can’t do that for my kid?”

I sincerely hope the Senator wouldn’t put mayo on political herpes. Some people put it on everything.

Finally, Neelysims #18-20:

These are all vintage country aphorisms presented in a three-fer on the Tweeter Tube by CNN. It doesn’t get more new-fangled than that:

I make no pretense to having unearthed every Neelyism out there. There will surely be more to come as he’s our Senator until at least 2022. I’m glad he’s not running for governor as it seems to indicate that John Bel Edwards is in better shape than the early polls indicate.

I hope this column leaves you feeling as tough as a boiled owl. I’d hate to think it went through you faster than green grass goes through a goose. Neelyisms are not only catchy; they seem to be contagious, like herpes.

That completes our lesson in Neelyisms. Class dismissed.