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Politics Ain’t Beanbag

“Politics ain’t beanbag” Is an old-fashioned way of saying that politics can be rough.

People express roughly the same idea when they call politics “hardball” or “sharp-elbowed.”

Origin of “Politics Ain’t Beanbag”

The term originally comes from a 19th century novel by the writer Finley Peter Dunne. One of Dunne’s characters is an Irish American named Mr. Dooley, who likes to sit in his favorite Chicago bar and talk about politics.The full quote from Mr. Dooley reads, “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists’d do well to keep out iv it.”

The phrase is a little archaic, but it’s still used periodically, especially by political commentators who want to lend extra gravitas to their declarations.

In 2014, for example, New York Post columnist Bob McManus wrote a piece discussing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign. McManus wrote that Cuomo had used some dirty tactics to get elected but:

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.

In 2018 the columnist Arlene Jones, writing in Austin Weekly News, used the phrase in a piece about Chicago politics.

Jones described the plight of Ja’mal Green, a Chicago mayoral candidate who was having a tough time navigating the system:

The coming weeks will reveal if Ja’mal makes it on the ballot or not. But knowing the way this city works, I’m not going to put too much money on it. Politics ain’t beanbag, and when you run, you need to learn how to play the game!

Politicians use the expression too, of course.

In 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to the Senate floor to denounce what he saw as a particularly nasty trick carried out by the Democrats. Cruz began by saying, “we all know the old saying that politics ain’t beanbag. But the nastiness with which the Democratic majority responded to Senator Vitter was extraordinary.”

In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for president, New York magazine poked fun at him for getting the famous phrase wrong, again and again.

Romney repeatedly said that “politics ain’t bean bags” and once said that it ain’t “the bean bag.”

More on “Politics Ain’t Beanbag”

The archaic and polite way of saying “life is rough; get over it” to a politician who complains about his or her treatment in the media or by opponents.

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.”

When Fox News’ Sean Hannity asked Texas senator Ted Cruz about the characterization of him and Utah senator Mike Lee 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.”

It’s often mistakenly pluralized, 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.”

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Examples of “politics ain’t beanbag” in a sentence

  • “Politics ain’t bean bag” is a colloquial expression often used to remind people that politics is a tough and often unforgiving business.
  • “Politics ain’t bean bag” can be used to describe the cut-throat nature of political campaigns and the ruthless tactics that some politicians are willing to use to win.
  • “Politics ain’t bean bag” is often used as a warning to those who are new to politics, reminding them that the political arena can be a harsh and unforgiving place.