Talking Business

Keith Chrostowski: The absolutely, positively best quotes of 2014

Old statements from MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who said the stupidity of the American people was crucial in getting Obamacare passed, landed him before the House Oversight Committee. “Are you stupid?” Rep. Darrell Issa asked. “I don’t think so. No,” Gruber replied.
Old statements from MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who said the stupidity of the American people was crucial in getting Obamacare passed, landed him before the House Oversight Committee. “Are you stupid?” Rep. Darrell Issa asked. “I don’t think so. No,” Gruber replied. Bloomberg News

Without ado, let’s jump into the best selections from my “Quotes 2014” file gathered from all sorts of sources:

The most important quotes for Kansas City and its economy came from Marcelo Claure, the straight-shooting new CEO of Sprint:

“We will focus on becoming extremely cost-efficient and competing aggressively in the marketplace. … We have a pretty extensive list that the company has accumulated that are nice-to-haves. Those are the first that are going to go. … What we’re going to focus on, and we’re going to be crazy about it, is to get customers back to us.”

Intruding on the debate over Obamacare were old statements from MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who said the stupidity of the American people was crucial in getting the act passed. That landed him before the House Oversight Committee, where Rep. Darrell Issa asked: “Are you stupid?”

“I don’t think so. No,” Gruber replied.

Howard Dean on Gruber: “The problem is not that he said (the American people are stupid). … The problem is that he thinks it. The core problem under the damn law is it was put together by a bunch of elitists who don’t fundamentally understand the American people.”

Chuck Todd, new host of NBC’s Meet the Press, delivered his verdict: “This bill is a mess. … At the end of the day, it’s the Keep the Insurance Companies’ Industry Intact Act.”

For those with employer-provided health insurance, Drew Altman, CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, noted growth of high deductible plans: “A veritable sea change in the nature of insurance has unfolded without much scrutiny or debate.”

The electronic currency bitcoin sent tingles through many, but it turned out to be the worst investment of the year, declining by half. Matt Phillips at Vox on what makes a real currency: “Money derives much of its value from its government support, in that the government has the power to make it legal tender. That is, the government says not only that currency can be accepted, but it must be accepted.”

Bond king Bill Gross was ousted as head of Pimco when his eccentricities finally caught up to him. He complained, “Was I so different from any other California billionaire?”

Worst quote of the year by a business person goes to venture capitalist Tom Perkins: “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi (Germany’s) war on its ‘1 percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American 1 percent, namely the ‘rich.’ ... I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful 1 percent.”

Politicians, as usual, displayed truthiness.

President Barack Obama’s biggest misstatement: “I didn’t call the Islamic State a ‘JV’ team.” Yes you did, according to Fact Checker.

But he admitted the year’s biggest truth: “We tortured some folks.”

He took the midterm losses in stride: “It doesn’t make me mopey. It energizes me, because it means that this democracy’s working.”

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill on Obama’s being distant from even his own party: “For him, eating his spinach is schmoozing with elected officials.”

Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, had the best analysis of Obama’s foreign policy: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

But she had her own awkward moments: “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.” And, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.”

Somehow I don’t believe Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “I’m not running for president.”

On the Republican side, Jodi Ernst, who won the Iowa U.S. Senate race, had the best campaign ad of the year: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I come to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”

And Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts uttered the most-damaging quote of any candidate, about whether he actually lives in his home state: “Every time I get an opponent — I mean, every time I get a chance — I’m home.”

Sometimes, politicians can be funny, sort of.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “I would rather die than be in the United States Senate. OK? I would be bored to death.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “Anyone who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn’t watched all the debates that I’ve been in.”

Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto: “Rehab is amazing. It reminds me of football camp.”

French president Francois Hollande, taking back a proclamation of love for his longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler: “I should have said, ‘She is the woman of my life today.’”

Some thoughtful political quotes:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: “You can argue that government should be smaller or bigger or this or that. Either way, it needs to work.”

MSNBC host Chris Matthews: “This looking down our noses at tea party people has got to stop. They have a message. They’re as American as any liberal is. And they’re really angry about the failure of our system. … That’s what this system is doing right now: We can’t control the deficit, we can’t control the debt, we can’t control the border. What good is government good at?”

San Jose, Calif., Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat: “This is one of the dichotomies of California: I am cutting services to my low- and moderate-income people … to pay really generous benefits for public employees who make a good living and have an even better retirement.”

Back to business, also for some thought-provokers:

Jan Rivkin, leader of Harvard University’s U.S. Competitiveness Project: “Businesses should be taking the stagnation of living standards of the average Americans as a canary in their coal mine. Companies will not survive for the long run if their communities are stagnant.”

Ed Gillespie, the Republican who surprisingly barely lost the Virginia Senate race: “We can see an influence economy starting to take shape. CEOs are becoming less concerned about inventing the right products, targeting the right markets and hiring the right people in hopes of making a respectable profit for investors — and more concerned about getting the right lobbyists, retaining the right lawyers and attending the right fundraisers in hopes of getting a hefty subsidy from taxpayers.”

Nick Hanauer, a Seattle-based entrepreneur and early backer of Amazon: “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. … If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. … You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising.”

Philip Roth, on being repeatedly passed over for the Nobel Prize in Literature: “I wonder if I had called ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ ‘The Orgasm Under Rapacious Capitalism,’ if I would thereby have earned the favor of the Swedish Academy.”

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, quoted Hindu swami Gnanmunidas at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi. “There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.”

The second-most-scary quote of the year came from Stephen Hawking: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

The scariest was from Timur Demirboga, a Kurdish fighter in Kobani, a Syrian city besieged by Islamic State forces: “We are killing them, and they keep coming.”

Final quiz. Who said this, a Democrat or Republican?

“At some point, what the heck are we doing? Either stand up and demonstrate the principles we keep promising voters we believe or pack it up already.” Answer: a Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

To reach Keith Chrostowski, business editor of The Star, call 816-234-4466 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @keithc3.