Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, so loved the "What color uniforms do they wear?" variant of the joke that he occasionally inserted it into his own speeches to affect a homespun air. This example is quoted in the Washington Post, March 14, 2005:
President Bush is telling another audience that the Social Security system is in great distress, and there will be ghastly consequences if our leaders don't act, and act now.
But first, a little joke:
About a guy trying to get to Livingston, Mont. "To get to Livingston, you've got to go down the highway," Bush says during a recent "town meeting" in Great Falls, Mont. "And you go through the cattle guard. And you turn left. And go through another cattle guard."
Bush chuckles, races through his setup, then hurtles into his punch line.
"And a fellow comes back and says, 'Hey, what color uniforms do those cattle guards have on?'"
Bush the greenhorn
Ironically, President Bush's personal familiarity with the jape probably dates from his run for the House of Representatives in 1978, when he himself was made the butt of it. The following report is from the Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1978 (keep in mind that although Bush spent his childhood in Texas, he moved east to attend college in Yale and Harvard before returning home to run for office):
State Sen. Hance, a graduate of Texas Tech and the University of Texas law school, slyly hits at Bush's background (and gets lots of laughs) by telling farmers this story in his best down-home style:
A stranger asks a farmer for directions to town and is told to turn right at the cattle guard (a grating placed in the road to prevent cattle from crossing). The stranger returns in a few minutes, asking what color uniform the "cattle guard" has on.
"I got the poor fella straightened out on cattle guards," the farmer says. "As he was leaving, I couldn't make out whether his license plates were from Massachusetts (site of Harvard) or Connecticut (Yale)."
P.S. Bush lost that race.
Sources and further reading:
Dictionary of the American West
By Winfred Blevins (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2001)
Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
By David J. Wishart (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2004)
Predictions Risky in House Races
Los Angeles Times, 5 November 1978
Ah, Yes, the West
Ellensburg Daily Record, 16 March 1995
Don't Stop Him Even If You've Heard This One
Washington Post, 14 March 2005
Fake News Gets White House OK
Washington Post, 15 March 2005
Never Let the Facts Interfere with a Good Smear
Salt Lake Tribune, 2 August 2009
Last updated: 11/06/11