Will Rogers, Political Psychic

Will Rogers, Political Psychic

“I never met a Man I didn’t like,” is the signature quote of a man H. L. Mencken once labeled, “the most dangerous man alive” because of the power his comments had on the American public.

William Penn Adair Rogers or “Will” as most American families referred to him around the dinner table was born November 18, 1879.  Also known as Oklahoma’s favorite son, he was born into a prosperous ranching family of mixed Cherokee descent near present-day Oologah.  The young Will was an expert rider and lariat showman appearing in Wild West Shows around the world.  In 1905 he made his vaudeville debut, eventually joining the famous Ziegfeld Follies in 1915.  It was his wife Betty that suggested he improve his performances by adding comments on contemporary personages and events in his distinctive nonchalant Oklahoma drawl.  These tidbits of down-to-earth, biting criticism of politics and politicians lead to a syndicated column.

By 1922 weekly articles by Rogers became so popular that they appeared in more than 500 U.S. newspapers.  Adding radio to his repertoire in 1930 allowed him to reach over 40 million Americans each week at a time when the total population of the U.S. was only 120 million.  Will had a knack for honing in on the ridiculous side of politics often exaggerating the facts to the amusement of his readers.   But . . . was he exaggerating or foretelling the future?

A friend and frequent critic of several Presidents, Rogers once reported after visiting with Warren G, Harding, then current Commander and Chief:  Upon entering the Oval Office I cheerfully asked, “Morning. Mr. President!  Would you like to hear the latest political jokes?”  To which Harding replied, “You don’t have to, Will, I appointed them!”

The cowboy philosopher often commented on the Presidency.  The following quotes are so prophetic that you can almost envision them on Saturday Night Live:

“We shouldn’t elect a President; we should elect a magician.”

“If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.”

“Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one third the money twenty years ago.”

“On account of being a democracy and run by the people, e are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does.”

 Even Franklin Roosevelt was in awe of the Oklahoma son.  When planning his 1932 Presidential campaign, the man FDR most feared to spoil his victory was Will Rogers.  He wrote to Rogers asking him not to run, concluding that he would split the Democrat vote and allow the Republicans to win the election.  Luckily for FDR, Will had no political aspirations and was happy to support him.  Roosevelt’s landslide victory didn’t prevent columnist Rogers from continuing his humorous assault on the government.  With words that could easily appear to be 21st century cable television banter, Will opined:

 “I belong to no organized party.  I am a Democrat.”

“There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

“I don’t make jokes.  I just watch the government and report the facts.”

“Things in our country run in spite of government. Not by aid of it!”

Congress was certainly not exempt from the satirical wrath of the man many commentators considered the most influential private citizen in the United States.  Somehow, Will conjured up the spirits of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid when he proclaimed:

 “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”

“Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.”

“Never blame a legislative body for not doing something.  When they do nothing that don’t hurt anybody.  When they do something is when they become dangerous.”

“Elect ’em for a six-year term; not allow ’em to succeed themselves.  That would keep their mind off politics.”

 Will Rogers traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies, was the top-paid movie star in Hollywood and wrote more than 4000 newspaper columns.  He died on August 15, 1935 while on an around-the-world trip with aviator, Wiley Post, when their small plane went down near Barrow, Alaska Territory. Over 70 years have past since the cowboy philosopher filed his last byline, but this American legend’s prophetic words still jingle like Oklahoma spurs with timeless wisdom and political reality.

I don’t believe for a minute that he would have liked Nancy Pelosi. ♣