A laugh on Rogers and me

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I think it’s quite appropriate, during this fall political campaign, to revisit one of our country’s most enduring personalities. During his short lifetime (he died at 56 years of age in a plane crash), he was America’s most widely read newspaper columnist.

His Sunday night radio show was this country’s most-listened-to broadcast and in the 1930s he was its leading movie star. Will Rogers might have been the most beloved American of his day and his political satire is just as pertinent today as it was almost a hundred years ago.

The cornerstone of his humor was politics. “If you ever injected truth into politics, you’d have no politics.” The words he used to poke fun at government might have more validity today than they did during his time. It seems he hardly tried. He said, “there’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

Never have so many done so little with so much. Rogers said that we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does. He said, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

He would have a heyday with today’s congress. The President might feel bad as he sees his approval ratings plummet into the low twenties. The only thing that might bring him solace is to discover that congress is even lower.

A few months ago 59 percent of polled Americans said they would vote to replace the entire congress. Fifty-one percent believed that individuals selected at random from the phone book would be better than the current congress. Only 11 percent said that congress was doing a good job. Yet, after this election 90 percent of the same people will head back to Washington.

Will Rogers said, “Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate; now what’s going to happen to us with both a Senate and a House?” Just be thankful, he said, that we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for!

Rogers would feel right at home these days talking about our economic situation. It was sort of satisfying to me to see all the experts wringing their hands over the financial meltdown. It was clear that no one really had a clue. Rogers once said, “If stupidity got us unto this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” If that’s the case, we should be in good shape soon.

I guess the government’s plan followed this quote of his: “Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.” Also this: “An economist’s guess is liable to be as good as anyone else’s.”

He said that Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.

The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. I wonder if that pertains to politics. Rogers had a lot to say about money and politics. He said, “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Wonder what he might think about the enormous campaign funds of politicians these days? He said long ago, “Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.”

He didn’t limit his biting satire to one political party although he was a Democrat. In fact he said this about his party affiliation: “I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat.” On the Republicans? “The 1928 Republican Convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see His way to bless the Republican party the way it’s been carryin’ on, then the rest of us ought to get it without having to ask.”

Rogers hit them both at the same time, “the more you read and observe about this politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best.”

This election cycle the candidates are falling all over each other to claim the title of who’s going to cut taxes the most. It doesn’t matter that both are proposing bunches of new spending that we already can’t afford.

Will Rogers had this to say about taxes. “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time congress meets.” And just what does your government think about collecting your money? Rogers says, “If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets. All that don’t get wet you can keep.”

Sort of like the preacher who throws the offering up in the air and says, “What the Lord wants, he better catch. What falls down is mine.”

It’s amazing how many of his quotes and how much of his humor still rings true. His disdain for government is evident. “If I studied all my life, I couldn’t think up half the number of things passed in one session of congress.” About the Senate: “All I can say about the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of our heritage Rogers says, “I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him father.”

Rogers would say, “We are in for a spell; get all the good laughs you can.” I hope it’s not like another of his quotes: “Last year we said, ‘things can’t go on like this,’ and it didn’t. Things got worse!”

Things may not turn out like you want them to, but remember it’s better to laugh than to cry. E.E. Cummings said, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. Hope you had a smile on me today.