“If Stupidity Got Us Into this mess, Then Why Can’t it Get Us Out?”

America Needs You, Will Rogers

America Needs You, Will Rogers

Throughout World War One and into the Depression, Will Rogers was a voice of the American people.  The American people are too complex to have a single voice.  Chris Rock, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce could all be said to be the voice of different aspects of America.  Will Rogers managed to be the distilled voice of all America.  He was not the voice of what we were.  He was the voice of what we wanted to be. “America doesn’t want a new deal as much as we want a fair deal,” is a statement that echoes within us all.

Born of a Native American mother and a European father, Will Rogers started out as a ranch hand, which was the best a Native American “half breed” could hope for in those days.  He rose above his class and ancestry through the lecture circuit.  He began writing for local newspapers and speaking for local organizations.  He interspersed his lectures with fancy cowboy rope tricks and a really offbeat way of looking at the world and at language.  “If the opposite of pro is con, what’s the opposite of progress?” Rogers would ask. (The answer, of course, is Congress.)

Radio was Will Rogers’ medium.  The audience could not see his rope tricks, but they loved his Oklahoma accent and his wit.  Rogers also had a sense of fun about him that the audience responded to.  He could play straight man to Gracie Allen as easily as he could trade quips with Charlie McCarthy.  The most remarkable thing about Will Rogers is that he could tell the truth without being offensive.  George Carlin went for controversial as he told us about the seven words you can’t say on television, which stirred things up and got everybody upset.  Rogers said things like, “American foreign policy is an open book–a check book,” which would be endlessly repeated all over America.  America may love controversy, but Americans love the truth even more.

Will Rogers became America’s best friend in every sense of the word.  A friend is somebody who tell you the truth no matter how much it hurts.  Rogers told the truth and America’s pain was expressed in laughter.  Yet his truths were told so gently and so supportively that he managed not to offend anybody. His reputation and celebrity grew to the point where his presence was demanded at White House dinners, where he entertained heads of state.  Rogers raised himself from being an Oklahoma ranch hand to being the conscience of Washington.  He was Jiminy Cricket who guided Washington with a kind and gentle voice.  One day he called on President Herbert Hoover and said, “Mr. President, I’m going to bring you up to date on all the political jokes.” Hoover replied, “I already know them all. I appointed most of them.”

In these days of Wall St. CEOs pretending to be statesmen, we don’t have a Will Rogers to tell our leaders the truth.  We don’t have a tall guy with a cowlick to dazzle them with fancy rope tricks while telling them about themselves.  We don’t have a man who would speak at a NAACP dinner on Tuesday night, and tell Elenore Roosevelt about the plight of the American Negro on Thursday night.  The sad fact is that Wall St. CEOs are notoriously deaf when it comes to the truth.  Men Like G.W. Bush, Ken Lay, and Dick Cheney are infamous for hearing only what they want to hear.  They would refuse to listen if Will Rogers came back from the grave and warned them; “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.

When you come down to it, Will Rogers was a philosopher.  He applied logic and reason to his observations about the world and everybody in it.  Then he distilled it into humor, homilies, and folksy observations.  Today some of his work would be seen to be corny, but Will Rogers was the first to coin the phrase “What goes around comes around.”  When I look in the newspaper and see that the world has returned to 1929, I think of Will Rogers.  When I read about the tent cities going up in Nevada, I remember his words of wisdom.  Whenever I stop to think about all the decent people who lost their homes and livelihoods while the crooks who stole them are not prosecuted, I remember these words:

“If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

Will Rogers Never Met These Two

Will Rogers Never Met These Two

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