I have always been a huge Will Rogers fan. So when I spotted THE WIT AND WISDOM OF WILL ROGERS at a used book fundraiser for our local Humane Society last summer, I snatched it up, took it home and added it to my collection of must read books. And there old Will sat, forgotten, amid dust bunnies, dog fur fluffies, and 30-50 other must reads on my office bookshelf, until this last Monday evening.
It was after listening to our new president give an easy button speech to the American people and the adoring media hyping his words, as if all our social and economic problems were now miraculously solved, that old Will reintroduced himself to me. In a effort to cleanse my frustrated mind of all the saccharin cobwebs and
easy button ‘shovel ready’ garbage I’d just heard, I stormed my office armed with cleaning products, ready to scour everything in sight.
But my attacked on dust and fur was short-lived, for there sat Will Rogers patiently waiting for just this moment.
What better prescription for what ailed me than the words of a man who lived and wrote through a similar time of crisis and who was beloved for making the American people think and laugh about the absurdities and contradictions that riddle our society and government. And he did it with a gentle, but shrewd “aw shucks” humor.
For those who have not had the privilege of seeing old film clips of him in action, Will Rogers was a gum chewing, lariat whirling, vaudeville showman. He was also a cowboy philosopher, political humorist, writer, actor and rope-trick artist. He was openly and unapologetically Cherokee Indian and Irish when neither were considered respectable members of society. He skewered the political class on both sides of the aisle. And yet managed to be honored and respected world-wide.
So with heartfelt thanks to THE WIT AND WISDOM OF WILL ROGERS edited by Alex Ayers for restoring my humor and reminding me what a great man and wonderful writer America had during the Great Depression, I have pulled a few of my favorite Will Rogers quotes to share. These in particular seem eerily àpropos our current state of affairs. I hope you enjoy. (I’m headed back to that must read pile to see what other treasures I can find.) Will Rogers on …
THE BUSINESS OF BUSINESS (As usual.)
“Big business sure got big, but it got big by selling its stocks and not by selling its products.” “We are continually buying something that we never get, from a man that never had it.”“If you think banking ain’t a sucker game, why is your banker the richest man in town? Bank failures break banks but bankers don’t go broke, do they?” “I said the bankers were the first to go on the dole. The wrath of the mighty ascended on me.”
ELECTIONS, DEMOCRACY AND DEMOCRATS (No truer words spoken.)
“If the people had anything to do with the nominations, personally, instead of it being done by a half dozen men in the back rooms of some hotel, why America would be a democracy.” “On account of us being a democracy, and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government for four years, no matter what it does.” “What’s wrong with the Democratic party? The law killed it. It won’t let a man vote but once, and there just ain’t enough voters at one vote each to get it anywhere.” “This Alaska is a great country. If they can just keep from being taken over by the U.S. they got a great future.”
DEPRESSION, SPENDING AND REPUBLICANS (It was just as bad then as it is now.)
“It’s really not depression, it’s just a return to normalcy. It’s just getting back to two-bit meals and cotton underwear, and off those one-fifty steaks and silk rompers. America has been just muscle bound from holding a steering wheel. The callous place we got on our body is the bottom of the driving toe.” “I could have told him before sundown what’s changed our lives. Buying on credit, waiting for relief, Ford cars, too many Republicans, Notre Dame coaching methods, and two-thirds of America, both old and young, thinking they possessed ‘it’.” “I don’t want to lay the blame on the Republicans for the Depression. They’re not smart enough to think up all those things that have happened.”
OIL COMPANIES V. AMERICAN INDIANS (Wanna guess who won.)
“They sent the Indians to Oklahoma,” recounted Rogers with sadness. “They had a treaty that said, ‘you shall have this land as long as grass grows and water flows.’ It was not only a good rhyme but looked like a good treaty, and it was until they struck oil. Then the government took it away from us again. They said the treaty refers to ‘water and grass; it don’t say anything about oil.’ So the Indians lost another bet – the first one to Andrew Jackson, and the second to the oil companies.” “I think the government only give us about a dollar an acre for it. We had it for hunting grounds, but we never knew enough to hunt oil on it.”
EVERYONES OBSESSION WITH RESTORING CONFIDENCE (Following the stock market crash of 1929.)
“Now we have a new one. It’s called ‘restoring confidence’. Rich men who never had a mission in life outside of watching a stock ticker are working day and night ‘restoring confidence.” “Now I am not unpatriotic, and I want to do my bit in this great movement. But you will have to give me some idea of where ‘confidence’ is. And just who you want it restored to.” “I discovered confidence hasn’t left this country. Confidence just got wise and the guys it got wise to are wondering where it has gone.”
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS (Third party anyone?)
“All the speakers said, ‘we are making history.’ Well, I don’t want to be disrespectful to either party, but I am just tired of seeing history made.” “Well, the election will be breaking out pretty soon, and a flock of Democrats will replace a mess of Republicans in quite a few districts. It won’t mean a thing, they will go in like all the rest of ‘em, go in on promises and come out with alibis.” “If we didn’t have two parties, we would all settle on the best men in the country and things would run fine. But as it is, we settle on the worst ones and then fight over ‘em.” “There ought to be one day –just one– where there is open season on senators.”
MONEY AND MAGIC (They seem to go together like hand and glove.)
“It must be marvelous to just belong to some legislative body and just pick money out of the air.” “The budget is a mythical beanbag. Congress votes mythical beans into it, and then tries to reach in and pull real beans out.” “A man can make a million over night and he is on every page in the morning. But it never tells who gave up the million he got. You can’t get money without taking it from somebody.”
SOMETHING TO REMIND OURSELVES (And the politicians.)
“I tell ‘em this country is bigger than Wall Street, and if they don’t believe me, I show ‘em the map.”
Sadly, Will’s quotes on bankers, business and government are even more relevant today.
A great video of Will Rogers – America’s “Poet Lariat”
On FDR’s New Deal: The American People Sound Off
Words to Stir a Nation (Or a President)
Red Skelton’s Moving Explanation of the Pledge of Allegiance
The Wisdom of Anna