Cherokee, cowboy, actor, satirist, humorist, columnist, Will Rogers, like all good comedians and raconteurs had a way of finding humor in much that is despicable about the human race. If you want to see how little has changed in the past hundred years or so, read his quotes. I suspect Rogers was, like his modern day satirist successors, often motivated by disgust and anger at our human failings. More like Jerry Seinfeld than George Carlin, he was able to convey those sentiments without being offensive, whiney or preachy. While Carlin raged against the monumental flaws and failures of Mankind, Seinfeld and Rogers implied “yes, we’re hopeless, but what are you gonna do? We’re only human.”
Given Roger’s negative assessment of humankind and its institutions, it may seem strange that the words most often associated with him and are inscribed on his tombstone, are ” I never met a man I didn’t like.” Before offering a possible clarification of this apparent paradox, I’ll give you a look at some of his other famous utterings.
Here’s one maybe I should heed. It certainly would be good advice to a particular ex-president: “Never miss a chance to shut up.”
Deja vu: “A fanatic is always the fellow that is on the other side.”
A timeless truth: “People are taking comedians seriously and politicians as a joke.”
Something else that has not changed: “I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat.” We have always been able to count on Dems to derail themselves even when they hold the majority, but, said Rogers, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” There’s an argument in favor of giving the filibuster the heave-ho.
Did Rogers look into the future and see social media and QAnon?: “When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.”
Will had a good idea of how to deal with that problem: “There ought to be one day, just one, when there’s open season on Senators.” Ya think the guy was just a tad pissed off?
But keeping politicians alive was really in his best interests: “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”
As far as Republicans courting the ignorant “base”: “There’s no more independence in politics than there is in jail.” (Where, I think Rogers would agree, many Republicans, including one in particular, should have been placed long ago.)
How about this?: “A fool and his money are soon elected.” C’mon, Tell me this was no angry dude.
Never knew anyone he disliked? How could someone as smart as Rogers have actually felt this way? If he really did, either he’s now sitting by the right hand of the Almighty or he was the most gullible fool ever born. But here’s the reason: the quote was taken out of context. What he actually said was, “I joked about every prominent man in my lifetime but I never met one I didn’t like.”
Now it makes perfect sense. I experienced the same thing when I was seated next to Albany, NY Mayor, Erastus Corning at a professional dinner meeting. Actually, I seated myself and Sandy next to him, creating an overcrowded table. Corning was unperturbed. He even gave Sandy one of his forks when we realized we were short on silverware. Corning was part of the legacy of Tammany Hall, put into office and kept there by a shady political machine that ran the city before, (and for quite a while, thanks to the continuing influence of his long time mistress Polly Noonan, grandmother of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand) after, his 41 year long tenure. If you lived in Albany and were not a registered Democrat, Lord help you at property tax time. No point asking the city for any favors, either. I wonder whether all the very high property taxes made it into the public coffers. City services could have been improved on. Hizzoner’s reply to an inquiry into why snow removal was notoriously slipshod: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
It was rumored the party had a way of knowing how each citizen voted. The motto was “vote early and vote often.” Corning bought votes for $5 apiece, it was said, and, on election day, raised more people from the dead than Jesus ever could have imagined. Yet, Mr. Corning himself was absolutely the most affable, lovely, interesting person I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a meal with. (With the exception of my wife, of course.)
I suspect Rogers really meant politicians, at least up until the era of Trump and Cruz, have generally been able, either by nature or design to project likability. That’s a big part of how they get elected. Rogers probably didn’t mean these people deserved to be liked. If so, why suggest shooting them? More likely he meant they were so charming he couldn’t help but like them. Given the number of openly despicable, ill-mannered people in office and the preponderance of obnoxious people running around these days, I don’t think you should feel bad if you can’t live up to Rogers’s, probably misunderstood, claim.
Though Rogers was a font of wisdom, his lessons appear to be in no danger of being learned. One lesson we should take, though, is the best way to hang on to your sanity is to hang on to your sense of humor as well.