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Will Rogers on the Dust Bowl: Poignant Reminder of GOP's Unchanged Attitude on the Environment

INTRODUCTION by Cheryl Seal (cherylseal@hotmail.com)

In a press conference on April 30, 2001, with what's left of Earth's unspoiled natural environnment hanging in the balance and poised on the brink of no return, Dick Cheney announced that conservation is a nice ideal, but has no place in a "realistic" energy plan. His total indifference to nature is not new to the GOP. This same indifference has been the trademark of conservatives since the days of the pioneers. It is the same attitude that caused the party to scoff at the conservation efforts of Democrats such as Roosevelt in the early decades of the twentieth century. Even in the 1920s with the economy booming, the GOP viewed the evironment as merely an "economic resource" to be exploited and conservation as a low-on-the-list luxury or, worse yet, something to be laughed at. Then, as now, the GOP embraces the myth of the rugged, noble pioneer and believes private property rights are somehow God-given.

The following monologue by Will Rogers was delivered in the depths of the depression, when misuse of the land, deforestation, and erosion had lead to one of the country's worst natural disasters. For weeks at a time, the sun in some regions of the Midwest were blotted out by clouds of dust, while crops, stock, and water were buried and choked by layers of the material. Will's observations sum up the GOP's disregard for nature - and the consequences of that disregard - far more eloquently and poignantly that we could ever hope to do. Please pass his message on to as many other people as you possibly can - even conservatives!


by Will Rogers

(An excerpt from a monologue delivered before a live audience on April 14, 1935, a few months before his death).

"Any old great civilization that they've ever gone and dug up, they go down and find two or three layers all buried there in the dust. And they've all been covered up because of the ploughed up ground that shouldn't ever been ploughed up in the first place and the trees cut down that shouldn't never been cut down anyway.

"You know, we're always talkin' about the pioneers and what great folks the old pioneers were. Well, I think if we just stop and look history in the face, the pioneer wasn't anything in the world but a guy that wanted something for nothin' - that's about all they were. He was a guy that wanted to live off everything nature had done. He wanted to cut a tree down that never did cost him anything...but he never did plant one. We're just now learning that we can rob from nature the same as we can rob from an individual. All the pioneer had was an ax and a plough and a gun and he went out and lived off nature. Least he thought it was nature he was livin' off of, but really, it was future generations he was livin' off of!

"Now, remember here a couple of years back when Roosevelt suggested plantin' millions of trees all across the dry regions? He said, "Ever so many miles, we'll put a row of trees clear across the country!" Well, the Republicans had one of the best laughs they've had since 1928 when they read that. "Imagine the government going into the tree planting business! What a nut idea!" Well, it was so nutty that it would be about ten to fifteen years before they'd be compelled to do it - that's how "nutty" it was!

"Another one of Roosevelt's ideas was when he took the young boys off the roads and off the streets and put 'em into these CCC camps and had'em all planting these little trees. The press all had a big laugh off that, too - called 'em "saplin' planters" and said "Look at these youn kids - they got 'em all plantin' saplings!"

"Well, if the saplin' planters had started in about the time the Republicans took over the government from Grover Cleveland, why, today, we'd be able to see the sun!"

ABOUT WILL ROGERS: Humorist and dedicated Democrat Will Rogers, one of the most beloved figures of the 20th century, was born in Oologah, which is near Claremore, Oklahoma in 1872 and died in a plane crash in Alsaska in 1935. Throughout the worst of the Depression, America found comfort and encouragement in his down-to-earth humor and his great well of compassion and common sense (the real things - not at all like Bush's versions!). It was Rogers who once said, "I never met a man I didn't like." It was also Rogers, proud of his Cherokee heritage, who coined the joke, "My ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower - they met the boat!"

Stay tuned to Dems.com for future words of wisdom from Will Rogers!