Although Will Rogers' humor and commentary was focused on events unfolding during the 1920s and 1930s, it is astonishing how fresh his material is in 2001. It is even more astonishing how little some of the subjects of his comments - Republicans and big oil in particular - have changed in 75 years!
Will Rogers on Big Oil, Republicans, Foreign Affairs and What It Means to Be a Congressman
By Will Rogers
with introduction and notes by Cheryl Seal
The Bush administration’s current high-handed, aggressive push to grab land belonging to the public to drill for oil and natural gas is nothing new. Greedy, powerful rightwingers (rightwinger being basically synonymous with someone who has little or no interest in human rights) first started pulling those ruthless stunts back in the 18th and 19th centuries. The only difference is, back then, they seized land belonging to the Native Americans and could just shoot any resistors (they’d do that today, too, if they thought they could get away with it).
The Cherokees were among the most viciously treated of all tribes by the U.S. government, which broke no less than 24 treaties with these highly independent and honorable people. Will Rogers was part Cherokee and very proud of the fact. He was deeply grieved by the torments suffered by his ancestors and expressed his view with a dark, poignant humor.
“They sent the [Cherokees] to Oklahoma. 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 it 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 acre for it. We had it for hunting grounds, but we never knew enough to hunt oil on it.”
Will would be appalled to learn that today under Bush, the government not only plans to seize land it has no right to and turn it over to the oil/gas/mining companies, it doesn’t intend to pay so much as a dollar an acre for the “privilege.”
Foreign Affairs and Wars
"Now if there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is to try and manage somebody else’s affairs. We are liable to get a bad kick back from a lot of this high-handed stuff we are pulling. We are riding a high horse. Between our missionaries and our oil men, we are just about in wrong all over the world.”
"When you get into trouble 5,000 miles away from home, you’ve got to have been looking for it.”
"Diplomats are just as essential to starting a war a soldiers are for finishing it. You take diplomacy out of war and the thing would fall flat in a week."
“[Leaders] think the future generations should pay for a war and the present generation should keep them in office."
"There is no industry under the sun you can get credit for as quick as you can war.”
“You know you can be killed just as dead in an unjustified war as you can in one protecting your own home.”
“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. “
“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 a democracy.”
"The Republicans always look bad three years out of four. But the year they look good is election year. A voter don’t expect much. If you give him one good year, he is satisfied.”
“The whole trouble with the Republicans is their fear of an increase in income tax. They speak of it almost like a national calamity. I really believe if it come to a vote whether to go to war with England, France, and Germany combined, or raise the rate on incomes of over $100,000, they would vote war."
“Republicans, they take care of big money, for big money takes care of them.”
“The Republican convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see his way clear to bless the Republican party the way it’s been carrying on, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking for it.”
On Becoming a Congressman
Will was made an honorary Congressman by the National Press Club, which resolved that “the country’s greatest need is not a five-cent cigar” but a decent Congressman. At a fancy dinner, Senator Ashurst presented Rogers with the official document. Rogers accepted the award with a sorrowful air:
“I certainly regret the disgrace that’s been thrust on me tonight...I certainly have lived, or have tried to live, my life so that I would never become a congressman...and I am just as ashamed of the fact I have failed as you are. And to have the commission presented by a senator is adding insult to injury.”
Only the Good Die Young!
"Why is it the good ones are the ones that go? That’s one thing about an ornery guy - you never hear of him dying. He’s into everything else but a coffin."