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What Would Will Rogers Say?

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Looking at the present with historical eyes, out on the Scenic Route

My mom and sis recently presented me with “Will Rogers Says,” containing comments and quotes extracted from columns, books and speeches written between 1922 and his death in August, 1935. 

Rogers was a country boy from Claremore, Oklahoma, with a swift wit and a knack for telling the truth in a way that made people laugh and squirm a little at the same time. He was an outspoken advocate of airplanes and his faith in flight killed him. He was 56 when he and pilot Wiley Post died in a crash in Alaska. I wonder what he was thinking moments before the crash. Having had a few exciting moments in small planes myself, my guess is that he was somewhat terrified and praying to beat hell. 

Two of the sayings Rogers is credited with are, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” and “All I know is what I read in the papers.” I don’t yet possess the special humility he had to say the first, and we’ve supplanted newspapers with the internet and network news. I have not much faith in the veracity of either. Put it down on paper, and someone might show up with article in hand and point out its shortcomings — believe me, it’s happened! The internet and television are “here one second, gone the next.” Maybe that’s why folks are so willing to lie these days: they’re sure the next big thing will cover their tracks. 

“Lie” might be too strong a word. Misinformation may be the result of ignorance. Take for instance, the assertion of Heather Scott that her opponent Steven Snedden’s campaign for legislative seat 1A was endorsed by the Idaho Conservation League. ICL is a 501c3 non-profit, and if you know the law, you know non-profits can’t engage in political campaigns. Snedden was endorsed by the Idaho League of Conservation Voters. I’m sorry he lost, but he might be better off. At least he gets to stay home. 

I’m not sure what Rogers might say about the U.S. today; the same country he loved for its strengths and foibles, both, but mightily changed from his time. But he was the guy who said, upon visiting Italy, “I didn’t know before I got there and they told me all this, that Rome had Senators. Now I know why they declined.” So maybe he would be as timely now as he was then. 

Rogers might note on a local level that Bonner County’s great silent majority stayed silent and stayed home in last week’s primary. And lost some good folks for it. Too busy to go vote? Or too apathetic? Listen up, folks, if the Tea Party is the only one whose voters vote, soon the Tea Party will be running the county, and then the country; and while some may think that’s a good idea, it’s not going to make things better for the majority. Their agenda is based on get, not give. We need to learn again to give if we’re ever going to get better culturally.

Rogers was friends with two of the biggest industrialists of his time, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller, but his take on healthcare was that the rich should pay doctors enough that the doctors could treat the poor for free. The Tea Party would label it blatant socialism, but I would call it social justice. 

In Sanders County, we go to the polls June 3. Hate mail is piling up — pricey and paid for by Political Action Committees — slickly-designed, glossy mailings attacking certain “liberal” candidates. The other person in the race weighs in heavily on their opponent’s faults, but says not much about his (or her) qualifications except that he (or she) is a true conservative and endorsed by — or at least a member of — the National Rifle Association. 

I wonder how a person running for office as a “conservative” can justify spending that kind of money just to say bad things about the opposition. The NRA endorsements bring to mind this Rogers quote: “When judgment day comes, civilization will have an alibi: ‘I never took a human life, I only sold the fella the gun to take it with.’ ” 

People in California are feeling the bite of that this week.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, “Gun ownership is not a privilege. It’s a right!” Maybe in the U.S. it is, as interpreted by one of the most profitable manufacturing consortiums on earth, but it’s not a fundamental human right. That’s reserved for clean water, air to breathe, a roof, clothing and enough to eat every day, some of which some folks don’t have yet. But the arms industry won’t rest until every planetary citizen owns an assault rifle. And then it will sell them hand grenades. 

All of which leaves me somewhat terrified and praying to beat hell.

When Sandy Compton is not being curmudgeonly, he writes books. His latest are available at local bookstores and online at amazon.com

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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Politics, The Scenic Route, Will Rogers, Will Rogers Says

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