Rogers’ en­dur­ing wis­dom Mike Master­son

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Mike Master­son is a long­time Ar­kan­sas jour­nal­ist. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­line.com.

Six years have passed since the Na­tional So­ci­ety of News­pa­per Colum­nists went beg­ging and chose to hand me their an­nual Will Rogers Hu­man­i­tar­ian Award for a body of work span­ning 40 years. I’ve long sus­pected the awards com­mit­tee and Rogers’ great-great­grand­son in­tended to award its prized lit­tle statue to some­one prob­a­bly named Michelle Master­soni and sim­ply be­came con­fused. Even to­day no one will ac­tu­ally con­firm that. Part of that mem­o­rable chap­ter in my life in­volved a visit to the ram­bling and im­pres­sive Will Rogers Mu­seum and tomb in Clare­more, Okla., where I learned vol­umes about the late ac­claimed cow­boy hu­morist, per­former and philoso­pher. And what a re­mark­able man he was, cut from the same bril­liant pop­ulist fab­ric, in my view any­way, as re­tired colum­nist Thomas Sow­ell. As I did sev­eral months ago in shar­ing thoughts from Sow­ell, I wanted to re­mind val­ued read­ers to­day what a wit, in­sight­ful so­cial com­men­ta­tor, colum­nist and en­ter­tainer William Penn Adair Rogers was when he reached his hey­day be­tween 1920 and dy­ing in Alaska in a 1935 air­plane crash. His com­mon-sense thoughts from some nine decades past re­main as rel­e­vant to­day, a true test of his un­canny abil­ity as a sage to sep­a­rate chaff from wheat in our so­ci­ety. Born on Ok­la­homa’s Chero­kee reser­va­tion in 1879, the folksy Rogers ranks among the finest per­form­ers, co­me­di­ans, and so­cial com­men­ta­tors in Amer­i­can his­tory. So to­day, here’s an ex­cuse to re­view some of his most salient re­marks. While I haven’t re­searched ev­ery in­di­vid­ual quote at­trib­uted to Rogers, there un­for­tu­nately ap­pear to be many quips he never ut­tered, although I can’t for the life of me un­der­stand why any­one would want to give Rogers credit for words that weren’t his. Can you? On movies: “The movies are the only busi­ness where you can go out front and ap­plaud your­self.” “There is only one thing that can kill the movies, and that is ed­u­ca­tion.” Our repub­lic: “There ought to be one day (just one) when there is open sea­son on sen­a­tors.” “There’s no trick to be­ing a hu­morist when you have the whole govern­ment work­ing for you.” “You can’t say that civ­i­liza­tion don’t ad­vance, how­ever, for in ev­ery war they kill you in a new way.” “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the govern­ment and re­port the facts.” And these quotes from the Will Rogers Mu­seum and its web­site: Birthdays: “I was born on Nov. 4, which is elec­tion day. … My birth­day has made more men and sent more back to hon­est work than any other days in the year.” Rev­o­lu­tions: “There is one thing in com­mon with all rev­o­lu­tions (in fact they are pretty near like wars in that re­spect)—no­body ever knows what they are fight­ing about.” War: “You can be killed just as dead in an un­jus­ti­fied war as you can in one pro­tect­ing your own home.” Op­por­tu­nity: “Amer­ica is a land of op­por­tu­nity and don’t ever for­get it.” Learn­ing: “A man only learns by two things: one is read­ing, and the other is as­so­ci­a­tion with smarter peo­ple.” Re­al­ity: “Ten men in the coun­try could buy the world and ten mil­lion can’t buy enough to eat.” “We don’t have to worry about any­thing. No na­tion in the his­tory of the world was ever sit­ting as pretty. If we want any­thing, all we have to do is go and buy it on credit.” Knowl­edge: “This would be a great time in the world for some man to come along that knew some­thing.” “Civ­i­liza­tion: “We will never have true civ­i­liza­tion un­til we have learned to rec­og­nize the rights of oth­ers.” Moth­er­hood: “Moth­ers are the only race of peo­ple that speak the same tongue. A mother in Manchuria could con­verse with a mother in Ne­braska and never miss a word.” His roots: “My ances­tors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” Vil­lains: “Vil­lains are get­ting as thick as col­lege de­grees and some­times on the same fel­low.” Jus­ti­fi­ca­tions: “When the judg­ment day comes, civ­i­liza­tion will have an alibi: ‘I never took a hu­man life; I only sold the fel­low the gun to take it with.’” Horses: “A man that don’t love a horse, there is some­thing the mat­ter with him.” Sat­is­fac­tion: “There ain’t noth­ing to life but sat­is­fac­tion.” Ego: “No man is great if he thinks he is.” Si­lence: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Com­mon Sense: “Al­ways drink up­stream from the herd.” Sure wish I’d been blessed with that man’s amaz­ing in­sights, don’t you?

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