I would be willing to bet that if you were to ask someone to name a famous Oklahoman in history, most would give the name Will Rogers. Indeed Rogers, the cowboy roping performer of the late 19th and early 20th century, is not someone easily forgotten by the passage of time in our country -- he is an American iconic memory that has remained with us for a hundred years.
In my state of Oklahoma, almost everything is named after him: our airport, streets, buildings, projects, etc. He is our favorite son and the first person we typically choose to represent our fair state in our country's who's who. To many Oklahomans, he embodies the very spirit of traditional cowboy values. Most Oklahomans would probably say that he embodies good, wholesome, conservative Christian values, a true Republican statesman. And most Oklahomans would be dead wrong.
When I see the kind of comments that are written in VisitOklahomaCity's youtube channel, filled with conservative political vitriol, it simply enrages me. This is not my Oklahoma and it is not Will Rogers' Oklahoma either. Governor Fallin not going and shaking the president's hand during his visit, that also is not mine nor Rogers' Oklahoma.
Will Rogers' political leanings are one of the great cover ups in Oklahoma when it comes to my younger generation. It's not talked about, it's not idealized, and it's swept under the rug. Luckily, a great friend and professor of current events and history, tuned me in to some of old video clips of Rogers speaking about politics. I can't emphasize enough how shocked I was that there was this whole other brilliant facet to our vaudeville performer: the liberal comedian.
So when NPR's Tom Ashbrook covered Rogers in his program On Point and charged Rogers with paving the way for political comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I could not agree more.
During the last two years of his life he was the top male box-office attraction at the movies, one of the most widely read newspaper columnists, and a radio commentator with an audience of over sixty million. For over a decade, he produced a remarkable outpouring of commentary—666 weekly newspaper columns, 2,817 daily newspaper articles, 69 radio broadcasts, 71 movies, and six books.4 (His grammar and spelling are reproduced in this book’s quotations.) every morning in drugstores and barbershops across the nation, men reading their papers glanced up at their friends and asked, “Did you read what Will had to say today?”
And it went well beyond mere commentary. Rogers was a highly outspoken critic of Hoover during the Depression and lauded Roosevelt and his New Deal program. During the worst years of the Depression, Rogers campaigned across America with the Red Cross to help raise money for the poor and starving.
But to give Rogers extra credit, despite his disdain for Hoover, Rogers was a gentleman about it. He stated that he did not believe Hoover woke up in the morning and wished harm to America, just that Hoover was not getting the job done for the people.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote from Rogers given on October 18, 1931, from the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief Broadcast. Thanks for reading and remember, I'm always watching.
These people that you are asked to aid, why they are not asking for charity, they are naturally asking for a job, but if you can't give them a job why the next best thing you can do is see that they have food and the necessities of life. You know, there's not a one of us has anything that these people that are without it now haven't contributed to what we've got. I don't suppose there is the most unemployed or the hungriest man in America that hasn't contributed in some way to the wealth of every millionaire in America. It was the big boys themselves who thought that this financial drunk we were going through was going to last forever. They over-merged, and over-capitalized, and over-everything else. That's the fix that we're in now.