Will Rogers: The Bunkless Candidate
"WHATEVER the other fellow don't do, we will." Thus refreshingly Will Rogers, the bunkless candidate for President, begins his campaign. It is, of course, a dangerous doctrine, but Mr. Rogers does not mean it that way. In announcing himself as the candidate of the Anti-Bunk Party, he says: "Our support will have to come from those who want nothing and have the assurance of getting it." Within these limits, therefore, he--and the country--is perfectly safe. He can say what he likes, he can thumb his nose at politics, he can make saucy faces at government. There is not the slightest chance of his being elected, and the American people, which is said to be noted for its sense of humor, is willing to let such a man have his little joke and to laugh heartily at it.
The idea of running Will Rogers for President was conceived by Life, the humorous weekly, and in its columns he duly sets forth his views on politics and the other candidates. There are campaign buttons with Rogers's picture, burlesque political rallies are broadcasted over the radio, and Life is besieged by a large number of persons desirous of voting for Rogers and anxious to find out how to do it. A national committee of fifteen prominent citizens has solemnly agreed to indorse his candidacy. Henry Ford, Harold Lloyd, Nicholas Murray Butler, Roy Howard, Glenn H. Curtis, Judge Ben B. Lindsey, Babe Ruth, William Allen White, Clare Briggs, Grantland Rice, General William Mitchell, Ring Lardner, the Rev. Francis P. Duffy, Charles Dana Gibson, and Tex Rickard make up the committee. Thus it appears that Candidate Rogers has the support of Industry, Sport, Art, Journalism, the Army, the University, the Church, and the Bench. What more could a candidate ask? Radical and conservative, rich and--comparatively--poor, swell and proletarian, man of letters and ignorant financier, all these are not only among his anonymous supporters but his publicly announced committee. The Press and the People, the Catholic Church, the New York 400--surely no candidate was ever championed with such glorious variety from one end of the social scale to the other. And Will Rogers holds their support, he says, by eschewing bunk. "We are going to try and eliminate slogans. Slogans have been more harmful to the country than Boll-Weevil, Luncheon Clubs, Sand Fleas, Detours Conventions, and Golf Pants." Thus the candidate of the Anti-Bunk Party. "No matter what's on our platform now," he says, "on November 6 we will have a bonfire and burn the platform." However, a few of the planks in the Anti-Bunk platform are as follows:
Whatever Hoover or Smith promises you, we'll raise 'em at least 20 per cent. (And I can come just as near keeping my promise as they can.)
We absolutely promise to make no effort to get votes by sex appeal. (We are glad to have so much support from the ladies, but if it turns out that it is only sex appeal, then they'll have to stop printing my picture in the paper.)
Our plank on the liquor question is: "Wine for the rich, beer for the poor, and moonshine for the drys."
We will not only give the farmer relief, we will cure him of being a farmer.
I also pledge myself that, if elected, I will not have any Official Spokesman.
The last plank ought to be good for a million extra votes anyway. But more encouraging even than his attitude on the Official Spokesman is Mr. Rogers's animadversions on the farmer. "I am the only candidate," he declares,
that is running on either side that has ever looked a Mule in the face (or otherwise) down a corn row.
I know what the farmer needs, but I can't give it to him. But I am going to tell him before election that I can't give it to him--and not afterwards.
I can tell you in a few words what the farmer needs. He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a dam about him after election!
That's all the farmer needs, and that's all he'll get. Mr. Rogers has nothing personally against his rivals. "They are both able, fine men," he says, "but they wasn't chosen on that account." They were chosen because they were vote-getters, he goes on, and Wet and Dry will forget their principles in the final crisis and stick by the party of their grandfathers. "All you hear now is the Politicians of both partys hollering about what great Candidates they have. Al Smith is really Thomas Jefferson disguised in a brown derby and Hoover is Abraham Lincoln with a college education." Thus the Anti-Bunk Party tells the truth about the opposing leaders. The politicians are running them because each looks like a good bet. Party leaders want to win. Mr. Rogers says he will eliminate party leaders; "no party can be as bad as its leaders," he adds. And the party leaders, having picked their candidates to win, now pretend that they "carry on the glorious traditions of our party" because -- according to the relentless anti-bunker--"they're in favor of Motherhood, Virtue, the Constitution, and anything else that seems to call for a word of praise, including the Farmer."
All this is as invigorating as a bright fall day. In place of the stale windiness of political promises, we have wind, it is true, but wind of a refreshing sort. The Rogers wind blows cobwebs away, cobwebs that both the major parties have been guilty of weaving. A good deal of this amiable truth-telling, of course, is due to the fact that Candidate Rogers doesn't expect, or even hope, to win.
Not even in his funniest dreams, I imagine, can he see himself in the White House as its rightful tenant. So he can afford to tell at least part of the truth, and it is evident that he derives considerable enjoyment from the telling. He knows, as every intelligent man knows, that politics is no longer the recreation of gentlemen or, save at least rarely, the profession chosen by aspiring men who love and want to serve their country. It is a business, like any other business. You spend money to get in; if you don't spend enough money, you get out. "It's fine of these other candidates to want to run a campaign on a High Plane," says this Bad Boy of Politics,
but it would be just like me wanting to conduct my campaign on a strictly grammatical basis. I would like to but I just ain't equipped for it, and that's the way they are. With politicians as the tools you just ain't equipped to conduct anything on a high plane. The whole election won't be a month old till everybody in it will revert right back to type. So this will give you a sort of rough idea of how low it will get by fall.
So there's where the Anti-Bunk Party is lying low, just to grab up the fellows that can see these other two boys are nice kids, but they are just running for the job.
They got their minds set on the tail end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they will promise anything short of perpetual motion to have Senators eat breakfast with 'em.
This, says Mr. Rogers, is the truth about politics. And it is not necessary to set oneself up as a professional cynic in order to agree with him. This is the Age of Bunk. We eat it with our cereal at breakfast, we ride to work with it posted before our eyes, we see it in the movies at night, we hear it over the radio. Bunk is the American staple of existence. In love, in war, in work, in play it is busy making things seem what they almost certainly are not. Bunk greases the wheels of industry, bunk furnishes the home. Mr. Rogers, of course, did not originate this idea. Nor is he the first man to see that bunk colors politics as well as everything else in American life. The truth of the matter is that the American people like bunk, they choose it deliberately, it is the breath of life to them.
Doubtless Mr. Rogers is perfectly aware of this. At any rate, it is part of the joy that he gets out of life to be the debunker of persons, safe or otherwise. His quips in print or on the stage and lecture platforms long before he was nominated for the Presidency have spared nobody--that is one reason why he is such a popular candidate. Not even the holy Calvin Coolidge has been safe from him. Indeed, the longer the President has remained in office the sharper the humorous barbs, and the greater the reported coolness between them. In June last he wrote:
I see by this morning's papers that Mr. Coolidge is sending somebody to Kansas City to protect his interest. If I had an interest to be protected at a political convention, I believe I would send the marines. It would be a good joke on the Republicans, if they went and nominated somebody else, if Coolidge would veto the nomination. He is liable to do it just through force of habit.
It is not his fault that the bunkless candidate has not appeared more largely on the political stage, for he challenged both Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. His challenge to Al is so characteristic that it deserves its place in this record:
Dear Friend Al: Now this is the open season for debates, and I believe you and I could put on about as good a one as one of these others. So I hereby challenge you the way I challenged the other fellow last week.
Now the trouble with most debates, they are confined to a subject. Now we won't let that worry us, we'll just rent Madison Square Garden. All we do is sell tickets, and let the money go to poor Democratic widows who have given their husband's lives to trying to get elected to some office in the Democratic Party. Those are the most deserving women I know of.
And there's farm relief. You know how a farmer votes. When he gets to the polls he reaches in his pocket and sees how much he's got. If it's only a few cents, why, he says, "Throw the rascals out," and he votes Democratic. But if he's got as much as a dollar he guesses that the rascals is on his side after all, so maybe he'd better leave 'em in.
I wrote Hoover and challenged him, but he wanted to make it over the radio. Hoover wants to get on the radio where they can't see him, but with you it's different. You want the gang to see you. You want to make your appeal to the common people. Well, you can't make any commoner appeal than I can.
So come on, be a good fellow, Al, and name the time, place, and subject (if any). You and I can pack 'em in. So long, Al, and good luck to you till we meet in debate.
Candidate of the Anti-Bunk Party, without campaign buttons or cigars.
The pity of it is Will's candidacy has not received even wider attention. However, thousands of Americans are giving thanks to Mr. Rogers for providing the one cheerful note in an otherwise trying political campaign.