Lately, I’ve been intending to read some of Will Rogers’ writings. Not only is he Oklahoma’s favorite son, but he was a popular writer of cultural and political commentary in his day. Only 10 months into my own gig writing commentary, I’m hoping I’ll learn some things.
This desire to develop my knowledge and skills has coincided with the recent political debates about the nature of government. For example, I’ve been intrigued by the groups of Oklahomans who have gathered at the state Capitol a few times this summer in order to express their anger at the policies of the federal of the government. “Tea parties,” they call them.
I figured these protests compel the asking of some big questions like, “Exactly what is government?” and “What is its purpose?” Wondering what Will Rogers may have said about that, I spent a recent afternoon in the wonderful Oklahoma Room of the downtown library researching those very questions.
There is a great series of the collected writing of Rogers that were accumulated and published by the Oklahoma State University Press back in the 1980s. A friendly librarian had to open the Oklahoma Room for me. She helped me to locate the volumes and waited patiently while I researched.
The volume titled “The Hoover Years” seemed promising. In it, I discovered one of his weekly articles written in 1932 titled “Confusion in Congress.” There, Rogers wrote that the government is sort of a “co-operative affair.” I liked that phrase; it’s pretty straightforward and common sense.
Rogers wrote that definition in the midst of the Great Depression, at a time when the need for people to pull together and take care of one another was pretty evident. Some problems we just can’t solve on our own; they are bigger than we are individually, and it takes all of us working together ” cooperating, if you will.
Of course, there are various institutions that are groups of people cooperating to achieve a common goal: corporations, churches, Rotary clubs, PTAs. But there is only one institution that is the cooperative affair of everyone ” all groups, all individuals, all special interests ” and that institution is the government. It is the way that we work together to solve those problems that we cannot solve on our own.
And there is a reason we do that. It’s because we each are so interconnected that we truthfully rise and fall together. We have each contributed to what each of us has.
During a 1931 radio broadcast appealing for more aid for the unemployed, Rogers said it this way: “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.”
Given Rogers’ response in the Great Depression, I’m a little bewildered, then, by the way some Oklahomans are responding in this Great Recession we find ourselves in. According to the director of the most recent “Tea Party,” the protestors “want the government to get out of our business.”
Seems I missed something, because I sorta thought that the government was “our business.” What happens to bankers and stockbrokers, auto workers, the unemployed and the uninsured, that is “our business.”
No, I don’t think I did miss anything. Sign me up for that “co-operative affair.”
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.