Will for President: Anti-Bunk Party Ahead of it’s Time
|Life Magazine Cover May 31, 1928 launching the campaign of Will Rogers for President as the Anti Bunk arty candidate.|
By PAT REEDER
Life magazine was 15 cents at the newsstand. Regular advertisers were the likes of Mimmeograph Machines, Sheaffer’s Skrip Ink and Willys and Stutz cars. Gruen was the designer watch.
It was May 1928 when Life started an editorial campaign challenge to put Will Rogers on the ballot as the Anti Bunk party candidate for president.
Well-known supporters who put their names to the campaign included Henry Ford, Babe Ruth, William Allen White, Grantland Rice and Charles Gibson, Life president.
In answer to the call, Will Rogers wrote a weekly column until the week before the election. It was accompanied by a Life editorial. While filled with jokes about the campaign, it has provided food for thought for more than 75 years.
Will always had a lot to say about party conventions. Politics was one of his favorite topics on stage, radio, in his daily columns and public appearances.
No doubt he would have a lot to say about 2004’s Republican and Democrat political conventions. Months, sometimes even years, leading to today’s conventions, leave little doubt who will be the nominee.
Now some have a problem, as they did in Will’s day, in deciding a running mate.
By the time the Democrat convention opens July 26 in Boston and the Republicans convene Aug. 30 at Madison Square Garden, there will be no mounting excitement. Convention planners have to stretch to make it even interesting. It’s more of a vacation for delegates than a decision-making meeting.
In 1924 when Republicans were robbed of any suspense, with the foregone conclusion Calvin Coolidge would be the man, Will had this to say:
“All my life I had been longing to attend a convention and see the excitement and hear the shouts. Now, when I do get a chance, I draw this one. The city is opening up the churches now and having services so delegates and visitors can go and hear some singing or excitement of some kind.”
Democrats that year took longer, but it was obvious by Will’s writings he was disgusted.
“Now, I never proposed a thing unless I have a solution for it. Make every speaker, as soon as he tells all he knows, sit down. That will shorten your speeches so much you will be out of here by lunch every day.”
One of Will’s most often repeated political quotes is “I am not a member of any organized party, I am a Democrat.”
On another occasion he said he was not a Democrat, not a Republican, but “just progressive enough to suit the dissatisfied. And lazy enough to be a Stand Patter.”
Andy Hogan, Claremore Will Rogers Museum tour guide and greeter retired Claremore educator, wears a “Will Rogers for President” political buttons, similar to one offered by Life magazine in 1928. The button is offered for sale in the Museum gift shop.
Will Rogers the Candidate
It may have started in jest, but there are still those who believe had Will Rogers lived he would have been nominated — and elected president.
Pat Lowe, longtime Will Rogers Museums librarian, said correspondence during the years shows the great interest people had in promoting Will for president and the still held belief he would have someday been president. (A “Will Rogers for President” political button is sold in the gift shop.)
To that he would probably have continued to say it was all “bunk.”
In Betty Rogers’ book, “Will Rogers,” she said “he was irritated and embarrassed by various drives to run him for office.”
His brand of entertainment, she said, happened to consist of “watching the Government and reporting the facts.”
When his name was seriously considered, he wrote, “Now when that is done as a joke it is alright. But when it’s done seriously, it’s just pathetic.”
He said he wanted to be on the “outside where I can joke with all of them, even the president.”
Betty Rogers said several times Will was urged to be governor of Oklahoma. A committee called on them in Beverly Hills trying to persuade him to run for California senate on the Democrat ticket.
“Of course he would have nothing to do with such offers,” she wrote. “And when it was suggested he might actually run for President, Will was outraged.”
Magazines were receiving letters of support —even Roosevelt was concerned about a Rogers’ candidacy.
In 1924, he said thanks but no thanks. That was after John Davis of West Virginia was nominated to run against Calvin Coolidge (who won by a two-one margin).
When Life put out the campaign call, Will wrote the May 31, 1928 in a by-line story as accepting with the only campaign promise “if elected he would resign” — and a plan of wine for the rich, beer for the poor and moonshine for the prohibitionists and farmer’s cure but not relief, the “cure of being a farmer.”
Henry Ford, one of the 15 original endorsers, said the joke of his candidacy was no joke “except for the resigning part.”
In August, Will challenged Herbert Hoover to a joint debate “in any joint you name.”
As candidates fly back and forth across the country vying for voters from the state houses to union halls, we are reminded of Will’s Life comment that “being a candidate didn’t give me a chance to see the country. I have seen it before.”
In September of 1928, Life started offering a campaign button “replica souvenirs of a Noble Experiment.”
Each page of the magazine carried a call to “Vote for Rogers, Vote for Smith, Vote for Hoover. But, Vote.”
In his Nov. l2 column, W ill’s last appeal before the election he asked Life to “send the following wire to the winner: Heartiest congratulations on your great victory … You will be a fine president. As for me I’d rather be right. Will Rogers.”
In the last issue of Will Rogers’ columns for the No Bunk or Anti Bunk Party, he said “the thing that stopped our party is that we are a hundred years ahead of times…
“In the year 2028 the acceptance speeches will read, “I pledge myself if elected, to appoint a Committee to look into the condition of the farmer, to keep the tariff so that it will protect the most voters, and absolutely pledge myself to take the question of Prohibition right out of politics.”
The he went on to say, “guess it’s about a thousand years ahead.”
On Nov. 9, Life declared Will a winner by the “Great Silent Vote.”
Will said “We went into this campaign to drive the Bunk out of politics. But our experiment, while noble in motive was a failure … Goodbye and Good Luck from the onely cheerful loser in the race …”
In 1932 he was given 22 votes for one round when Alfalfa Bill Murray released his Oklahoma delegates to “that sterling citizen, that wise philosopher, that great heart, that favorite son of Oklahoma.”
On conventions and presidential elections
It was a rule of Will’s not to make predictions. He didn’t want to lay himself open to accusations that he had influenced results. He had no interest in power.
He suggested what a lot of people would like — a moratorium on candidate’s speeches (that would go for television ads on today’s political scene).“… Get the weight off your shoulders and go fishing and you will be surprised the old U.S. will keep right on running while you boys are sitting on the bank.”
Will has been quoted by most presidents and many times at national party conventions.
In 1992, when Mack Davis was starring in “The Will Rogers Follies, a Life in Revue” on Broadway, the Tony winning colorful dance-hand routine was taken across the street to appear at the convention.
Conventions and elections gave Will a lot of column material.
When a member of congress took exception to having Will quoted on the floor, calling him a professional joke maker, he retaliated. “He is right about everything but the professional. They are professional joke makers.”
In the depths of the depression, when millions were without jobs, when Americans were without food or shelter, Will’s Red Cross relief tour in the winter of 1931 showed him how bad it was among farmers.
After hearing Hoover’s attempt at explaining the causes of the depression and what he saw in England, Ark., he pondered there was no direct relief from the government.
He proposed the government hire the unemployed for massive public works projects, to be paid for by a higher surtax on larger incomes.
“It might not be a great plan,” he wrote, “but it will DAM sure beat the one we got now.”
Sound familiar? It would be more than two years, but Franklin D. Roosevelt would adopt that plan almost to the letter.