Will Rogers. Would that he were alive...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY,

November 04, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Will Rogers. Would that he were alive today. We need a journalist for the ages like him to comment on such follies as those that went on in the Senate this week.

I wonder if Rogers watching this spectacle would have chosen for an epitaph: "I joked about every prominent man in my lifetime, but I never met one I didn't like." He said that in one version or another at least seven times, according to his biographer, Ben Yagoda. Interestingly, the first man he said it about was not an American politician but the Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.

Yagoda also says that in fact Rogers disliked a number of prominent men. He disliked Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover and Sen. Tom Heflin, for example.

I, myself, was glued to C-SPAN for the Bob Packwood debate. I am as friendly as the next guy, but on the basis of some of the speeches I heard Monday and Tuesday, I think I might dislike at least a couple of today's senators if I met them.

But I enjoyed the debate. For one thing it was pretty literary and historical. For example, Sen. Mitch McConnell semi-quoted Sir Walter Scott and Senator Packwood misquoted Oliver Cromwell. think.

Senator McConnell said of Senator Packwood's attempt to mislead the Ethics Committee, "As the old poem goes, 'What a tangled web we weave." " Actually, the old poem goes, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave,/when first we practice to deceive!" That's from "Lochinvar." Truth in journalism requires me to say I don't carry around lines from old poems in my head. I looked it up in the new "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations."

Senator Packwood told the Senate of a conversation he had with one of the women who is said to have been one of the victims of his sexual advances. A year later they were in his office drinking ++ wine. "She stood up, approached me, put her arms around me and gave me a great big kiss and said, 'You are wonderful.' I responded 'warts and all?' And she laughed, and she knew the reference."

The reference is to Oliver Cromwell's oft misquoted remark. Bartlett's notes that he said (to his portrait painter), "I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything. . ." I think that's what Packwood meant by "the reference." But maybe it was personal.

Will Rogers is one of the few newspapermen of his generation who is quoted in Bartlett's. He's in there nine times. In addition to his desired epitaph, there are, "I tell you folks, all politics is applesauce." And, "Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with." And a few others, including my personal favorite, "All I know is what I read in the papers."

For what it's worth, and as if you didn't know, the newspaperman with the most Bartlett's entries -- more than twice as many as anyone else -- is H. L. Mencken.

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