Was the 1932 presidential election a referendum on “fishing” – saltwater versus freshwater?
That’s a simplistic view of it, but one political commentator was convinced voters’ fishing preferences would tip the outcome.
This was the opinion voiced by the late William Penn Adair Rogers, the leading “political wit and the highest paid Hollywood film star” in this era.
He was known far and wide simply as Will Rogers. He was a Cherokee citizen born in 1870 near Oologah, Okla. Rogers listed his occupation as “American stage and film actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist and social commentator.”
He was admired and revered as an all-American “character.”
Rogers amused his fans with earthy anecdotes, and his folksy style allowed him to poke fun at everyone in the public eye...even himself.
He said: “When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: ‘I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.’ I am so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.”
The 1932 contest for U.S. president pitted Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt against Republican Herbert Hoover, the incumbent. Rogers suggested that the election “will be settled on fish.”
Forget the Great Depression, Rogers said. The issue is: “Do you want a deep-sea fisherman (Roosevelt) in the White House – flounders and cod – or a big trout and perch man (Hoover)?
As election day drew nigh, Rogers advised the candidates: “You two boys just get the weight of the world off your shoulders and go fishing.”
“Now instead of calling each other names...you can do everybody a big favor by going fishing, and you will be surprised, but the (nation) will keep right on running while you boys are sitting on the bank.”
“Then come back next Wednesday, and we will let you know which one of you is the lesser of the two evils,” Rogers said.
When the ballots were counted, Hoover carried only six states, primarily in the New England region.
Thus, Franklin Roosevelt’s victory wasn’t so much about the electorate’s “fishing preferences,” although Rogers’ predictions made for great theater.
Americans voted for Roosevelt’s promise of “New Deal” programs that would lift the nation out of the Great Depression.
James Slowes, a contributor to the White House Historical Association, opined: “Fishing will continue to be enjoyed by people across America. It is ingrained in our history and collective memory, and will always likely be a recreational activity that is appreciated by presidents searching for a respite from the pressures and duties of the nation’s highest public office.”
Rogers went a bit farther when he stated: “If all politicians fished instead of spoke publicly, we would be at peace with the world.”
Perhaps that inspired the late Doug Larson of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., a veteran newspaper columnist to write: “If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.”
Country music fans enjoy the wisdom of Earl Dibbles Jr., alter ego of Granger Smith, who says: “I got 99 problems and fishin’ solves all of ‘em.”
Now, there once was a president who enjoyed the water, but as a swimmer more so than as a fisherman. He was John Quincy Adams (1825-29), who relished his pre-dawn swims in the Potomac River, and “like other river bathers,” Adams swam unencumbered by swimming trunks.