Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and even Will Rogers–expert satirists in their days–could never have anticipated what technology has done to intensify the sting and broaden the reach of political satire.
Late-night television has made politicians a favorite target, beginning perhaps nearly a half century ago with Chevy Chase’s “Saturday Night Live” portrayal of a clumsy then-President Gerald Ford. And today social media is alive with people forwarding video, cartoons and commentary to one another. None of that existed 90 years ago when America’s consumer economy ground to a halt to produce the Great Depression.
Some years ago I came into possession of a piece of satire, probably considered sacrilegious at the time because it parodies the 23rd Psalm–one of the best-known and most-quoted parts of the Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible.
Its author is unknown but it very well could have been an employee in the newsroom of the Bloomington, Ill., daily newspaper, The Pantagraph. It’s typed on a memo paper topped with the newspaper’s logo. Its author skewers President Herbert Hoover who urged the 25 percent of the American workforce who were without jobs to persevere, that patience and self-reliance was all they’d need to get them through this “passing incident in our national lives.” A couple years after this was written the U.S. had a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his pledge of “a New Deal for the American people.”
The Year 1930 Psalm
Hoover is my shepherd, I am in want,
He maketh me to lie down on park benches; he leadeth me beside silent factories,
He restoreth my doubt in the Republican party; he leadeth me in the path of destruction for his party’s sake.
I do fear evil for thou art against me; thy politicians and profiteers they frighten me.
Thou preparest a reduction in my salary before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my income with taxes; my expenses runneth over my income,
Surely unemployment and poverty will follow me all the days of the Republican administration; and I will dwell in a rented house forever.
An update: Local historian Greg Koos has discovered this poem was printed in a San Antonio newspaper in 1931 and attributed to a George Keyes. Perhaps an employee of the Bloomington newspaper saw it there or elsewhere and (in the days before copying machines) decided it was worth transcribing.