Goodnight, Johnny

Before I get started each week, I do a last scan of the news to make sure I haven’t missed anything big. And one of the first stories I found was a report that one of my mentors had died yesterday morning: Johnny Carson.

When he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Bush the First cited Johnny with these words: “With decency and style he’s made America laugh and think.” Not just laugh: laugh and think, which has always been my goal with True.

Carson (R) and his ever-present sidekick, Ed McMahon. (Photo: NBC)

One of the best examples I’ve seen of the “and think” part of Johnny’s well-honed wit. It’s from 1991; the Berlin Wall had been down for two years and the Soviet Union was crumbling. His piece to reflect that environment is “What Democracy Means to Me” (reprinted below).

My favorite line: “Democracy is buying a big house you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you wish were dead.”

I featured Johnny in a special Honorary Unsubscribe this week too.

Goodnight, Johnny. I can’t say “We’ll miss you” because we have missed you since you retired. But now, we’ll add the sadness of knowing you’ll never be back, and there will never be anyone like you again.

What Democracy Means to Me
by Johnny Carson

To me, democracy means placing trust in the little guy, giving the fruits of nationhood to those who built the nation. Democracy means anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn’t grow up can be vice president.

Democracy is people of all races, colors, and creeds united by a single dream: to get rich and move to the suburbs away from people of all races, colors, and creeds. Democracy is having time set aside to worship — 18 years if you’re Jim Bakker.

Democracy is buying a big house you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties.

Democracy means freedom of sexual choice between any two consenting adults; utopia means freedom of choice between three or more consenting adults. But I digress. Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto — usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money.

Democracy means a thriving heartland with rolling fields of Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Spanky, and Wheezer. Democracy means our elected officials bow to the will of the people, but more often they bow to the big butts of campaign contributors.

Yes, democracy means fighting every day for what you deserve, and fighting even harder to keep other weaker people from getting what they deserve. Democracy means never having the Secret Police show up at your door. Of course, it also means never having the cable guy show up at your door. It’s a tradeoff. Democracy means free television. Not good television, but free.

Democracy is being able to pick up the phone and, within a minute, be talking to anyone in the country, and, within two minutes, be interrupted by call waiting.

Democracy means no taxation without representation, and god knows, we’ve just about had the hell represented out of us. It means the freedom to bear arms so you can blow the “o” out of any rural stop sign you want.

And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head. This signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle.

I thank you.

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