A sapsucker is a type of woodpecker. For you city slickers, a woodpecker is a bird, not a sex toy. Given their tiny brains, sapsuckers are not very smart, but they do know how to do one thing very well: they live off the sap they find in tree trunks by pecking little holes through the bark. It is Willie Stark who compared the ignorant, malleable electorate to sapsuckers.
Willie Stark was born in Nashville over a century ago. He got into politics in Louisiana during the Great Depression and made a reputation for representing the little guy whose ambitions were constantly at risk of being crushed by big government and big business. In return the people loved him. In other words, he was a populist. His success came from the people up, not from the top down.
Willie first won a small office by exposing a corrupt bidding process that gave a school building contract to a favorite of the entrenched establishment. The school building collapsed, killing several children. The people remembered and supported him with their votes. The dominant political machine noted that Willie had a knack for speaking to the majority of the voters in Louisiana of that day, the poor whites and blacks who worked as tenant farmers and laborers, giving them hope in exchange for votes.
Hungry to do more than the help of money and sympathetic newspapers could make happen, Willie was flattered to be asked to run for a bigger office. But along the way, he discovered that he had been suckered into running not because the big guys wanted him to win, but to split the vote of the opposition. Willie toed their line and gave the standard, boring stump speeches up to that point. But when he realized he’d been had, he changed his tune. He made the people face the hard, unvarnished facts of life.
“Listen to me, you hicks,” he would say. “Listen here and lift up your eyes and look on the God’s blessed and unflyblown truth. If you’ve got the brain of a sapsucker left and can recognize the truth when you see it. This is the truth: you are a hick and nobody ever helped the hick but the hick himself. Up there in town they won’t help you. It is up to you and God, and God helps those who help themselves!”
Willie Stark lost that race, but his new message touched a nerve. With overwhelming support from the electorate, he won the governorship of Louisiana and set about reforming the corruption endemic to the big institutions of that state.
Then, Willie Stark was assassinated. End of story.
In fact, the whole story is a fiction. It is true, in a way, that Willie Stark was born in Nashville, not as a real person but as a character in a novel written by a Vanderbilt1 alumnus and faculty member, Robert Penn Warren. His book All the King’s Men won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. Willie Stark was modeled on the real-life populist governor of Louisiana in the early 1930s, Huey Long. Warren followed Long’s history closely while on faculty at LSU, plus he had a fellowship in Italy in the 1930s while Benito Mussolini was rising to power, so Warren had plenty to draw on in creating Willie Stark. Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 and Mussolini was hanged by a mob in 1945.
Long, Mussolini, and the fictional Willie Stark all rose to power by tapping into the “sapsucker” vote – the hicks, the rednecks, the poor and struggling classes in general – to oppose entrenched elites. Problem was, to hold on to power as populists, they each had to double-deal, resorting to tactics as ruthless and immoral as the elites, working with them and against them at the same time. The resulting tension led them inevitably to their deaths.
Yet we sapsuckers always live on. Whether we live in a welfare entitlement state or a dog-eat-dog libertarian paradise, our freedom and our opportunity to pursue happiness depend on the people who pull the levers of government. And these days you don’t have to be a hick to be a sapsucker. Don’t think you aren’t a sapsucker because you have a college degree. The art of fooling the masses has been honed to fine edge by Big Tech working through your smart phone. All you have to be is a little bit suggestible, like the 75% of the population susceptible to hypnotism.
But there are a lot more of us than there are of them. So even if we’ve been suckered in, one way or another, they have to feed us sapsuckers whether to gain our votes in a free democratic society, or to maintain power as an installed kleptocracy. If you don’t believe the latter, just look at the mob that ousted Sri Lanka’s government in July.
As a sapsucker, the most difficult task is figuring out who are the liars vs. who can be counted on to operate the government for the greatest good for all. It is not always so simple as lying vs. truthfulness. Indeed, Warren’s telling of the Willie Stark story is not so much about the rise and fall of a populist as it is about the search for truth, or more accurately, about finding the truth that works, because there can be as many and conflicting truths as there can be many and conflicting lies. It is Warren’s genius2 in All the King’s Men that he lays out the byzantine and confusing search through this miasma that we all must undertake in order to get through life successfully.
In real life, however, we sapsuckers have to do all the aforementioned truth-seeking on the fly. We are not putting it on paper with the benefit of hindsight as we write the great American novel. So, let’s pause a moment and hop down a rabbit trail to play an instructive game that might help our tiny little sapsucker brain discern some useful truth. The game is, Who Said This?
- In an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2020 prior to the election: “You know what, if I could make an arrangement where I had a stand-in, a front man or a front woman and they had an earpiece in and I was just in my basement with my sweats looking through the stuff, and I could sort of deliver the lines, but somebody else was doing all the talking and ceremony, I would be fine with that.”
- On July 2nd, 2008, in a speech delivered in Colorado Springs: “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we have set. We have to have a civilian national security force that is just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded.”
- On October 31st, 2008, in a speech at the University of Missouri: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
Congratulations! That is, if you have correctly divined that all three of these statements were made by Barack Obama. If you didn’t get the right answer, you better work on that little sapsucker brain of yours. Because like a whirling Dervish warrior, he did give us fair warning.
Take quotation #1. If you do have the brain of a sapsucker left, you can see that Joe Biden does not have the brain of a sapsucker left. Someone is speaking into that earpiece and making Biden’s lips move. Given what Obama has openly said, it takes no great leap of the imagination to figure out that it is he – and his co-conspirators like Susan Rice – who are the ones pulling the strings of the Biden Junta (for short, let’s call it, fittingly, the B.J.).
And consider quotation #2. How about making a private army of 87,000 new IRS agents, many of whom will be armed and have no flipping idea about the tax code? Not to mention the private armies and arsenals being assembled by other branches of the federal government. An accountant-friend – you better have one, too – confirms that there are not anywhere near 87,000 people currently in the entire U.S. inside or outside of the I.R.S. who understand the tax code. It doesn’t matter – the very thought of an audit makes the hair stand on end of any hardworking American, just as the thought of a visit from the Gestapo did any German, law-abiding or not, in the 1930s.
Finally, think of quotation #3 when you are scratching your head about the hostility to churches and prayer and faith-based morality, about the “gender” confusion and the corruption of children with pornography and biological violence, about the sacrifice of the Bill of Rights to contact tracing, shutdowns, and forced “vaccinations,” about the “woke” policies undermining the American military, and if you’ve got the brain of a sapsucker left, you can see that in these and other ways America is being stood on its head by government fiat and media collusion.
Mission accomplished, Herr Obama. Though far from finished.
Now, keep that rabbit trail in mind while we get back for a few moments to Professor Warren’s story of Willie Stark. In fact, the major character is not Willie Stark but the narrator, a newspaper reporter named Jack Burden. He’s a spectator. He comes from the higher classes but he is alienated and despite his higher education he doggedly works as a gumshoe reporter. Jack Burden gets to know Willie Stark when assigned to cover his first campaign and later he works for Willie Stark in some vague capacity a la Tom Hagen in The Godfather.
When Willie Stark can’t get an influential doctor on board with his social justice program to build the biggest, finest free hospital in the United States for Louisiana’s citizens, he assigns Jack Burden to find some “dirt” on the doctor. “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption,” Willie Stark tells him, “and passes from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.”
Willie Stark is a man of action. Jack Burden is a slug. Spurned by the woman he loves, when life’s complications get too intense for him he goes into what he calls the Big Sleep. Where Willie Stark takes adversity head on, Jack Burden runs from it, hides, and sleeps. In a way, Jack Burden represents the Sapsucker Nation, the vast majority of citizens who seem to resist engagement, who sleep through life, who like water, follow the path of least resistance until it comes to a crisis when they absolutely have to act or perish.
No spoiler alert is necessary. Robert Penn Warren weaves a gripping story . It’s not Willie Stark’s assassination that is the main thing, but how it comes to that. In the process, through Warren’s mastery of the art, we feel the heat of the Louisiana summers, we ache with Jack Burden’s ennui, we urge the characters to persevere, to back off, to move on, to find happiness or at least, to find their way. At the intersection of Willie Stark’s drive and his own torpor, Jack Burden does find secrets perhaps better left unrevealed. That becomes the crux of tragedy. If you have not read All the King’s Men, you owe it to yourself to read it if for no other reason than for inspiration to break the bonds of sapsuckerdom.
Now, back to real life today. It is no epiphany that disinformation rules the day. You’ve got to find your way through the miasma. Do you have the brain of a sapsucker left? You should test and retest every single assumption you make about life and politics on an ongoing basis to ensure you are not falling for a semi-Populist trap.
For example, you might NOT have the brain of a sapsucker left IF YOU BELIEVE…
…that the war in Ukraine is a fight for freedom.
Picking a side in the war between Ukraine and Russia is like trying to decide who’s better, Pablo Escobar or Manuel Noriega? Saddam Hussein or Ruholla Khomeini? Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin? It is a struggle between two thoroughly corrupt and sociopathic regimes. No matter who prevails, the people lose. Ukraine has been used by the Biden Junta and others for years as a place to launder money and operate lawlessly. It’s no wonder the B.J. is throwing billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars at the fight. It’s a paradise for kickbacks.
… that climate change is man-made.
Al Gore kicked off the Manbearpig hysteria over global warming years ago. Bedwetters around the world have kept it alive despite all evidence to the contrary and exposure of the data manipulation distorting their dire warnings by supposed climate scientists. And Gore, the original Tennessee Sapsucker-in-(Vice)-Chief, and others of like stripe have made billions off the carbon credit scam his B.S. has inspired, blackmailing businesses which can in any conceivable way be accused of damaging the environment. And forget your electric car. If you want to damage the environment, there’s hardly a better way than building electric cars, fueling them, and then dealing with the dead batteries.
…that the 2020 election was not rigged.
Anyone with a sapsucker’s-allotment of brain remaining knew something was up with the 2020 election as soon as they heard every single media outlet claim there was NO EVIDENCE for allegations to the contrary. Opposition to voter I.D. requirements, mail-in ballots, ballot drop boxes, vote totals changing in tidal magnitude in the middle of the night, huge crowds showing up for Trump and crickets for Biden – all of it belies the media and left-wing pundit chorus that Trump was telling the Big Lie. Obama & Co. wanted somebody in the top office- and as Vice President, for that matter – who was as brain dead as Joe Biden and that’s exactly what they installed.
The B.J. is just a smoke screen. It doesn’t matter what Joe Biden says or does. He’s old Uncle Joe you have to invite to Thanksgiving dinner and he has lost his filter and any kind of cockamamie is liable to come out of his mouth. At night Barack and Michelle sit by the fire in their BLUE class Martha’s Vineyard home sipping brandy and having a good laugh about each new suicidal absurdity Uncle Joe perpetrates on America.
…that the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection.
If it was, it was an insurrection with erectile dysfunction. If MAGA actuallystaged an insurrection, the Capitol would have fallen in minutes and most of the D.N.C. would be serving prison sentences now. Related lies are that cops were killed that day – they weren’t – and that the rioters were armed. They were not. Only Ashley Babbitt was killed that day, an Air Force veteran guilty of overzealous demonstration who was shot in cold blood at point blank range by a cop who has gotten off scot-free for the crime. And yet the rogue Justice Department has hundreds still sitting in jail or under prosecution for what is essentially trespassing and disorderly conduct, as if they were terrorists. What is criminal, besides the B.J.’s handling of the whole situation, is the corporate media’s silence in the face of the human rights violations.
…that face masks do one damn bit of good in preventing the spread of disease.
Please, people: Those of you who still wear face diapers, those of you who still run to get a test every time you get the sniffles, those of you who are clamoring for booster after booster – and especially, those of you who insist on imposing such hysteria on the rest of us – BACK OFF, SOBER UP, OR STAY HOME! You are crazy! You are dangerous! And you are leading the greatest civilization ever created by humanity – the Free World led by a free America – right into the darkness of despotism.
… that abortion is a woman’s right.
This is only true as a moot point, i.e. in the absence of a fetus. Because there is nothing non-human about a fetus. It is the very essence of the human being. So if you buy the concept “your rights end where mine begin,” and you don’t believe that murder is ever okay, then please cut out this nonsense that abortion is simply health care. On the scale that abortion has come to be practiced since Roe v. Wade, it is indeed genocide. It is barbaric. And every mentally, morally healthy person should turn their heads in disgust at the horrid psychotics demonstrating in favor of abortion as if it’s a thing to celebrate.3
As stated before, there can be many conflicting truths and here is a truth, too: You don’t have to be a sapsucker. Although we all live off the Tree of Life, we can rise above the level of sapsucker by being truly progressive in our politics. It starts with understanding that every day of life is a gift from God that we are to make the best of. That’s where true progress happens.
The genius of the Founding Fathers, for all their flaws and yes, they were flawed because they too were human beings with feet of clay, is that they gave civilization a system of government where every individual has the opportunity to make their own life exceptional through individual liberty and the personal pursuit of happiness. The Huey Longs and Benito Mussolinis of this world may have tapped into the sapsucker side of human nature, but their ultimate mistake was believing that they themselves had all the answers, rather than the inherent genius of a free people making their own decisions. Because of that, they had to use force to hold power. The B.J. is gearing up to do exactly the same thing. Hopefully, they will be rooted out like all other despots before them, and quickly before they do more damage.
Free people each making unforced decisions about their own lives collectively – that is what vaulted the United States to apex of civilization, and if we give that up, humanity’s best days are behind us. It’s time for all us sapsuckers to come out of the Big Sleep, stop the B.S. from the B.J. about private armies and semi-fascism and threats to democracy and the rest of their rot, and set the country back as the beacon of the Free World.
1 It is a shame that Vanderbilt University, the once-great Nashville institution populated in the past by the likes of Robert Penn Warren, Chancellor Alexander Heard, and groundbreaking medical researchers, is more recently known for grossly overpaid administrators, vaccine mandates, and pushing sex change ideology on kids. Its record is at best spotty lately. An example on the positive side is its LifeFlight program. But mainly it has become a bloated, aloof, and grant-sucking behemoth with huge endowments and outrageous tuition like so many major American universities these days.
2 All the King’s Men was far and away the greatest novel Robert Penn Warren produced, but not the only one. Two others are worth noting. His first, Night Rider, was a fictional treatment of the very real Tobacco Wars which took place in northern middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky in the early 1900s when farmers fought back against collusion by big tobacco companies intent on depressing crop prices. His writing style in this novel was a warm-up to the magnificent literary art of All the King’s Men. The later novel A Place to Come To is especially interesting for native Nashvillians as it details the soap opera-like academic life at Vanderbilt and the elitist life at Belle Meade Country Club, fictionalized of course. Warren was also a respected poet and was a champion of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Search a bit and you can find fascinating audio of Warren interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr.
3 Janie B. Cheaney, one of the most thoughtful and eloquent of a stable full of great writers at World News Group, expressed the pro-life philosophy this year in the July 30 issue of WORLD magazine most beautifully: “Every intimate encounter between a man and a woman presents the possibility of a future life to take hold and flourish. Before you are even aware of it, tiny fingers could be forming, which might soon mutely grasp your own finger. Before long, small hands could be reaching out for a hug, helping you roll cookie dough or hang ornaments on a Christmas tree, gripping a steering wheel for the first time, firmly shaking the hands of well-wishers at college graduation. Someday, a strong hand could be holding your frail one as your eyes close on this life.”