Tuesday, January 25, 2005

What Democracy meant to Johnny Carson

I didn't say anything yesterday about the passing of Johnny Carson. Not because I didn't like him, I did immensely. I have very fond memories of growing up watching Johnny. I used to sneak out of bed and go down to the living room and watch him with the lights turned out and the sound turned down low so my parents wouldn't hear it. This was before they let me have my own little black and white. After I developed my long standing habit of staying up past midnight.

The reason I didn't say anything yesterday is because I really didn't have anything to say.

I still don't, beyond saying that he is sorely missed (as are other great lights like Carl Sagan and Jim Henson, both regular guests on Johnny's show) and posting the following reprise, courtesy of Salon, on the event of his retirement. It is Carson's 1991 monologue "What Democracy Means to Me", delivered at the time of the fall of communism and to the sounds of Doc Severenson's band playing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the background.

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 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 free television, not good television, but free. ... 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.

And thank you Johnny.


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