Thinking about Mark Twain on His Birthday

They sure don't make American icons like they used to.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the man who "came in with Halley's Comet," was born on this day (November 30) back in 1835. Better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens was the great American icon of his time.

For many Americans, the name Mark Twain generates a certain rush of warm feelings. We picture a distinctive-looking man seated with a smoking pipe (or cigar) in hand, wavy hair, thick mustache, and a white suit. We fondly recall his Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher characters as though they were real. We still laugh at Mr. Twain's many witticisms.

Mark Twain was an American icon because without the help of a speechwriter, a teleprompter, a pair of fake Greek columns, and a larger-than-life broadcast screen, he could move an audience with his spontaneous oratory.

Mark Twain was an American icon because without using a ghostwriter, he could write from his own head and heart and wondrously transmit the American experience onto paper.

Mark Twain was an American icon because his travels abroad never turned out to be apology tours.

Drawing the distinction between those in the world who do "things because they have been done before," Mark Twain explained that "an American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before." Mark Twain believed in American exceptionalism. In fact, he reveled in it. Mr. Twain thought America was best and that the last thing on our minds should be emulating Europeans. 

They sure don't make American icons like they used to.

Exactly how and where Mark Twain would fit in today is hard to say. I believe he would have embraced a multicultural America but would have condemned our out-of-control political correctness, finding it dangerous, repressive, and a hindrance to creativity. Besides being a famous humorist, novelist, and short story writer, Mr. Twain might have made one heck of a radio talk show host.

Mark Twain was never short on opinions. If he were alive today, I wonder what his opinion of Congress and our president would be, or what he might say about our American dream slipping away. Personally, I would love to know how he would address those who claim that American conservatism is dead. 

Perhaps Mr. Twain would smile, take a puff from one of his five-cent cigars, and tell them, "Rumors of the death of American conservatism have been greatly exaggerated."