75 Years

Five years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans due to the failure of the seawalls built by the Army Corps of Engineers, I republished a piece I wrote in 1992 for my book review magazine on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams. That was on the 70th anniversary of the day Sen. Long was fatally shot in the Louisiana capitol building in Baton Rouge.

Today marked the 75th anniversary of that assassination. In the past five years, Louisiana and much of the rest of the Gulf Coast have struggled to cope with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans in particular has been irrevocably changed by the flooding of the city and the subsequent exodus of residents, many of whom have been unable to return. Then, of course, this year there was the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the true effects of which we aren’t likely to know for some time.

Huey Long came into national prominence in the hard times of the Depression. He’s thought of today mostly as a demagogue or a proto-fascist who appealed to the basest populist instincts of the masses, but Long’s was one of the first voices in government to be raised against companies like Standard Oil which he viewed as stripping the people of his state of their mineral and resource wealth and giving virtually nothing in return. And that was his view before the Depression hit.

Long’s “Share Our Wealth” plan was a means for reducing income inequality that put restrictions on inherited wealth and income that were far more radical than anything proposed by anyone in politics today, much less an elected United States Senator.

And here we are in the Great Recession. Three-quarters of a century on from the day the Kingfish was gunned down (he didn’t die for two days) and the problems he fought against have only ossified. Nobody in the Democratic Party is fighting corporatism (and forget about the Republicans). Reducing income inequality isn’t even on the radar screen; we’ll be lucky if we don’t get an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich that increased it over the past decade.

I don’t know how to end this post other than with this.