Huey Long Died 76 Years Ago

It’ll be nineteen years this fall since I published my review of T. Harry Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Huey Long in the first issue of Plant’s Review of Books. The country at that time was in the grips of an economic downturn that had cast a pall on the off-the-chart job approval ratings then-President George H.W. Bush had in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Rumblings of populism were shaking Washington DC, with a down-South governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton and the seemingly-too-caffineated Ross Perot chipping away at the adminstration. It’s just that simple, as Perot said many a time.

Times then seemed a bit tough, but they don’t compare to the situation now. Even endless wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia can’t distract the public from nearly two more decades of decline in the health of American households. Everyone’s a man (or woman) of the people during election season: MIchelle Bachmann and the couple dozen foster kids she maintained (she must have gotten to know them real well); Rick Perry, shootin’ coyotes while he’s out for a run; even Barack Obama, who starts talking in his “aw, shucks” voice and rolling up his sleeves out on the hustings. I think that deep down Rick Santorum is probably trying to be a populist, but he’s so alien that he just can’t pull it off. Ron Paul’s basically channeling Perot’s wired demeanor. Not so much a man of the people as the crazy uncle you can’t get away from at Thanksgiving.

Every year at this time since 2005, I’ve marked the passing of a real populist: Huey Long. Long died on 10 September 1935 after being shot two days earlier. My review of the Williams biography has been on the web for so long that it’s on the first page of results of a Google search for “huey long”. This year, as in most, I’d like to invoke his “Share Our Wealth” plan that riled up even the “job-creators” willing to go along with FDR’s economic agenda.

From Every Man a King: The Autobiography of Huey P. Long by Huey P. Long, 1933

CHAPTER XXXVI

THE MADDENED FORTUNE HOLDERS AND THEIR
INFURIATED PUBLIC PRESS!

The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—

THE LONG PLAN

1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $15,716,000 in 2010 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$31,433,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000 [$1,571,600,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man’s forture to something like $50,000,000 [$785,820,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $5,000,000 [$78,582,000] in a lifetime without working for it, all over that amount to go to the government to be spread among the people for its work.

3. An income tax which does not allow any one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$15,716,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

“The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime.”

—Ridpath’s History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:

EVERY MAN A KING

On Compromise


Selling out is easy to do,
It’s not so hard to find a buyer for you.
When money talks, you’re under its spell,
Ah, but what do you have when there’s nothing left to sell?

Selling out
(I’d rather call it compromise)
Is easy to do
(Sometimes you have to close your eyes)
It’s not so hard
(Being rich is no disgrace)
To find a buyer for you.
(Put on your shoes and join the race)
When money talks,
(It has a very soothing voice)
You’re under its spell,
(It’s up to you to make the choice)
Ah, but what do you have when there’s nothing left to sell?
(before you know it there’ll be nothing left to sell!)

You can’t always break the rules, people who try are fools,
When you get older, maybe then you will see.
I’ve always found ideals, don’t take the place of meals,
That’s how it is and how it will always be!

It’s so nice to have integrity, I’ll tell you why,
If you really have integrity, it means your price is very high.
So remember when you start to preach, and moralize,
That we all are in the game and brother its name is compromise!

—Tom Lehrer, “Selling Out”, The Remains of Tom Lehrer

Justified

According to a White House response sent to Congress about the rationale that the US is not engaged in a war with Libya and is therefore unhindered by any legislative restrictions placed on it by the 1973 War Powers Resolution:

U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors…

The same could be said about a US nuclear strike on any country unable to mount a similar response. Just planning ahead.

But Is He Elect-Abel?

What is it with the GOP that the guy who was their nominee for President last time around and the guy who may have won the first debate in this year’s contest have surnames referencing the Biblical First Murderer?

John McCain’s last name references, at least, the “son of Cain”, but Herman Cain comes from a family just outright named for Adam and Eve’s more bloodthirsty son. Sins of the fathers and all that but you’d think it would bother the more religious of the party base. Do they have to get a campaign line with the prefix “666” or something?

Cave or Spider Hole

From a Washington Post story by Scott Wilson and Anne E. Kornblut:

The Obama administration presented new details Monday about the death of Osama bin Laden, portraying the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda as a reclusive figure who had lived in relative luxury and whose final moments had finally exposed his cowardice.

As Americans solemnly remembered those killed at bin Laden’s command, senior administration officials sought to turn their tactical military victory into a moral one by undermining the heroic image he had long cultivated among his followers. They stressed that he had been discovered not in a remote cave, but in a mansion in a wealthy Pakistani city. They also sought to suggest that, as he tried to escape U.S. Special Operations forces, he may have used one of his wives as a shield.

“Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,” John O. Brennan, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism, told reporters at the White House. “I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”

Apparently, there is already some backtracking on the wife-as-human-shield claim (not to mention the he-had-a-gun story) but really, was Osama bin Laden the person who’s been claiming he was hiding out in a cave for the past decade? That’s been the cant of officials from the Bush and Obama administrations, in their claims they had him pinned down in remote tribal areas on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but presumably the people in al Qaeda who needed to know where he was were otherwise informed. Certainly there have been reports that he was in a Pakistani city somewhere for years.

And if he did put out the story that he was in a cave, was that “cowardly,” considering the resources of the United States were presumably deployed to find and kill him? Or—again, assuming bin Laden and not American officials was the source of the cave story—was it “gullible” of anyone who thought he was going to make it easy for them to find him for the past ten years?

There Can Be Only One

Was listening to some of the reporting on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden on NPR this morning and the reporter made the classic Osama/Obama mix-up when she was talking about the “hunt for Obama.”

Now that OBL’s dead, presumably Barack Obama can run for re-election without having any of that nastiness cropping up, although I do wonder how soon it will be before some bozo starts a rumor that because Obama had bin Laden killed, he’s now in charge of al Qaeda.

EXTRA: Conspiracy nut Jack Bogdanski (yes, he’s one of the folks still pushing the Sarah Palin “Trig Birther” stories) has latched on to the idea that the speech last night by President Obama was timed to pre-empt Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. Maybe Jack doesn’t know about time zones. The news conference interupted the East Coast feed of Apprentice, but the West Coast saw the show with a delay, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Ic Factor

There was a time several years ago when former Virginia Governor (and current Senator) Mark Warner was all the rage in national Democratic circles because he was…well, I don’t know, I just never figured that part out. He was rich, and managed to get himself elected, but his politics seemed screwy and counter-productive to me, plus he seemed like a bit of an a-hole. I’d lost track of him after the buzz about him running in 2008 died down, but apparently he’s on the “Gang of Six” senators “concerned” about the national debt. So that’s not promising.

Another thread from several years back was that Republicans seemed to have a problem with the English language, being seeming unable to properly differentiate between the noun “Democrat” and the adjective “Democratic.” Do they do it because they’re stupid? Do they do it knowing that it drives people with any education and knowledge of the English language a little nuts? I don’t know, but Hendrik Hertzberg wrote about it in The New Yorker nearly five years ago.

From “Morning Edition’s” lead story today: “Obama to Reveal Deficit-Cutting Plan” by Scott Horsley. Transcript begins at 3:36 into the report.

HORSLEY: Virginia Senator Mark Warner [D-VA], who joined [Georgia Senator Saxby] Chambliss [R-GA] in Atlanta yesterday, says politics imposes its own deadlines.

WARNER [recorded from press conference]: I think our window is closing. I think we’re literally talking within thirty days. Or even sooner. Because, you know, if not, people gonna default back; there’ll be the Democrat plan and the Republican plan.

I don’t know what to make of Warner here. I already thought he was sort of a stooge. It just seems as if one of the guys who’s been plumped as a big shot in the party ought to have a little better handle on references to his own party.

Stumpy

On the 19th, a letter appeared in the Oregonian about a sales tax that would be on out-of-state visitors only (rebates for residents) and I wrote a reply along the lines of many I’d written before that had never made it into the paper. This latest didn’t, either, and I was about to post it here when Nathan mentioned he’d seen my name in the paper on Monday. Apparently I’d missed the blurb in The Stump.