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“We already won.
For God’s sake stop counting.”  Huey Long 1932

The present combination of odd ball politicians, the Deep South, the Gulf of Mexico, corruption, incompetence, total idiocy and Big Oil, have pointed up the continuing, strikingly contemporary, relevance of one of the most applauded, reviled, hated, sneered at and loved of all the great twentieth century mavericks that bestrode the gothic South.

Huey Long should be alive this hour.

For only he saw all this coming.  Only Huey shouted about the utter unfairness of it all.

Huey Long was of a huge and poor family, and one of three brothers from that family that chose to make politics and the rights and welfare of his fellow man his life’s work.  It is not the only curious resemblance to the Kennedy family either.

He stood up for the common man, firstly down in the south and then increasingly across the nation against the crushing unfairness of the economic system of his day.  His “Share our Wealth” programme terrified the established money interests.  He saw that 600 families controlled the wealth of America  4% owning 87% of its wealth.  This he felt was fundamentally un-American

He believed in modernising his run down and backward state through a series of huge infrastructure works.  He sought to bring free public education to all the poor in his state.  Surprisingly, for the South, this meant black as well as white.  He railed against the unfair taxes paid by the poor but avoided by the rich.

He sought to get decent care for war veterans.  He even wanted to provide grants for the clever children of the poor to go to University.  A privilege he had been denied.

He believed in Social Security, Old Age Pensions, and even proper Healthcare!

He took on the Banks when they failed the nation – and the world – stopping their foreclosing on solid businesses and thus increasing unemployment. He attacked Morgan and the oligarchic elite in a speech in the Senate,

[i]“ Much talk is indulged in to the effect that the great fortunes of the United States are sacred, that they are built up by the honest and individual initiative, that they were honourably acquired by men of genius far-sighted in thought.  The fact that those fortunes have been acquired and that those who built them for the financial masters have been impoverished is sufficient proof that they have not been regularly and honourably acquired…”

And further, in an echo of my previous posts here, here and here he says

“I find that the Morgan and Rockefeller groups alone held, together 341 directorships in 112 banks, railroad, insurance and other corporations, and one of this group in an after dinner speech …asserted that 12 men in the United States controlled the business of the nation.”

He wasn’t a Socialist, he didn’t want all dragged to a grey common denominator.  He saw the good that having millionaires would do.  It was the multi-millionaires and billionaires that he saw as pernicious and injurious to the body politic.

To Huey big business and especially Big Oil was bad for America.

And so he turned his fire on Standard Oil and its owners the Rockefellers.  Sound familiar?

In 1935 he announced his intention to run for President.  He probably stood little actual chance, but the thought was that it would give him the platform and publicity for a real go in 1940.

On September 8th 1935 after being warned that assassination plots were afoot, he was challenged by one Dr Carl Weiss in the corridors of the Louisiana State Capital building.  What followed is confused, grotesque and utterly American.  That strange political figure that eternally stalks the American stage – the lone assassin – stepped into the limelight.

It’s still not clear if Weiss actually had a gun or was just trying to punch Long in the face.  A gun was certainly found on his body!  Weiss fell in a hail of 30 to 40 bullets and Long was seen to collapse.  Maybe he was shot by Weiss, maybe he simply got caught in the crossfire.  Maybe.  Anyway, even though he could walk to the car that took him to hospital, he was soon dead.  It seems things were as “confused” at the hospital as in the corridor.  Specialist surgeons just weren’t available or called out, and those that were there failed to do simple standard tests so that no one noted the bullet in his kidney until too late.  He died on 10th September 1935.

Looking back, was his message so very revolutionary?  Was simply standing up for the common man and calling for a decent cut so incendiary?  Who, looking out at the waters of the Gulf today would say he was so very wrong?

No one ever spoke up for Huey.  They shouted.  Who shouts for Long today?

[i]  29 April 1932

Copyright David Macadam 2010