Huey Long, the Last Left Wing Populist

Submitted by Dixiecrat

A century ago a hurricane swarmed Louisiana. It destroyed all in its path and allowed for a rebuilding of every institution in the state. This is not found in any meteorological records but in the elections results pages of your civics textbooks. Hurricane went by the name Huey Long, the Kingfish, and in less than a decade he changed the game. With his death on September 10th, 1935, the last left wing populist died.

The seminal biography of Huey Long is the oral history that T. Harry Williams put together which stretches nearly 1000 pages. No little blogpost is going to do this man’s career justice, but can anyone really do the Kingfish justice? That biography is a fine collection of records, interviews, news articles and everything in between to tell the story of the Kingfish. FDR considered Long and Douglas MacArthur the two most dangerous men in America, being capable of delivering fascism from the left or right if FDR failed. Ignorant and in denial of his own form of fascism, FDR always looked over his shoulder at Long when in the White House. Why? Because Long had it.

Long took on the Louisiana system for the governor’s seat in ’24. He lost. He did not just lose but came in third in Louisiana’s odd primary program, but he came in third by a whisker. He lost, but it was how he lost. He stormed from small town to small town across the north of the state and scraped together enough votes despite having no backing for any piece of the machine. He had a message of fighting for the little guy, going up against Standard Oil, and trying to drag Louisiana into the future, or present as the condition of Louisiana was near antebellum in parts. His loss but even more so his ability to summon votes out of ground made others take notice. Patrons made their way to his office.

He figured out how to use radio and how to grandstand, and when paired with his natural ability to read audiences and individuals, he swept entire towns to his side. Russell’s biography goes into how Long did not just do it for himself but won Senate seats for impossible candidates and could swing races away from the established machine. Huey Long spent a couple weeks carrying the campaign of Sen. Hattie Caraway to win a US Senate seat in her outright because he felt she would be a progressive ally in Washington. It was a one party state in Louisiana, but there were factional battles everywhere and what Long brought to the table was the ability to get bodies in the voting booth. He understood the inequities of his time and knew the best of villains to point to and beseech people for their votes so that he may smite them. His ability to get out the vote was legendary. He could do that for you, so you would reciprocate, and each time he carefully picked a candidate to help, it was because that candidate offered him a chance to increase his votes in areas where Long’s support was weak.

Long won the governor’s seat and then co-opted the establishment while building his own machine. Long was skilled at writing legislation, skilled at assembling teams where everyone would get paid for a program, and skilled at knowing what would sell with the voters. Long was a Keynesian before the New Deal. While the state of Louisiana had to pay off the debt for decades, Long built the bridge and road infrastructure that the state needed, improved schools, built out the university system and founded a medical school to provide care the state sorely lacked. Libertarians can tsk tsk but Standard Oil was not building jack for the state. Long came in and changed all of that albeit making sure everyone got to wet their beaks.

Long did statewide what many expected from Trump. Governor was not a vanity project, and not even Senator was enough for his ego. He needed a bigger platform to become president so the Kingfish Does DC was meant to be. Trump and Long both have egos, but Long knew he had to deliver because of the machine against him, which missed its shot with a wild fiasco of an impeachment case, and he wanted to deliver. Long understood his enemies were out for blood. He only extended a hand to a person who could deliver votes or money to strengthen his position as the outsider coming in. He made allies with men that he would be bitter enemies with later if the political match up called for it. This is Louisiana. In 1991, there was a governor’s race with the chief slogan being “Vote for the crook. It’s important,” which was all to prevent former klansman David Duke from winning the governorship.

One of the greatest patronage gigs in all of America is Southern Governor, and Huey turned that into not just a patronage system but a fundraising program. Long forced requested state employees to make donations to his campaign, which is a forerunner to public unions that are campaign slush funds for the left. His political campaigns would always be cash money, in and out. Long expanded the public services, which in the Depression made him an economic power to counterbalance the traditional natural resource and plantation economic powers. Long always moved with purpose and was always working. He did not just win elections but he forced his will on others.

Love him or hate him, and he inspired both emotions strongly, he embodied what a Southern good ol’ boy could be if in charge. He loved his LSU football team, his country cooking recipes, liquor in private and making sure his boys got paid. There was a goofy quality to his act that made all the stump speeches feel real. When he wanted to, like auditioning for national audiences via radio broadcasts, he could cast that fire and flair aside to be serious, completely sucking in an audience. He could not deny what he was but he could make people dream of what he could be.

Long was assassinated. Too many enemies were out there, and even though his surgeon removed the bullet, complications arose. The Democrats and the big businesses of America could heave a sigh of relief. Long entered the Senate friendly with FDR and open to the New Deal. He shrewdly and quickly realized what a scam it was and how rigged it was for large interests. This was why Long entertained running on a third party in ’36, and why he felt FDR would not fix the Depression, but that he could. Long haunted FDR’s thoughts because heaven forbid, a true man of the provinces step into power and carve up the large interests or direct the power of Washington in the favor of the underrepresented yeomen of America.

Long suffered from seeing the problems and earnestly trying to address them. We live in an age where every Democrat claims to fight for the little guy, but for some strange reason, all that is said is a series of identity politics garbage and nothing ever touches those heavy hitting donors that fund everything. Huey Long was the last left wing populist the Democrats had. The donor base had made sure to guide their coastal professors through the primary seasons and out of the conventions. Donors have learned to hunt for controllable, free trade Southern boys like Jimmy Carter(’79 Free Trade Act and removing anti-usury)and Bill Clinton (NAFTA and repealing Glass-Steagall). Donors even found a black candidate who would consolidate and empower the entire banking industry while poor minorities screamed in ecstasy.

Long represents an America long gone physically but one we could resurrect spiritually. As he said best, “every man a king but no one wears a crown“.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. History CopyMcPasta says:

    “Louisiana Governor and United States Senator, Huey P. Long, and Catholic priest, Father Charles E. Coughlin both rose to national prominence during the Great Depression. Both men strongly voiced their concerns about the unbalanced distribution of power and wealth and formed national organizations to promote their causes. They had similar beliefs, goals, tactics, and downfalls. They were charismatic and headstrong during a time when Americans were desperately searching for solutions. Both of their movements were plagued with chaotic and disordered organization. While Long and Coughlin were capable of whipping up emotions and support through passionate radio oratories that appealed to ordinary Americans, neither was able to effectively lead a national organization capable of carrying out the intended goals. Nonetheless, their movements had a wide range of followers across the United States and as such represented a large segment of Americans, downtrodden by the Depression.

    “The two men were most similar in that they were the last remnants of an old, yet not forgotten, Populist ideology. The transformation of America from a small community based rural society to a large modernized urban industrial nation occurred gradually and not without challenges from the mass population. The Populist movement, which confronted these societal changes and especially the centralization of power and wealth, did not completely die out in the 1890s. Its ideology and concerns lingered within some areas of the country and by the 1930s had reemerged in a new yet familiar form, as evident by the enormous popularity of both Long and Coughlin.”

    Like

  2. Miichael says:

    Great article, I loved every word! Cheers from Mandeville Louisiana.

    Like

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