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Kingfish
Perspective on the News
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Jack Kinsella - Omega Letter Editor

Huey "Kingfish" Long was born in Winnfield, Louisiana on August 30, 1893. He was a direct descendant of American Revolutionary War soldier Richard Vince and was born the seventh son in a middle class farm family.

He married Rose McConnell in 1923. Long had two sons, one of whom was seven-term Senator Russell Long, who represented Louisiana in the US Senate from 1948 until 1987.

Huey Long Sr. attended Tulane Law School in New Orleans and was admitted to the bar in 1915. Huey Long spent the next ten years representing small plaintiffs against big business, later bragging that he "never took a case against a poor man."

Long came to national prominence when he took on John D. Rockefeller's powerful Standard Oil Company over unfair business practices -- and won.

(Notice how much of the following sounds somehow vaguely-familiar.)

In 1918 Long was elected to the Louisiana Railroad Commission at the age of 25 on an anti-Standard Oil platform. (The commission was renamed the Louisiana Public Service Commission in 1921.)

His campaign for the Railroad Commission used techniques he would perfect later in his political career: heavy use of printed circulars and posters, an exhausting schedule of personal campaign stops throughout rural Louisiana, and vehement attacks on his opponents.

He used his position on the commission to enhance his populist reputation as an opponent of large oil and utility companies, fighting against rate increases and pipeline monopolies. (Sort of like a community organizer?)

As chairman of the Public Service Commission in 1922, Long won a lawsuit against the Cumberland Telephone & Telegraph Company for unfair rate increases.

Long successfully argued the case before the Supreme Court, prompting former President of the United States and later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Howard Taft to remark that Long had "one of the best legal minds" he had ever encountered.

In 1928, Long ran for governor of Louisiana on the slogan, "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown."

Long's attacks on the utilities industry and corporate privileges were enormously popular, as was his depiction of the wealthy as "parasites" who grabbed more than their fair share of the public wealth while marginalizing the poor.

Long won in 1928 by tapping into class resentments, pitting rich against poor and becoming a hero to the state's poor and disenfranchised. (It sounds more familiar with each paragraph, doesn't it?)

In 1929, Long called a special session of both houses of the legislature to enact a new five-cent per barrel "occupational license tax" on production of refined oil, to help fund his social programs.

Long was elected to the US Senate in 1932. He became a staunch opponent of President Franklin Roosevelt, complaining that Roosevelt's "share the wealth" program didn't go far enough. In 1933, Long offered a series of bills collectively known as the "Long Plan" for the redistribution of wealth.

In February 1934, Long introduced his Share Our Wealth plan over a nationwide radio broadcast. He proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million and repeated his call to limit annual income to $1 million and inheritances to $5 million.

Denying that his program was socialist, Long stated that his ideological inspiration for the plan came not from Karl Marx but from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence.

Once in power, Long turned to demagoguery, prompting comparisons to European politicians Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

Long began a reorganization of the state government that reduced the authority of local governments in anti-Long strongholds New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria. It further gave the governor the power to appoint all state employees.

Long passed what he called "a tax on lying" and a 2 percent tax on newspaper advertising revenue. He created the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a special force of plainclothes police answerable only to the governor.

He also had the legislature enact the same tax on refined oil that in 1929 had nearly led to his impeachment, which he used as a bargaining chip to promote oil drilling in Louisiana.

After Standard Oil agreed that 80 percent of the oil sent to its refineries would be drilled in Louisiana, Long's government refunded most of these tax revenues.

In the summer of 1935, Long called for two more special sessions of the legislature; bills were passed in rapid-fire succession without being read or discussed. The new laws further centralized Long's control over the state by creating several new Long-appointed state agencies.

Long could well have become president in 1936, had his career not been cut short. On September 8, 1935, Dr. Carl Weiss, son-in-law of one of Long's political opponents, shot Long in the abdomen.

Long's bodyguards returned fire, hitting Dr. Weiss sixty-two times¸ killing him on the spot. The "Kingfish" died two days later in a hospital.

As I watched this year's "State of the Union" speech, I could hear Huey Long's campaign song playing in the jukebox in my mind:

"Why weep or slumber America/Land of brave and true/With castles and clothing and food for all/All belongs to you/Ev'ry man a king, ev'ry man a king/For you can be a millionaire/If there's something belonging to others/There's enough for all people to share"

Here is how the Associated Press characterized the speech in its lead paragraph:

"Declaring the American dream under siege, President Barack Obama delivered a populist challenge Tuesday night to shrink the gap between rich and poor, promising to tax the wealthy more and help jobless Americans get work and hang onto their homes. Seeking re-election and needing results, the president invited Republicans to join him but warned, "I intend to fight."

I couldn't help but feel that I'd heard this speech before. Evidently, there was a reason for that. Because I had -- well, some of it, anyway.

The Weekly Standard had a team analyze his previous SOTU speeches and came up with the following:

  • Obama 2010: "It's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs.
  • Obama 2012: "Colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down."
  • Obama 2010: "And we should continue the work by fixing our broken immigration system."
  • Obama 2011: "I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration."
  • Obama 2012: "I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration."
  • Obama 2010: "We face a deficit of trust."
  • Obama 2012: "I've talked tonight about the deficit of trust . . ."
  • Obama 2010: "We can't wage a perpetual campaign."
  • Obama 2012: "We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign."

You can watch the comparisons here. (video) The same theme, over and over . . . "Share the Wealth"; "If there is something belonging to others, there's enough for all people to share."

“You can call this class warfare all you want,” Mr. Obama said of his call to create a more even economic playing field. “Most Americans would call that common sense.”

Actually, most Americans call this "class warfare". Common sense would dictate that best way to level the playing field is to put the economy ahead of politics -- by doing things like approving the Keystone Pipeline.

In his speech, Obama listed a number of indicatives that he threatened to enact by executive order, bypassing the Congress, since they would probably go down in flames if they made it that far. (It is important to remember that Obama's party controls five-sixths of government, with the GOP controlling one half of Congress).

Obama announced that he was putting Eric Holder in charge of creating a special unit of federal prosecutors to go after banks and mortgage companies for "abusive lending."

(I'll bet that will encourage banks to stop sitting on their money and start lending it out, don't you?)

Even as he promised to make life harder for lenders, he called for new legislation to make it easier for Americans to refinance their homes if their interest rates are above market rates.

He also promised to create a new trade enforcement unit that would add to the number of government investigators pursuing unfair trade practices and that would be responsible for filing lawsuits against foreign countries, namely China.

His speech promised steep taxes on the wealthy, and after arguing for three years to increase the stimulus and repeated bailouts of failed companies like Solyndra, he proposed the exact opposite this year:

"It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody."

An America "built to last" -- doesn't that slogan already belong to Dodge Ram or Chevy Volt or something?

In 1935, America was left to wonder what would have happened if a dyed-in-the-wool socialist had managed to capture America's top job. How would a President Long have dealt with Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan?

Probably the same way that President Obama dealt with the Iranian uprising in 2009 or the way he dealt with Syria's Bashar Assad in 2011.

I've noted a number of times over the last ten years the amazing similarities between our world today and the world as it was in the 1930's, making the observation that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.



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