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Huey Long.
Every Man a King.


  This is a primary source on Huey Long's life, as told from his own perspective. His presentation is frequently self-serving, although a lightning rod like Huey leads to accounts that are pretty much all self-serving, reflecting the judgment of their writers.

The book is beautifully laid out and is rhetorically straightforward a vote for Huey Long is a vote to improve your life materially. He's paved dirt road, replaced fords and ferries with bridges build clinics and hospitals, expanded colleges, built schools and given students free books. He fills the book with beautiful before and after pictures to show what can happen when the government works for the people and not just the state and corporate elites. And of course the elites fought back every step of the way. For example, when the state sent out the free textbooks to children, Shreveport refused to pass them along to the children. "Shreveport doesn't need the charity of the state of Louisiana," was essentially what they said. Soon after the U. S. Army wanted to put an airfield near Shreveport. However, they'd need land owned by the state to complete the deal. Visions of sugar plumbs danced in the town fathers' eyes as they told the governor about the wonderful opportunity. "Shreveport doesn't need the charity of the state of Louisiana," Long replied. And so Shreveport got free textbooks and Barksdale Air Force Base. Everybody loves their own socialism; they only hate the socialism of other people.

Long was a genius both in the traditional sense and in the political sense. He had a photographic memory of everything he read. That's how he was able to attend LSU Law School briefly, read the law, and pass the bar so quickly. But unlike many people whose talents are purely scholastic, Long was a political genius as well. For instance, his first year as governor, he only had money for 60 miles of new roads. Where would you put that road? My most frequent answer is that they'd put it between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. That's smart, but it isn't genius. Long put short stretches of road all over the state, whetting peoples' appetite for more roads.

Huey Long wanted to put Louisiana on the map when it came to great public universities, so he oversaw the expansion of LSU, and to a lesser extent, the other colleges around the state. He added buildings, brought in excellent faculty, and worked to build a great football team. I've heard he even called plays from the sidelines. One thing a great football team needs is a great stadium. But when he approached the legislature, they refused to fund it. He then asked what they would fund, and they said dorms. So he built some dorms in a horseshoe, and put bleachers (which are pretty cheap) on top of them. My first office as a grad student was in one of those old dorms, which were very creepy by the 1980's. A sub-plot of All the King's Men that didn't make it into the movie we watch focuses on Willy Stark and the football team. The football shenanigans bothered Penn Warren, who never quite forgave Huey for giving him a job.

As for the constant charges of corruption against Huey Long, that's the constant refraim against reformers. Because it's so politically noxious to oppose healthcare and schools, they must attack the people providing them. I'm not saying there was no corruption in the Huey Long administration, but corruption has been endemic to our state from the founding of the colony until today. Was Huey Long so extraordinarily corrupt against the background of corruption that it should be the first word associated with his name? Similar charges were leveled against Lula da Silva in Brazil after he lifted millions of people out of poverty. His fascist replacement Bolsonaro is not only much more corrupt, but has also busied himself burning the lungs of the planet, the Amazon. Moreover, we should examine the different definitions of corruption that are floating around in people's heads.

  1. The Aristotlean definition. Corruption is when the governing people stop ruling on behalf of the common good and start ruling on behalf of their own self-interest. With this definition, would Long be the most corrupt or least corrupt governor in our history?
  2. The Roman defintion. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton may had coined the quote, but the sentiment was behind the development of the Roman Republic.  Corruption inevitably follows the accrual of too much power in too few hands for too long. No matter how much good they did the masses, dictators like Caesar and Huey amassed too much power in their hands, and had to be struck down to save the Republic. One of my students had this insight, and this seems the most damning to Huey.
  3. The White Supremacist definition. The first thing I ever learned about Reconstruction was that it was corrupt. It's also something I hear constantly about the Obama administration, which went for 8 years without a major scandal. In the white supremacist mind, government programs for rich white people are great, a well-deserved reward for super-awesome behavior. Within their system, it's totally fitting the recent Corona bailout that gave millionaires $1.7 million in relief, while the average taxpayer gets $1,200. The only problem with that bailout is that some of it made it into the hands of the poors. Any money that makes its way to the hands of those people, be they any race but white, or sometimes even poor whites, is corrupt. That's why Social Security was originally designed to leave out jobs usually taken by black people. This definition was suggested to me by Charles Lane when we interviewed him about the Colfax Massacre, where white people rioted, killed, and deposed the legally elected officials because they were "corrupt," i.e., black. White supremacists are outraged when the government falls into the hands of anyone who is not white or helps anybody who isn't white, and they see it as by definition corrupt.

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