A primer for anyone studying Louisiana politics is Robert Penn Warren’s book “All the King’s Men,” a Pulitzer Prize wining novel based on the life of Huey Long. Warren was a close observer of the Long dynasty while teaching at LSU in the 1940s. I re-read the novel recently and noticed an eerie resemblance to much of the rhetoric emanating from both the Trump and Sanders presidential campaigns today. Warren’s candidate is told:
“Just stir ‘em up, it doesn’t matter how or why, and they’ll love you and come back for more. Pinch ’em in the soft place. They aren’t alive, most of ‘em, and haven’t been for 20 years. It’s up to you to give ‘em something to stir ‘em up and make ‘em feel alive again. Just for half an hour. That’s what they come for. Tell ‘em anything. But for Sweet Jesus sake, don’t try to improve their minds.”
The New York Times remembered Huey Long this week as a candidate who had “no belt he was unwilling to hit below. He had a paranoid style of attack. Long relied on threats and insults. There was an ozone stink of violence at his rallies; hecklers were dealt with severely.”
Is it fair to compare Long’s tactics to the campaign of Donald Trump? Would Trump, if successful, end up as a demagogue like Warren’s character, and like Huey Long himself? Probably not. Trump has build a successful movement on running against the establishment, and the Trump campaign apparently feels that the incendiary means being used as a electioneering tactic justifies the end to a Trump presidency.
Louisiana’s musical poet laureate Randy Newman (“Louisiana-They’re goanna’ wash us away”) wrote about Long in his song “Kingfish,” that certainly has a broad appeal to democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
Everybody gather ‘round
Loosen up your suspenders
Hunker down on the ground
I’m a cracker
And you are too
But don’t I take good care of you.
Sanders has surprised political pundits by running as an angry populist who has strong appeal with white, young liberals. And let’s call it like it is. He has the backing of many democrats who just don’t like Hillary Clinton.
Author Dwight Garner reminds us that the title of “All the King’s Men” comes from the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty.” Political campaigns in Louisiana and across the country too often are based on attacks and attempts to tear down the present way we govern. But it’s not difficult to posture and pontificate on what’s wrong with the current system.
It’s easy to break things. The challenge is how you put them back together again. Humpty Dumpty couldn’t do it. I wonder if any of the current presidential candidates can?
“The more you observe politics, the more you’ve got to
admit that each political party is worse than the other.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.