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By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog

Anyone who takes for granted the notion that -- no matter how foolhardy our politicians may be, and no matter how many handouts our government gives -- we'll never have a dictatorship in America -- should drop everything and read this book review/article on the political career of Louisiana's famously corrupt governor and United States senator. It starts off with a description of a man's "disappearance" that sounds like it could have come straight from a history of the Soviet Union.

Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley, of New Orleans, called Irby's disappearance "the most heinous public crime in Louisiana history." No one had any doubt about who had engineered it.

There is a limit to what our system can take, and that limit was crossed in Louisiana during the 1920s and 1930s. I would argue that today, we are closer to that limit nationwide. A couple of things here sure sound familiar.

From the start of his political career, Long operated according to a different set of principles. At twenty-five, he ran for and won a seat on the state Railroad Commission, turning practically the first meeting he attended into a denunciation of Standard Oil. At the following meeting, he demanded that the oil company be declared a public utility, a move that would have given the commission regulatory control over its pipelines. In the next several years, he also took on the railroads, the telegraph companies, and the administration of the governor at the time, John M. Parker. (At one point, Parker sued Long for libel; Long lost and was fined a dollar.) In almost all of his battles, Long took the side of ratepayers and small businesses against large (and, to a great extent, predatory) corporations. In 1923, he forced one of the state's major phone companies to give up a twenty-per-cent rate increase that it had been granted. Thousands of customers received refund checks, and Long made sure that they knew whom they had to thank.

Just a few days ago, I heard someone raise the notion of regulating Google as a utility. No one batted an eye. And refund checks.... While I support a lowering of the income tax, I would have been more thankful to have learned that the cuts were permanent than I am knowing that the cuts might go away, only to allow someone else to demogogue refund checks some time in the future. [Clarification: It would be more accurate to say that, as a supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, I favor repealing the income tax. A lowering is truly acceptable only as a preliminary move in that direction.] This decision concerning the income tax tells me that the Republicans -- supposedly the party of small government -- figure that the American people value small sums of money over their freedom. To the extent that they are correct, we're in trouble, because it makes another Huey Long (or worse) possible.

Two quotes from the article pertain to Huey Long vs. Franklin Roosevelt, who did more than any other American President to build the welfare state, which both violates our economic freedom and prepares people for the yoke of tyranny -- by discouraging self-reliance and acclimating people to the taking of orders during their daily lives.

First, it tells us something that Roosevelt, of all people, said of Long that, "We have to remember all the time that he really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country."

And second, Long corroborated Roosevelt himself when he attacked FDR for not being enough of a socialist. "So it has been that while people have begged for meat and bread, Mr. Roosevelt's administration has sailed merrily along, plowing under and destroying the things to eat and wear."

Taken in isolation, this sounds like it could have come straight from Richard Salsman's critique of the Progressive policies of Hoover and Roosevelt that helped bring about, worsened, and greatly prolonged the Great Depression. However, Long's actions made it clear what he meant.

... Long introduced what he called "the Long Plan" for "Redistribution of Wealth." To push the plan, he formed a group, the Share Our Wealth Society, which took as its slogan "Every Man a King." Long claimed that he had come up with a way to provide each family in the United States with five thousand dollars, or enough money "for a home, an automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences."In reality, Long's plan -- to the extent that it existed at all -- was made up of a series of tax proposals, with no provision to distribute the proceeds, and the numbers never came close to adding up. (One economist calculated that, in order to provide just fourteen hundred dollars to every needy family, the government would have to impose a tax rate of a hundred per cent on all income above four thousand dollars.) Critics condemned Share Our Wealth as false hope for the poor -- "This is not water for the thirsty, but a mirage," Walter Lippmann wrote -- but the poor apparently were not dissuaded. Share Our Wealth clubs began to spring up in other states, mostly in the South, but also in New York and California. In late 1934, the society boasted more than three million members. To manage Share Our Wealth, Long hired a charismatic young clergyman named Gerald L. K. Smith, whom Mencken described as "the champion boob-bumper of all epochs." Smith was a virulent anti-Semite and an avowed Roosevelt-hater. "We're going to get that cripple out of the White House," he promised.

Smith sounds like Pat Buchanan -- but evidently with a charisma implant. His ilk, as I indicated earlier, are still around. Many are regarded as coalition partners by small-government conservatives in the Republican Party.

This story is fascinating in a macabre sort of way, but it also has a very interesting end. I'm no expert on Long, but it sure sounds like his own meddling ultimately contributed to his demise. After he was shot by Carl Weiss,

Long was rushed to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, where

a physician he had installed a few years earlier was in charge. The physician botched the surgery

, and two days later Long was dead. [bold added]

Hmm. He might have been better off letting -- oh, I don't know -- the hospital, perhaps, choose its own surgeons.... If only all dictators would suffer so directly from their own actions! But they do not, and their power lust ruins many lives before they are stopped -- if they are stopped before they die.

This is why they must always be opposed completely. Government favors may seem harmless in and of themselves, but there is always a reason people like Long offer them.

-- CAV


Today: Added a clarification within the text.


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