Tuesday, 20 January 2009

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Hail to the Chief!

Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath looks at the coronation of the Messiah …

I write this on the eve of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, having earlier this weekend watched a movie based on the life of another American politician, populist demagogue Huey Pierce Long, whose ride could have taken him, as it has with Barack Obama, all the way to the White House.

The movie, All the King’s Men, follows the rise and fall of fictional politician Willie Stark, who becomes governor of Louisiana and narrowly survives impeachment before being gunned down by a medical doctor. Huey Long was governor of Louisiana (and then its U.S. Senator), who narrowly survived impeachment in the state legislature before being gunned down by a medical doctor.

The character of Willie Stark is played by Sean Penn who, as far as I can ascertain is no relation to Robert Penn Warren, the author of the novel on which the film is based. Sean Penn is well known as a left-wing activist who has cuddled up to despots such as Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. In hindsight, Sean Penn would probably have admired much of what Huey Long stood for and achieved.  

The saga of Huey Long bears fuller examination in the light of the change about to occur at the top of U.S. politics. Barack Obama is possibly the most left-leaning American president ever, and appears eager to deliver his own version of the New Deal – which was the programme of economic mismanagement perpetrated by Franklin Roosevelt that prolonged the 1930s depression, and was the cause of a second one in 1937. President-elect Obama, like Huey Long, promises job creation and redistribution of wealth. Eventually, of course, the socialist house of cards will fall over and there will be spectacular collapse. (The collapse is already underway, reflecting the failed fiscal management and profligate spending of the Bush administration and continued interference in the banking system by the Federal Reserve. )

Huey Long, like Willie Stark and Sean Penn both, was essentially socialist in outlook, even though he couldn’t see it. One of nine children, and too poor to buy text books at university despite winning a scholarship, Long started as a salesman, then went to law school for a year before passing the bar exam at age 22. Most of his legal career was spent in conflict with large businesses such as oil companies and utilities. After several years in elected roles on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, he won on the second attempt, at age 35, governership of the state. His slogan for the campaign was “Every Man A King”, and he depicted the wealthy as parasites who grabbed more than their “fair share” of the wealth pie. He is said to have replaced the traditional north-south division within Louisiana based on religion with class-based differences he could continue to exploit.

Huey Long advocated taxing and redistributing wealth and assets, without regard for how the wealth was created or who actually owned it. He proposed federal money be spent on public works programmes, education and roading, whether or not this spending was authorized in the U.S. Constitution. As governor, he ruled the state of Louisiana as a dictator, ruthlessly persecuting political opponents, often using his political influence to ensure that his enemies and their families lost their jobs and businesses.

Corruption ensured that Huey Long maintained an iron grip on power. The governor’s office continued, under his leadership, to fill vacancies in the state bureaucracy with his favoured appointees. And of course all state employees were expected to pay a tithe into Long’s political war fund.

Long’s legislative programme met some opposition from Americans who had some inkling of what their Constitution actually meant. One school attempted to block the receipt of taxpayer funded textbooks, saying they would not accept charity from the state. The governor, in turn, blocked authorization for development of an air base near the town in question until the school aceepted the books. When things were not going well for Long in the state legislature, it is alleged he would cut the power supply to the building so that alterations could be made in Long’s favour, under cover of darkness, to the official record of representatives’ votes. After winning a U.S. Senate seat, Long installed his puppet in the governor’s mansion and actually used his old office to direct operations when the Senate was in recess.

Despite his public opposition to the commercial activities of big oil companies, Huey Long and an independent oilman formed a company that obtained leases on state-owned land and then secretly subleased the mineral rights to – you guessed it – the major oil companies. He also authorised a plain clothes police force answerable only to him. Little wonder that an armed insurrection backed by two former state governors reared its head in January 1935 – Long’s response was to declare martial law, ban gatherings of more than one person(!) and outlaw criticism of state officials. Eight months later he was shot dead by the son of a judge who had been gerrymandered out of his job after coming out against Long when he was governor.

Huey Long was a complex and rather inconsistent man. There were a few things to admire about his political legacy. He opposed unemployment and welfare payments. He slashed property taxes, and repealed the poll tax. He proposed making the first million dollars of income (1930s dollars, remember) tax-free. The first five million dollars of income would have only attracted $150,000 in tax – makes the Libertarianz Party’s ‘First $50k tax-free’ pledge in the 2008 election campaign seem a bit wimpish, doesn’t it! And he opposed the Federal Reserve Bank on the quite legitimate grounds that it exercised monopoly powers over the monetary system for the benefit of a few private stockholders.

But the very occasional bright spots in Huey Long’s political career were eclipsed by the monstrous erosions in civil liberties and corruption that were a hallmark of his tenure in office, and his support for statism on a massive scale. He opposed Franklin Roosevelt after initially supporting his rise to the presidency, on the grounds that the New Deal did not go far enough and was a sellout to Big Business(!). Yet Long denied that his political programme was socialistic, declared his inspiration came not from Karl Marx but from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, and saw his policies as a bulwark against communism. Roosevelt, in turn, regarded Long as a political threat (rightly so, as Long planned to oust Roosevelt by running against him in 1936 and splitting the Democrat vote), and had him investigated by America’s legalized bloodsuckers, the Daywalkers known as the Internal Revenue Service. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Barack Obama’s background has been extensively researched by investigators such as Trevor Loudon. His dealings in the past with extremist organizations such as the Weather Underground, and with various fronts for Marxist communism, are now a matter of public record. Obama has said and done very little to dispel fears that the political barometer United States will shortly undergo a violent shift to the left, with inevitable economic destitution and equal poverty for all. Like Huey Long, Obama is a charismatic demagogue with plans to seize the assets of the haves and hand them to the have-nots, notwithstanding the Bill of Rights and other constitutional measures which the founding fathers of America set up to protect individuals from this sort of predation by their own government.

The next U.S. president has been described as the most “loyal Democrat” by one source, and “most liberal” Senator by another. Scary stuff. I foresee hard times ahead for the vast majority of Americans, even those Obama claims he wants to help. How long will it take before the benign smiling face of Obama becomes tense and drawn, when his policies fail to deliver prosperity to Americans? How soon will “change you can believe in” become “change you will accept – or else”?

* * Read Dr McGrath’s column every week here at NOT PC * *

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