Every Man A King

if it's sunny june, and december too,

Every Man A King

I think it was hearing one of the songs he wrote that first got me interested in Huey Long, the governor of and senator for Lousiana in the '20s and '30s. He wrote it in co-ordination with a bandleader he'd hired away from the hotel he stayed at while in New Orleans, and installed as the marching band leader for Lousiana State University. He ran the university, as he ran much of the rest of the state, personally. There's something compelling to me about that weird Napoleonesque determination to do everything yourself, to know every last detail, to have your finger in every pie.

He didn't quite have the capacity of Napoleon—or possibly he was just hamstrung by working within the framework established in the aftermath of said French dictator's sale of Lousiana to the United States. Long, who became the governor of Louisiana promising to end corruption, very soon embraced them wholeheartedly, and it's the contention of Richard D. White's Kingfish that it's partly a consequence of Louisiana's being a former French colony with a very top-down administration that led inexorably to graft. It is also true, though, as Huey Long himself said, that with him, you got the roads and the graft, before him you just got the graft.

Long often didn't direct his attention towards the most pressing needs, especially after the beginning of his term, and his behaviour was as much driven by ambition, personal animus and spite than concern for his fellow man, but he still built the roads and hospitals where there hadn't been any before, still bought textbooks for students who wouldn't have had them otherwise. He picked fights with powerful vested interests and was able, after much conflict, to get them to do what he wanted; this may have been what led to his assassination in 1935.

An obvious comparison—and one the book itself goes out of the way to draw—is with Lyndon Johnson, who was a Congressional aide at the time that Long became a senator, and was witness to his many speeches in the Senate. Both were country boys from relatively impoverished backgrounds, both had a relentless energy and determination, and both an immense personality and inclination to bend others to their will. Both were populists who delivered great and meaningful benefits to the poor and the disadvantaged, but both seemed curiously lacking in any sort of consistent principle and were willing to engage in pretty heinous corruption to enrich themselves. They're both complex, somewhat inscrutible characters who in many ways defy categorisation.

Only one of them wrote bangers though. Every man a king.

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