Suppose They Gave An Iowa Straw Poll… Friday, Aug 19 2011 

  . . . and no media showed up to cover it? Would anyone notice – or care?

As it happens, I was touring the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, the day before 17,000 Iowa Republicans paid $30 apiece to cast a straw vote for their preferred candidate in next year’s presidential election.

In the museum — along with the sights and sounds of Birmingham’s past racial conflicts — was a vignette of the audacious speech that Warren Harding delivered when he visited the city — the first president to do so – in October, 1921.

Harding had traveled south to receive an honorary degree from the University of Alabama. His acceptance speech was expected to be the usual soporific pap that public figures deliver on such occasions. Instead he delivered the first civil rights address — denouncing racial discrimination in any form — given by any American president since the Civil War. Blacks in the segregated audience applauded; whites sat on their hands.

This took place, keep in mind, when the Ku Klux Klan was a political force not only in the South but across the nation. As president, Harding — chosen by Republican party bosses in the infamous “smoke-filled room” — also pushed for anti-lynching legislation and a shorter work week, controversial stands at the time.

Oh for the good old days-and-ways of choosing presidential nominees. Harding is widely considered one of our worst presidents, but as his Birmingham speech illustrates, even the most egregious products of smoke-filled rooms had something to be said for them. Whatever the closed-door flaws of the boss system, no smoke-filled room ever came up with a list of candidates that included (1) a former U. S. Senator who had lost his race for re-election by 17 points; (2) a former House Speaker with a penchant for Greek island cruises and Tiffany diamonds;  and (3) a two-term Minnesota congressman who thinks the Battle of Lexington was fought in New Hampshire.

Sound Bite to Remember

Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him.

                                         — Charles DeGaulle

Barack and the Kingfish Tuesday, Aug 2 2011 

About that debt limit problem . . .

George Will, who has seen more erudite days as a political sage, screwed up badly in a recent column when he dismissed Barack Obama as “Huey Long with a better tailor.”

A story from my Louisiana youth to show how inapt is any comparison between the Kingfish and this president:

In the worst days of the Great Depression, midwinter of 1933, the Hibernia National Bank of New Orleans was about to close down after massive withdrawals. Desperate, the Hibernia’s directors turned to Huey for help and in short order the Kingfish lined up funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Federal Reserve.

One problem, however: The transfer of funds couldn’t be made until Monday, February 6, and since the bank would have to open on Saturday, February 4, the withdrawals would continue. Huey’s answer? Find some reason to declare a bank holiday. The problem, as historian T. Harry Williams put it, was that “February 4 was apparently the most unmemorable day in the history of the nation.”

But February 3, that was another matter. On that date in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had severed diplomatic relations with Germany. That was good enough for Huey. Hell, said the Kingfish, a move that big couldn’t have been completed in just one day.

So it was that in 1933 both February 3 and 4 became Louisiana state holidays, the Hibernia National Bank was saved from defaulting, and the Kingfish could turn his attention to the serious business of teaching bartenders at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria the proper way to mix a New Orleans gin fizz.

Huey Long was many things – a demagogue, a megalomaniac, a clown — but he understood that leadership comes not from the audacity of hope but of action.

That said, if George Will’s comparison were apt, what would have happened had the Kingfish handled the Hibernia problem in the patented style of our 44th president?

First, he would have called a news conference, followed by a radio address, to announce the appointment of a “balanced” commission composed of auditors and creditors to conduct a study of possible options to save the bank.

Second, he would have called a news conference, followed by a radio address, to announce a meeting of New Orleans business, labor, and religious leaders to arrive at a consensus on solving the crisis.

Third, by this time the Hibernia having gone under, he would have appointed a Banking Czar to explore the possibility of asking the RFC and Federal Reserve for funds and, if necessary, declaring a holiday to prevent such a bank failure from happening again; after, of course, calling a news conference, followed by a radio address, to give us his thoughts on the upcoming 1933 basketball, baseball , and football seasons . . . .

Sound Bite to Remember Tuesday, Aug 2 2011 

“Never criticize a man unless you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. By then he’ll be a mile away and won’t have any shoes to chase you in.”        

–Wimp Sanderson, Alabama basketball coach (circa 1985)