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 . . . .