Autocracy Now!

Imagine, for a moment, that there was a politician in the United States very unlike the others. One who was willing to promise all things to all people, who had no qualms about changing his position on a daily basis. One who viciously attacked the establishment, made personal attacks on his opponents and gave them derogatory nicknames and violated every democratic norm in the book. One who fought against freedom of the press, and constantly denounced the 'lying newspapers', when they reported on the corruption that he was steeped in. A politician who was perfectly happy to tear up the constitution, and anyone who stood in his way, in order to achieve his ends. A demagogue whose rise and rise to power seemed absurd to the establishment, but made sense to the people, many of whom loved him and believed that he was the only one on their side. And, on this wave of popular support and crazy promises,  and with a complete disregard for the way things should be done, a politician who set himself up as a ruthless, corrupt, kleptocratic dictator.

Now imagine there was a politician in the US who fought against vested interests, big corporations, and argued tirelessly and energetically for redistribution of the wealth. A politician who was never afraid to speak his mind, and to speak truth to power: who had contempt for Washington because it was contemptible. A man of the people who was frustrated with being blocked and slandered at every turn, and the ineffective methods of his fellows at dealing with crisis, and subverted a corrupt and contemptible democracy on behalf of the ordinary people. He destroyed a system that needed destroying, and sought power in order to do the good that he knew other politicians couldn't do. A man with a sense of destiny, who was unfairly slandered and maligned by the vested interests and the wealthy elite that he sought to undermine. He would argue he was only doing openly what everyone else had done covertly for years. A man who said: 'A demagogue is someone who doesn't keep his promises to the people, and I kept every one of mine' - and many went along with him, and refused to believe any of the attempts to smear him, because they knew he was on their side.

Both men existed in the manic, whirlwind frame of Huey P Long, who cut such a dramatic figure in Louisiana politics, and later national politics, in the 1920s and 30s. The man and the methods make him an irresistible figure for politicised histories. There are always two Hueys: the straight-talking man of the people who sought power to make things better, and the vicious demagogue who exploited lies and popular support to dominate the state and enrich himself. Now, more than ever - when there seem to be two of every major political figure floating around, depending on your stripes - we should examine such a life. It helps that it's also a quite incredible story, and Huey himself is as quotable a politician as has ever lived.

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