The Second Coming of Huey Long and Father Coughlin
As William Butler Yeats noted in his famous poem "The Second Coming," written in 1921, the disintegration of the world order -- at that time, the British Empire -- brought out extremist tendencies which gathered attention and supporters whom otherwise stable societal structures would dismiss as quackery.
The poet lamented that "[t]he best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
The 1920s and '30s were to prove Yeats' forebodings prescient, as both fascism and communism rose to prominence in nations rocked by the disintegration of centuries-old governmental structures and, consequently, desperate for a simple and clear way out.
The rise of extremism Europe and America experienced in the 1920s and '30s is being recapitulated today, with both U.S. political parties being tempted by allegiance to political nostrums which promise a quick fix for what ails our country.
This is the way of things when times are hard and the societal order unstable. Positions seemingly radically opposite the status quo look like solutions.
Extremists flourish, as did the late Huey Long, governor of Louisiana, whose "Share Our Wealth" program advocated redistribution as a solution to the problems of the poor. He told the U.S Senate in 1934 that "[u]nless we provide for redistribution of wealth in this country, the country is doomed." Long convinced adoring throngs that the chief problem with America was the rich, claiming that 2% of the people owned 60% of the wealth and stating in a famous speech:
God called: "Come to my feast." But what had happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120,000,000 people and left only enough for 5,000,000 for all the other 125,000,000 to eat. And so many millions must go hungry.
The last three years have seen the fruit of the Democrats' long flirtation with Huey Long-style redistributionist policies, though now the percentages are now supposedly 1% vs. 99%. Our current administration seems to be as addicted as Long to simplistic nostrums which appeal to the masses.
But the Republican Party has not been immune to its own nostrums and extremists, past or present. It also has extremist candidates similar to Huey Long and Father Coughlin, sometimes with a touch of Amie Semple McPherson's flamboyance thrown in.
One such extremist candidate is Ron Paul.
Many Americans believed in isolationism during the 1920s and '30s, seeing it as a remedy for America's ills and entanglements abroad and as an antidote to U.S. involvement in WWI. Paul is a throwback to those times. Opposing global entanglements and what he sees as an American Empire, Paul offers a foreign policy which amounts to complete retreat from America's moral responsibilities to the world. He is non-interventionist to the nth degree. When asked by reporter Jeffrey Scott Shapiro about America's entrance into WWII and the need to save Jews from the Holocaust, Paul said:
No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't risk American lives to do that. If someone wants to do that on their own because they want to do that, well, that's fine, but I wouldn't do that.
Think about that statement for a moment, for the implication is that America has absolutely no ethical responsibility for any people anywhere at any time -- except its own citizens. Self-interest, even if six million were to perish, is to reign supreme.
Paul's stance on America's entrance into WWII lets us know where he stands concerning Israel today. He is basically saying he wouldn't lift a finger to help our ally in the Middle East, no matter what the outcome, no matter if there would be another Holocaust. Indeed, he has stated his position quite clearly, saying Israel can take care of itself and that a way to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is "maybe offering friendship to them."
As Bosch Fawstin notes in his Pajamas Media article entitled "Commander-in-Chief Ron Paul":
Ron Paul speaks of offering American friendship to the greatest state sponsor of terrorism on earth which has American blood on its hands and which constantly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. And its "theme song" is "DEATH TO AMERICA!" This alone disqualifies him from the presidency[.]
Unfortunately, Paul has a longstanding anti-Jewish and anti-Israel position which justifies serious concern. He does indeed sound like a throwback to the anti-Semitic Father Coughlin, who expressed sympathy for Mussolini and Hitler and claimed that the Jews started World War II.
In fact, Steve Rabin of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice pointed out in 2008 in an article entitled "Congressman Ron Paul and the Jews" that Paul accepted donations from a white supremacist group and refused to send back the monies. He has called the Israeli government "evil" and has advocated withdrawing aid from Israel, citing libertarian ideals as his rationale. One result, among others, was that the Republican Jewish Coalition barred him from their policy forum.
Paul has also published a newsletters claiming that Mossad may well have carried out the attacks against the World Trade Center in 1993. Paul's newsletter eerily echoes Coughlin's accusations that the conspiratorial Jews started WWII.
[Paul's] newsletters display an obsession with Israel; no other country is mentioned more often in the editions I saw, or with more vitriol. A 1987 issue of Paul's investment letter called Israel "an aggressive socialist state," and a 1990 newsletter discussed the "tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok [sic] for the Mossad in their area of expertise." Of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newsletter said, "Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little."
Actually, Americans have been continually dealing with the consequences of the 1993 bombing and the takedown of the Twin Towers in 2011. Who did it does matter -- significantly, as the last ten years have shown.
Rabin went on to cite a The New Republic article written by James Kerchick which included the flowing assessment of the anti-Semitism (and racism) in Paul's newsletters:
[W]hoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul's name, and the articles [...] seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal [is] that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics."
After I read Benton [Paul's 2008 campaign manager] some of the more offensive passages, he said, "A lot of [the newsletters] he did not see. Most of the incendiary stuff, no." He added that he was surprised to hear about the insults hurled at Martin Luther King, because "Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero."
In other words, Paul's campaign wants to depict its candidate as a naïve, absentee overseer, with minimal knowledge of what his underlings were doing on his behalf. This portrayal might be more believable if extremist views had cropped up in the newsletters only sporadically--or if the newsletters had just been published for a short time. [...] whether or not Paul personally wrote the most offensive passages is almost beside the point. If he disagreed with what was being written under his name, you would think that at some point--over the course of decades--he would have done something about it.
In other words, Paul and his defenders have been, in 2008 and now during the 2012 campaign, using tactics eerily similar to the "Jeremiah Wright excuse" put forth by President Obama in 2008; namely, "I didn't hear that, and even if I did hear it, I didn't believe it -- and finally, I didn't do that."
But despite Paul's supporters and his own excuses, there seems to be enough evidence of his anti-Semitism and racism to cast doubt on the viability of his candidacy and to warrant repudiation of him and his policies.
Isolationism, anti-Semitism combined with conspiracy theories, and anti-banking and anti-Wall Street sentiments were all hallmarks of the ideologically driven 1920s and '30s. Both Democrats and Republicans need to be wary of Huey Long and Father Coughlin reincarnations and their dug-up zombie policies.
What can appear to be the direct opposite of current policies can actually be a delusional Janus face, which though appearing to look forward to something new may actually be looking backward to a failed past.
Fay Voshell, a writer from Wilmington, DE, was selected as one of Delaware's Republican "Winning Women 2008." She is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and Delaware Politics.