Huey Long: Death of a Demagogue
Huey Long may have pushed through some important reforms in Louisiana, but he was also a vengeful politician who had nearly dictatorial rule over Louisiana.
The Assasination of Senator Huey Long will immediately arouse sympathy for his memory that could not be felt for him while he lived. Political murder is a vile crime, and we share the regret and shame felt by the country that he was defeated by a bullet and not in an open political contest. We also give him the credit he earned for pushing through reforms in Louisiana, simplifying an antiquated state machinery, redistributing the burden of taxation, and stimulating the interest in education. Nor shall we question that his championship of the poor was as sincere as anything in his equipment of distorted passions. Giving him every advantage of sympathetic consideration does not however raise him to the status of martyr. Huey Long was America's first dictator. His was a little dictatorship in domain, but it was grim and vengeful in spirit, and it was a sensational challenge to democracy. Having set up a regime of fear he had to live in it, and went about his home state, and even his country, closely guarded to avert the disaster which now has overtaken him. To those unfamiliar with Louisiana the deed may appear on a par with the assassination of other political figures, of which there have been many in our history. But it was not the same. His murder appears to have been a deliberately political act, one of the very few in its category in American experience. Thus we have had a laboratory demonstration of a dictatorshipof— its good intentions, of its immoral practices, and now of its violent ending.
It is characteristic of dictatorships that Long should not have left a political heir to whom Louisiana can look to maintain orderly government. He did not invite the close collaboration of gifted men, and he treated his subordinates with a mixture of vulgar tyranny and cordial comradeship. There was no crown prince; so now there will be dozens of claimants. Whether the Long machine will break up without violence only time will tell, but that it will collapse appears certain. Louisiana would be happier if this promised the coming to power of a competent opposition. It does not. The anti-Long forces are corrupt, anti-social, and half paralyzed. Were this not so, Long, of course, never could have risen to the heights he occupied. His death undoubtedly means troubled times in Louisiana. Nationally, however, the political situation is simplified. Now there will be no formidable third-party movement in the South threatening to wreck the Democratic Party. With the death of Long the field of demagoguery is left to Father Coughlin, of whom one need be much less afraid.