Quote Book – [29] – Character: People & Politicians

Americans seem to have two natures, one extraordinarily positive and forthright, the other dark and cynical.  Historically, in challenging times, it has been easiest for politicians to appeal to the baser side.  Thus we’ve had the success of Father Coughlin and Huey Long during the depression, and later, of George Wallace.  (It has always struck me as odd that virtually all of the Democrats who supported George Wallace had previously been RFK Deomocrats.  The same Americans who voted for Wallace were able to share RFK’s vision of this country – a much different view.) I have never come across a public pronouncement by RFK in which he made an appeal to the darker side.
Father Charles Coughlin occupied both a strange and a familiar place in American politics in the 1930s. Politically radical, a passionate democrat, he nevertheless was a bigot who freely vented angry, irrational charges and assertions. A Catholic priest, he broadcast weekly radio sermons that by 1930 drew as many as forty-five million listeners. Strongly egalitarian, deeply suspicious of elites, a champion of what he saw as the ordinary person’s rights, Coughlin frequently and vigorously attacked capitalism, communism, socialism, and dictatorship By the mid-1930s, his talks took on a nasty edge as he combined harsh attacks on Roosevelt as the tool of international Jewish bankers with praise for the fascist leaders Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. The “Radio Priest’s” relentless anti-elitism pushed Roosevelt to sharpen his own critiques of elites, and in that sense Coughlin had a powerful impact on American politics beyond his immediate radio audience. This 1937 sermon, “Twenty Years Ago,” reflected much of what made Coughlin popular.
Huey Long first came to national attention as governor of Louisiana in 1928 and U.S. Senator in 1930. He ruled Louisiana as a virtual dictator, but he also initiated massive public works programs, improved public education and public health, and even established some restrictions on corporate power in the state. While Long was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, by the fall of 1933 the Long-Roosevelt alliance had ruptured, in part over Long’s growing interest in running for president. In 1934 Long organized his own, alternative political organization, the Share-Our-Wealth Society, through which he advocated a populist program for redistributing wealth through sharply graduated income and inheritance taxes. As his national recognition (and ambitions) grew, he spoke with increasing frequency to national radio audiences. No politician in this era—except Roosevelt himself and Long’s sometime ally, Father Charles Coughlin—used radio as frequently and effectively. In this April 1935 radio address, Long sharply criticized FDR and the New Deal and then sketched out his alternative program.
“It is simple to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and private gain.  It is more comfortable to sit content in the easy approval of friends and of neighbours than to risk the friction and the controversy that comes with public affairs.  It is easier to fall in step with the slogans of others than to march to the beat of the internal drummer – to make and stand on judgements of your own.  And it is far easier to accept and to stand on the past, than to fight for the answers of the future.” Daniel Webster, American lawyer, orator, and statesman  (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852)
[During one of RFK’s speeches, a student in the crowd asked, “where are you going to get all the money for these federally subsidised programmes you’re talking about?] From you.  Let me say something about the tenor of that question and some of the other questions.  There are people in this country who suffer.  I look around this room and i don’t see many black faces who are going to be doctors.  You can talk about where the money will come form ….Part of civilised society is to let people go to medical school who come from the ghettos.  You don’t see many people coming out of the ghettos or off the indian reservations to medical school.  You are the privileged ones here.  It’s easy to sit back and say it’s the fault of the federal government, but it’s our responsibility, too.  It’s our society, not just our government, that spends twice as much on pets as on poverty program.  It’s the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam.  You sit here as white medical students while black people carry the burden of fighting in Vietnam.

Make gentle the life of this world


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