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Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy: ‘Beyond Vietnam’

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Sometimes words remain appropriate, not only for the era in which they are spoken, but for multiple eras, and perhaps for the length of humanity’s struggle to overcome the worst aspects of our collective nature – greed, avarice, hypocrisy and the bondage of others to forward one’s own self interests – in other words, FOREVER.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of April 4, 1967 now known as the “Beyond Vietnam” speech are such words. They illustrate the depth of Dr. King’s comprehension that the Civil Rights Movement was a struggle of more than one race in one nation at one point in time.

These words, spoken exactly one year to the day before his assassination, are why some pause each January to remember and celebrate his life; while others are simply reminded of why he was, and continues to be hated by those attracted to power without compassion.

As the past two years when Royal Examiner has published these words on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in this first month of 2019 we might again ask ourselves if our ongoing borderless, worldwide war on terror isn’t at least in part, a legacy of our collective failure to heed Dr. King’s words of April 1967?

And 52 years down the road from this speech as Central American Hispanic refugees fleeing chaos and anarchy in their own nations are increasingly lumped together with international terrorists and drug dealers for partisan political advantage, we must again ask ourselves one final question – how close to the “too late” moment Dr. King described in 1967 are we as a people and a nation today?

– Due to the speech’s length, some introductory comments and other details on the Vietnam era have been edited out – deletions are indicated by (…) and some points have been emphasized with bold highlights.

There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. – Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photos/Public Domain)

Martin Luther King, Jr.
‘Beyond Vietnam’

I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” … The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one

…Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world … Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history … For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us …

“Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask?

And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live …

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program.

There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such …

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.

Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent …

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men – for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

… Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son-ship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula … They must see Americans as strange liberators … We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops … Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness … They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of new violence?

… At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved … and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now.

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I speak as a child of God … I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: “Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit … and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about … Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God. In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution … It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.”

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them, is not just … America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood …

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. – Martin Luther King Jr.

We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice … It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries … A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.

Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies … This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind … When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response … I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality … This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God”

…We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late … Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.” We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace … and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight … Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world …

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

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Something I learned from a Cowboy

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Some time ago I met a cowboy. Not a Hollywood cowboy. Not a guitar-strumming Nashville cowboy. This cowboy sat upon a horse so big, I had to lean out of the window of my ’67 Chevrolet and strain my neck to see him.

The cowboy and I were headed in opposite directions on a greyish, dusty, unpaved road. He was mounted upon the aforementioned animal. I was navigating my Chevy. Aside from our differing modes of transportation, there was one other factor distinguishing the cowboy from me. He knew where he was and where he was going. I didn’t.

In brief, I was in Montana looking for Holter Dam, which according to my wrinkled paper map, ought to be astride the Missouri River somewhere nearby. And, no. Cars did not have GPS navigators in those days.

So, there I was, looking up at a cowboy mounted upon the largest chestnut-brown horse I had ever seen. I quickly learned he was no ordinary cowhand. He owned a Montana wheat ranch half the size of the state of Arizona.

He dismounted and I exited my car and soon we were chatting face-to-face. In no time at all he gave me directions to Holter Dam. Easy for him. He lived there! How’s that for luck?

As we spoke, my car’s engine was still running.

“Have you got any tools in your car?” That wasn’t a question I had expected the cowboy to ask. After all, I was only seeking directions.

“A few,” I replied.

“You’ve got a problem with your engine.”

I felt really proud that I had a wrench or two and a screwdriver. Prouder still that I knew which was which!

The cowboy raised my Chevy’s hood. He listened ever so briefly.

Within a few seconds he was bending over my still-running engine. He used the wrench. Once. Twice. Then he was satisfied.

“You had an air leak back there.” He explained something about a gasket and a rocker cover.

I smiled as if I knew what he was talking about.

This cowboy was a pleasant fellow, dusty boots and all. We chatted. My jaw dropped. This was no ordinary cowboy. He was a Harvard Business School graduate. He needed that, he said, to manage his wheat ranch. He marketed to Russia, China, and beyond.

He was also an engineering graduate. I recall he said Michigan. He told me he needed that, too, “right here at Holter Dam.” But before Holter Dam, this cowboy had another use for that engineering degree. He applied those skills while working for General Motors. I’d guess that’s why from atop his horse he heard a potentially troublesome hissing sound beneath the hood of my Chevy.

Turns out this cowboy was the chief engineer for the dam’s hydro-electric generators. Also turns out he guided us to his home on the Holter Dam property. He gave my two kids a ride on the horse!

I met him again a year or so later. Rescue and recovery mission on the Missouri River. Part of my Air Force duties at Malmstrom Air Force Base just outside Great Falls. But that’s another story. Later maybe.

So, this cowboy was a lesson! Classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” What social science calls stereotyping….

Yesterday, I met a guy at a bar ………

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Abortion, Marijuana, and Slavery

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historically speaking

One of the topics I try to avoid in class is abortion. There is a good reason for this avoidance; it is one of the subjects that inspires such passion that it is nearly impossible for any real civil discourse. Historically, abortion has been a key issue of every election since Roe V. Wade. However, it seems, at least to me, in the last couple elections, the abortion question has lost some significance. But, as we move closer to the 2020 election, it is looking as if the abortion issue may once again become a heavyweight question. I am not going to weigh in on the rights and wrongs of the issue, but I think it is worth giving some historical significance.

My first historical observance with abortion is the political shift that occurs. One of the areas we can generalize about regarding the differences between Republicans and Democrats is the role of government. Today, Republicans tend to believe in smaller government, while Democrats believe in larger. This was not always the case, but that is a story for a different time. Yet, when it comes to abortion, the two parties switch positions. Democrats tend to want more regulation, more involvement in people’s lives. But when it comes to abortion, they suddenly back off and say it is completely up to the individual. Democrats tend to try to protect those who need the most help, but then change on this one issue. Republicans follow suit. They tend to push for more personal liberties, a more hands-off approach, yet push for more government regulation with abortion. Where Republicans are portrayed as the more uncaring party when it comes to issues such as separation of children at the border, they take a stronger stance on protecting the unborn. When it comes to debating abortion, they both attack each other on their inconsistencies.
A similar circumstance happens when it comes to legalizing marijuana. Democrats argue it’s a state rights’ issue, while Republicans counter that it is a federal law. And while speaking of marijuana, it seems to me as if these two issues are connected. Marijuana is still against federal law, yet state after state have passed laws allowing for its use. Similarly, abortion is legal in the U.S. according to federal law, but after the marijuana laws began to pass with no reprisal from the federal government, states started to follow suit with abortion laws. Today several states have passed laws limiting the right to abort.

The reason for the switch in position is because morality is involved. In my classes there are two times I discuss abortion. The first is when we discuss Roe v. Wade. The other is when we discuss compromises over slavery. I understand how odd that sounds. There is little the two have in common, yet when it comes to debating slavery and abortion, they are quite similar.

For the first century of American history, our leaders were able to compromise on slavery. When I say compromise, I really mean agree to avoid discussing it. Slavery was always a difficult question, so they agreed to find ways to punt the problems to the next generation. The big compromises such as the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the 1850 Compromise, and the 1854 Kansas Nebraska Compromise were all attempts to remove slavery from the national discussion. All three of these compromises were efforts to answer, once and for all, which states or territories would be slave and which free. Our political leaders understood that slavery was too difficult a conversation for Congress. The closer we got to the Civil War, the more difficult the conversations became.

As the anti-slavery movement grew into the abolitionist cause, more Americans began to see slavery as a moral argument. Once slavery was seen as a sin and slave-holders as sinners, it became impossible to have civil discourse. This is when I bring in abortion as an object lesson. I tell my students it’s like today’s abortion debate. If you are morally against abortion, there is no compromise. There can’t be. If you are pro-choice and see abortion as a fundamental right for women, you too cannot compromise. It’s not like tariffs. Most of us can give a little here or there with tariffs, infrastructure laws, or foreign policy, but once something is seen as a moral argument, compromise is over.

I am not the first to see this connection. In fact, modern pro-life advocates have taken up the word abolitionist to explain their cause. They have borrowed many words, slogans, and images from the 19th century abolition movement to explain and promote their agenda.

I am not sure what this comparison means for modern Americans. Nineteenth-century Americans never figured it out. They were never able to find the magic solution and come to an agreement. It took a war and 700,000 lives to find the answer to slavery. I do not think abortion will lead to war, but history has shown that we may never find common ground to the abortion question. Pro-choice and pro-life will never find a compromise and, like the abolitionists and slaver holders, will continue to see themselves as holding the moral high ground even if the courts side against them.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Congress: Ethics & Standards of Conduct

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To my Grandson, to help clarify a few points.

The concepts here are relatively simple, but they are frequently ignored. Even when not ignored, the lines differentiating between what is “right” or “wrong” or “legal” or “illegal” will often be blurred.

Simple concept:

If you are employed by someone, you are obligated to use both time and resources to the benefit of the employer.

Time: The time for which you are “employed” belongs to the employer.

Resources: The property, building, equipment, supplies, money, utilities (electricity, water, heating, cooling) and sometimes vehicles (cars, trucks, aircraft) belong to the employer.

When you use the employer’s time or resources for personal use, you are stealing.

Facts:

All members of the Federal government, whether elected or appointed, are employees (President, Congress, Senate, judges, and military and civilian staff members of all Federal agencies or departments).

They are employed by the “People of the United States.”

They receive salary and benefits from the “People of the United States.”

They are obligated to use both time and resources to the benefit of the employer, the “People of the United States.”

If they use time and resources for personal gain or personal endeavors, they are violating the law.

There are literally hundreds of laws, directives, and published policies that specify detailed examples of legal or illegal activities.

(Note: These same obligations/laws apply to all levels of government whether individual states, counties, cities, townships, or school districts.)

Examples of Misconduct:

A U.S. President is charged with personal misconduct while in his office. He uses his staff (legal advisors, secretaries, administrative assistants) to prepare documents, statements, press releases, and press conferences on his behalf.
A U.S. Senator flies aboard a military aircraft to Europe to attend a conference. He tasks his staff to get tickets for himself and his wife to attend a Formula One auto race in Italy the weekend after the conference.
A Federal judge uses his staff to do research, uses his office computer word processing software, and uses his office hours, all to write a novel he plans to publish.
An Air Force commander uses a fighter jet and flies to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada, so that he can attend his daughter’s wedding.
A U.S. Senator pushes legislation for a fighter jet the military has not requested and does not want. The aircraft in question is produced in the Senator’s state.
A lobbyist pays (or gives gift, i.e. vacation travel) a Congressman in return for the Congressman’s vote or sponsoring a bill favoring the lobbyist’s business!
Other Examples of Misconduct:

As State Governor: (from: CBS Chicago.com)
Blagojevich was trying to get (himself) appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to President Obama’s Senate seat.
Blagojevich was trying to get Obama’s help setting up a non-profit funded with millions of dollars, which Blagojevich could run after leaving office.
Blagojevich was trying to shake down racetrack owner John Johnston for $100,000 in campaign cash in exchange for Blagojevich quickly signing legislation to benefit the racetracks.
Blagojevich was trying to get $1.5 million in campaign cash from supporters of Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for appointing Jackson to the Senate.
Blagojevich was trying to shake down Children’s Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Magoon for a $25,000 campaign fundraiser in exchange for approving a state funding for doctors at the hospital.
Another State Governor uses a police helicopter to have himself flown to his child’s soccer game.
A bus-boy in a restaurant conceals himself for five-minutes (not official break time) and uses his own cell phone to call a friend.
An I.T.T. employee uses a company-provided rental car while on business in Colorado; he drives the car to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit his cousin Zeke.
An office worker uses the office computer and printer to print a term paper for a college course.

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Consequences of a Failed Coup

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historically speaking

If President Trump pulls off a win in 2020, there is going to be a great deal of soul searching, not to mention wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many will ask how, how could someone so disliked win another term? I am not saying he is going to win. I have no idea. But, if he does, I am suggesting that history can give us a clue as to the event that helped him win.

I recently wrote an article looking at the ideological ancestry of Progressives and one of the men I mentioned was Huey Long. As important as Long was in the 1930s, he is a character largely forgotten to time. Even with the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King’s Men and the subsequent two movies of the same name (1949 and 2006) being loosely based on Long, he is lost to history. Yet for some time, Long was the loudest voice of protest against President Roosevelt, and one of the most influential men in America. His “Share Our Wealth” program hoped to do more to eliminate poverty than anything the New Deal considered. Yet, before Long could become the champion of the people, first he had to endure government attacks and impeachment attempts.

Long grew up poor in rural Louisiana but had well-educated parents for that time and place. He was described as having a photographic memory and excelled in school, but not so much getting along with others, including teachers. After being expelled, he later took some classes from Oklahoma Baptist University, as well as the University of Oklahoma. He did not finish either, but he did end up attending Tulane Law School for one year before passing the bar.

Long worked as a lawyer for a few years, as he worked his way up through Louisiana state politics, until he ran for governor in 1928. He was able to beat a powerful political machine by consolidating the rural poor vote with the minorities and Catholic votes. He ran a Bernie-Sanders-small-donation type of campaign that he called “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.” He promised public works projects, free textbooks, and higher taxes on the wealthy. Once in office, he lived up to his promises; he was the New Deal before there was such a thing.

As Governor, Long ran Louisiana like a dictator. He pushed all his opponents out of offices and replaced them with loyalists. He took on big business, especially Standard Oil, and was able to impose his will over the legislature. Because he had a demagogue-like hold over the people of his state, he also used shady finances and physical force to build his power.

When Long tried to raise the tax rate on oil companies, they fought back. Supported by the oil companies, the conservatives tried to impeach him for everything from blasphemy and corruption to attempted murder. One opposition leader supposedly said that you can impeach for anything. Impeachment is political. These may be the truest words ever said. Long felt as if he was not being fairly treated in the press, who were connected and backed by big government. He did not have Twitter, but in the 1920s, he did the next best thing. To get his own message across to the public, he started his own paper and mounted speakers to a car to deliver his thoughts. Most importantly, he utilized a new technology, 1920s social media, the radio. A medium his future opponent, FDR, would also use to perfection.

In the end, the people rallied to Long’s side and he pulled in enough senators to pledge not to vote for any charges. Long walked away stronger than before; he became the “Kingfish” and ruled his state with an iron fist. He said something along the lines that he used to ask please of the government, but now he used dynamite. Having survived impeachment, he gained complete control over Louisiana, and then turned his sights to the national stage.

As a democratic senator, Long championed the democratic candidate, FDR, in the 1932 election. Long took credit for FDR’s wins in several states and felt he earned an unofficial advisor position to the new president. Roosevelt saw things differently, saying, “He really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country.” When Long began to speak for the administration and proposed his plan to limit income, FDR distanced himself from the Kingfish. There is too much to write about here, but the two men quickly came to odds, leading Long to use his significant public influence to attack the New Deal. The administration counterattack was in the form of the Treasury Department launching an investigation into Long’s tax returns (some things never go out of style), as well as a special senate investigation into election fraud in Louisiana. Finally, with a possible weakening of the Kingfish, his Louisiana enemies saw the chance to take back the state and attempted to oust the Long-controlled state government.

When Long was finally brought to a hearing, the evidence against him was flimsy and unimportant. It looked as if prosecutors were working out personal grudges. It did not take long for the hearings to fall apart and the people to lose interest. In the end, those who had attacked Long suffered greater than Long ever did. Once again Long emerged stronger than before. If was after the government attacks that Long proposed the “Share Our Wealth” program to redistribute wealth. He also began to prepare to take on FDR in the next election. Before he could challenge the President, however, he was shot down by an assassin. I am not saying that he could have defeated FDR, but his power and popularity had grown even more since being attacked by the Government and he was emerging victorious.

I don’t know what the final outcome of the Mueller report will be and I am not here to weigh in on Trump’s impeachment chances. But historically speaking, if after two years of investigating Trump and nothing comes from it and if Democrats continue to investigate, it starts to look like an abuse of power from the Democrats. As with Long, the constant attacks only strengthen his base and even draw in others. If after the 2020 election, Trump is still in power and the left is scrambling again to figure out why, their answer may likely be the very investigation they started.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Congressional Embezzlement

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Imagine you are the owner of ABC Widget Company and that you have just discovered some of your employees have regularly been leaving company premises during paid work hours. These employees have been collecting pay for work not performed. And while they were away, your widget production fell.

Wouldn’t you, as a business owner, feel you have been wronged? Wouldn’t you feel you have a legal right to recover your losses?

I’d side with the business owner on this one. Call me old-fashioned, but I was raised in a generation that believed a dollar’s worth of work ought to be rendered for a dollar’s worth of pay. I’d feel that the business owner ought to legally recover not only the lost wages, but he also should recover his losses for widgets not produced.

Now, would you be surprised if I told you that nearly every member of the U.S. Congress is doing precisely what those imaginary wayward employees of ABC Widget Company were doing? Am I saying that your congressman is collecting a $174,000 salary and is leaving company premises during paid work hours? Yes, that is precisely what I am saying. And more. Our elected congressional representatives are pocketing the salary that you and I pay them and are busily “out of their offices” engaged as telemarketers. They are dialing your phone number and mine raising funds for their next election!

There are “call centers” complete with “scripts” to aid individual congressmen in “dialing for dollars.” Both parties have told newly elected members of Congress that they “should spend 30-hours a week” in these call centers which are conveniently located just down the street from their offices.

Why just down the street? Because by law members of Congress cannot make such fund-raising calls from their offices. So our elected representatives circumvent the law, go outside of their offices and spend 4 or more hours a day making fund-raising calls. They are literally told to do so by political party leadership. Why? Because the Political Action Committees (PACs and Super-PACs) have helped fund their elections. Congressmen are told their first priority each day is to raise $18,000 to replenish the Super-PAC’s funds for the next election.

If you would like to verify this, you can do what I did. Go online to the CBS website and navigate to Season 48, Episode 32 of the 60-Minutes show. You can hear reporter Norah O’Donnell interviewing Florida Rep. (R), David Jolly, Wisconsin Rep. (R) Reid Ribble, New York Rep. (D) Steve Israel, and Minnesota Rep. (D Rick Nolan. You’ll hear these congressmen spell out the details. They are sponsoring a bill (H.R. 4443) attempting to stop the practice of federal elected employees from “dialing for dollars.”

Former Rep. Israel admits he has spent more than 4,000 hours soliciting donations. Israel adds that congressmen spend more time raising money than on constituent needs or being on the floor of Congress. Rep. Nolan tells us the “last few years of Congress have been the most unproductive ever.”

Now let’s return to our imaginary ABC Widget Company. If you or I were among those employees collecting pay for work not performed, would we not likely be prosecuted under the law? Might we not be convicted for embezzlement? Why, then, do we sit idly by and allow our elected congressmen to break the law?

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Opinion

What is a Progressive?

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historically speaking

It is currently looking like in June that at least twenty-five Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for the presidency. With so many candidates, there seems to be a growing wedge in the party over the term “progressive.” In a “60 Minutes” interview, Nancy Pelosi said her party needed to come back towards the center, whereas many of the newer members are moving too far left.

Pelosi claimed the socialist wing of the party is small, but the interviewer countered that the progressive wing is actually getting larger. Pelosi’s response was that she is a progressive. As the party of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ, being a progressive is a badge of honor for the Democrats, and if some is good, more must be better. With so much talk about progressives, it is worth taking a look at the Progressive movement and consider who they were and what they stood for. When we understand the original movement, it becomes clear that progressivism is often misunderstood and misused.
In America’s first century, life could be hard on the poor, kind of an understatement, I know, but during this time it was not considered the government’s job to care. Government was much too busy in the Gilded Age passing tariffs and fighting about who started the Civil War to care about the poor. The initial real push for change did not come from the progressives, but actually the Populist movement. This radical fringe movement first suggested government should actually help those in need. It was this movement that first introduced many of the reforms that Progressives would later claim, like income tax, direct election of Senators, women’s suffrage, and prohibition.

What hurt the Populists were some of their more radical ideas, such as government takeover of railroads and adding silver to the gold standard to increase the money supply. Ultimately, the Populists were too radical too quickly for the American public, however, they set the stage for things to come. It was the Progressives who, after the initial shock, asked for many of the same reforms but did so in a much more conservative, orderly, and controlled fashion. They allowed Americans to ease into the drastic changes, while also not going as far as government takeover.

Today the historical faces of the Progressive moment are Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. With two Republicans and one Democrat, we see that Progressivism did not follow party lines but actually brought them closer together. The Progressive presidents became famous for “trust busting,” or going after monopolies. Wilson’s approach was to break up companies in order to restore competition between larger and smaller businesses, while TR wanted to expand the regulatory power of the Federal Government to control rather than destroy business. None of the Progressives wanted to end capitalism or business. All three men ran in the 1912 election (TR for the Bull Moose Party) and all three opposed the socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, and his platform.

Some historians, most notably Joan Hoff Wilson, believe there was a fourth progressive president, Herbert Hoover. Even though a Republican, Hoover worked for Wilson during the Great War and inspired his beliefs in cooperation in the economy and volunteerism between labor and business. Hoover differed from fellow 1920s Republican presidents who believed “less government in business and more business in government.” Hoover, like his fellow progressives, did not want business in government. They wanted regulations but also did not want government completely controlling business.

If Hoover was a Progressive, as Wilson suggests, that means that FDR was not. Hoover had serious reservations about the New Deal and did not consider FDR a progressive. The problems Hoover had with the New Deal were that, first, it did not actually fix the Depression. Second, Hoover did not believe mixing capitalism with some of FDR’s more socialist ideas worked. Giving handouts, or what Hoover called “the dole,” hurt traditional freedoms and independence of Americans. Lastly, he feared the individual was becoming a pawn of the state and the government becoming too powerful.

Based on this example, it is Pelosi’s moderate wing of the Democratic Party that seems more in line with the Progressives. The Ocasio-Cortez wing fits more into the Populist ideology or even more like Deb’s socialists.

For historians who disagree with Dr. Wilson and who see FDR as a true Progressive, once again the Ocasio-Cortez wing does not match up with FDR’s progressivism. What I have always found the most interesting thing about the loudest critical voices of the New Deal were that they did not come from the right, but actually from further left. In FDR, America had a president who did more for welfare than any president ever had, but there were complaints that he should do more.

The two loudest voices were Louisiana Governor-turned-Senator Huey Long and Catholic priest-turned-radio star Father Coughlin. Long wanted a tax code that destroyed concentration of wealth by capping income. Father Coughlin wanted a complete overhaul of our monetary system, including adding silver to our monetary system, and nationalism of railroads. Both seem more influenced by the Populists, even to the point of free silver, than they do to the Progressives. Both men believed the answer to all ills was more government control, way more that FDR did.

What we see is that Pelosi’s call to return to the center is more in line with historical progressivism and Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist’s wing is fighting against it. If anything, the far left in the Democratic Party is more in line with the Populists. The problem is we have changed meanings of words; we call Trump a populist when he has nothing in common with the Populist Party and Ocasio-Cortez a progressive even though she does not have ties with the historic Progressive movement. Words also matter in that labeling yourself a progressive is beneficial, so that anyone who opposes you becomes a non-progressive. Also, calling yourself a socialist will hurt electability. Pelosi understands that.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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