September 17, 2007

Kingfish vs. He-Coon

One of the most charismatic Southern politicians in American history of course is Huey P. Long, governor and U.S. senator from Louisiana. He could spin a yarn with just as many strands and colors as Lawton Chiles.

But the Kingfish's best stories were mostly lies that have slipped into legend. Chiles liked to call his stories "cracker"--meaning they were just the truth, plain-spoken, nothing extra.

If you check out a couple books on Long you'll find this oldie. This re-telling is from Pols: Great Writers on American Politicians from Bryan to Reagan, edited by Jack Beatty:

The first time that Huey P. Long campaigned in rural, Latin, Catholic south Louisiana, the local boss who had him in charge said at the beginning of the tour: "Huey, you ought to remember one thing in your speech today. You're from north Louisiana, but now you're in south Louisiana. And we got a lot of Catholic voters down here." "I know," Huey answered. And throughout the day in every small town Long would begin by saying: "When I was a boy, I would get up at six o'clock in the morning on Sunday, and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and I would take my Catholic grandparents to mass. I would bring them home, and at ten o'clock I would hitch the old horse up again, and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church."

...that night the local leader said admiringly: "Why, Huey, you've been holding out on us. I didn't know you had any Catholic grandparents." "Don't be a damn fool," replied Long. "We didn't even have a horse."

I imagine Chiles telling stories like this when folks in the Panhandle invited him in for home-cooked supper after a long day on the trail--with his own special touches and details of course.

Nowadays, when politicians do the standard stump, they lie but don't even try to be colorful about it.

At least Huey Long sent you home with a chuckle.