ESSAY- Kingfish effect: Why Obama can't help your economy
Since I can't support a man who so blatantly panders to American self-involvement that he offers a "gas tax holiday" instead of an honest discussion of America's energy liability, almost everyone I talk to lately has been working to assure I punch the Democratic ticket.
Their latest gambit is to imply that the new voters will be so overcome if their man doesn't emerge the winner that they'll riot. The disenfranchised will know, these people say, their man lost because of racist voters out there. They claim that the angry will believe that "their" election was stolen by con-men behind voting machines. I hear about the "Bradley Effect" constantly.
My friends' best case scenario is that, if their man wins, the nation will undergo a "rebirth of freedom," to quote former President Lincoln, as many will be enfranchised "and that government of the people, by the people and for the people" will again reign in Washington.
History, however, indicates other scenarios, based on two elections. One of those elections, I lived through, and one almost changed the face of American history.
I had been an ardent supporter of Al Gore until after 1992 when, in power, he and his boss, Bill Clinton, did absolutely nothing for the environment. We environmentalists had turned our back on the best environmental president in American history, George W.'s dad, to bring in one of our own, the author of Earth in the Balance.
But four years later, that administration had done nothing, and we environmentalists were making waves with our restlessness. In a last-minute move, the Clinton Administration screwed Utah by putting 1.9 million acres off limits to any kind of development in the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.
Since Utah was about the strongest GOP stronghold in the country, the Democratic administration surprised even the state's U.S. senators with the announcement. The Clinton Administration wouldn't even make the dedication in Utah, instead declaring the national monument in a hasty ceremony in Arizona, a state still in play as the election neared. It was brilliant politics. We environmentalists again responded with our support, and it didn't cost Clinton-Gore a single potential electoral vote.
A few months later, after the election, the rumors began to leak out. Except for what used to be available in the Escalante, Johnny Huang and the Lippo Group controlled the only other untapped deposit of low-sulfur, high-BTU coal deposit in the world. Huang, of course, had been channeling illegal campaign funds into the White House and, by taking Escalante off the market, the Lippo coal in Indonesia skyrocketed in value.
I can imagine something similar happening in 2012 when the people who put Obama in office begin to growl when he hasn't delivered. Already, Jesse Jackson wants to castrate the man because Obama has back-pedaled towards George W. Bush on faith-based initiatives and Iraqi policy since he got the Democratic nomination.
Worse, I can imagine a scenario similar to the 1930s when populist Huey P. "Kingfish" Long was moving rapidly to unseat Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Democratic party nomination. By 1935, citizens who had turned out in record numbers to put the former New York governor into the White House during a time of 25 percent unemployment were angry that FDR's policies weren't doing much to solve The Great Depression. The famed 100 days weren't so famous when the dirt poor were calling Long, a former Louisiana governor, and its present senator, the next political messiah.
Behind the "Kingfish" and Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest who first discovered broadcast evangelism, many of the Democratic faithful, and most of the new believers, had turned against the man we now think of as one of the greats. Roosevelt had simply not delivered fast enough for those suffering from the economic meltdown.
Like Long and Coughlin, many originally ardent supporters were by 1935 calling FDR– at best– a stooge of Wall Street.
In his three-hour radio sermons, Father Coughlin backed Long to a congregation of 40 million still down-and-out Americans– at the time the largest audience in American history. Coughlin's primary political message: America needs the quasi-socialist agenda revitalizing Germany under a man named Adolf Hitler at that moment, and the American to deliver it was the one-term senator from Louisiana.
Long fought off corruption, intimidation, vote-buying and bribery charges– even purchasing his own impeachment vote– by claiming people criticizing him were actually attacking his supporters, the poor, hard-working dirt farmers. His "share the wealth" plan and overall threat to FDR's reign came to a sudden halt when he was assassinated in 1935, just days before his book, My First Days in the White House, rolled off the presses.
Mr. Obama, if elected, will enter office in much the same situation that FDR did in 1932. The country will be in crisis, but Obama no longer has the executive power to declare a "bank holiday' and won't have any money for programs like the Works Progress Administration or the Civilian Conservation Corps. None of Obama's campaign promises are likely to come to pass because the country faces a record $455 billion deficit before any bailout dollars and the Democratic Congress did– we should remember– promise no new spending until it finds comparable spending cuts. The financial crisis today virtually assures no governmental health insurance, no additional bailouts for people who have defaulted on their loans, no nothing after Obama gives the speech of his career January 20.
In four years, what will the backers of "hope" and "change you can believe in" still believe?
Will they wait quietly for policies which always take years, usually decades, to develop? Will respective interest groups, like we environmentalists in 1996, be appeased by campaign shenanigans?
Could the disenfranchised and disenchanted turn toward the Huey Longs and Adolf Hitlers of this world?