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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars crisis and renewal, April 14, 2003
This review is from: Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression (Paperback)
Brinkley offers a fascinating glimpse into the politics of the Depression era. Often, Huey Long and Father Coughlin are glossed over in US history textbooks and are given the "extremist" or "radical" label. These might not be entirely incorrect descriptions, but using them misses the depth of the national movements that rose up around these two figures and ignores the many followers they had.
It is interesting to see who was supporting Long and Coughlin. Their movements were not, as one might expect, composed of the dispossed or the bottom-of-the-barrel poor. Rather, they usually attracted people on the lower fringes of the middle class--people who had something and knew what it was like not to have it, people who feared losing their new status. Long and Coughlin expressed a sense of loss, too. They bemoaned the death of community-based business and local trade and their replacement with a growing number of chain stores and big businesses. Cold, distant, impersoal relationships now replaced the personal ties that bound communities together. They focused on economic issues--such as old-age pensions and Long's Share Our Wealth program. They placed blame on and demonized the "usual suspects." They proposed radical change and yet distanced themselves from socialists and Communists--especially Coughlin. Ultimately, they failed to create an enduring ideological movement, but one still cannot help wondering what course the 1936 election would have taken had Long not been assassinated in 1935.
The picture of Franklin Roosevelt that emerges here is that of a cunning and shrewd political operator. He deftly maneuvered the political waters and co-opted both Long and Coughlin. He adopted pieces of their programs--never the entire thing, but just enough to siphon support from his potential rivals. He maintained an ambiguous relationship with Coughlin and played on the priest's desire for power and attention--frequently ignoring him but slyly using him, for example, to garner the Catholic vote. He similarly cozied up to Long in the 1932 election, since the Louisiana politician had growing appeal, especially in regions of the south.
Overall, this is a fascinating book, based on excellent scholarship and many insightful analyses.
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