The Earl of Louisiana by A.J. Liebling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It may be denial on my part that makes the territory covered seem so improbable. Though just a toddler, I was alive during the last campaign of Earl Long of Louisiana, so surely things could not have been so different during my time on earth. Right? But then again sometimes 50 years is a long time, and a lot can change. Plus the early ‘60s was an amazing time of change and Earl Long comes across to my eyes as the last of a unique breed.
During Earl Long’s last year in the Governor’s office he had some sort of break down, declared mentally unstable and flown against his will to a hospital in Texas under direction of his wife and nephew. When Earl got out he continued campaigning for another term even though ineligible. His announced plan was to quit shortly before his term expired have the lieutenant governor take over and therefore he would not technically be taking another consecutive term.
Anyway that was the story that brought Liebling from New York to New Orleans, a place he obviously fell in love with.
As for the spirit of the times, it is hard to imagine such blatant racism, so cruel that it makes the Longs (Huey and Earl) come off as quite magnanimous. Or maybe not…
“..the Long family’s position on the Southern issue. ‘They do not favor the Negro,” a Negro educator once told me, “but they are less inflexibly antagonistic than the others,’” pg. 23
Race is a prominent element is this record of that election year (1959) but for all of Liebling’s northern liberality I don’t think ever mentions actually talking to an actual black person.
A.J. Liebling must have been quite a character and I like his presentation, but I think it does have the feel of a different age of journalism. I like it, but it is different. One thing is that I found it hard to prepare quotes from the book for examples in this review, because the ones I really liked were not one- liners. He sets up a small story and it takes paragraph or two to finish it off. It is well worth it but you can’t just take one sentence to show how good he is.
His analysis is a little free-wheeling, such as one of his recurring observations that New Orleans is part of the Arab and Mediterranean culture
The Mediterraneans who settled the shores of the interrupted sea scurried across the gap between the Azores and Puerto Rico like a woman crossing a drafty hall in a sheer nightgown to get to a warm bed with a man in it. Old, they carried with them a culture that had ripened properly, on the tree. Being sensible people, they never went far inland. All, or almost all, the interior of North America was therefore filled in from the North Atlantic coast, by the weakest element in that incompletely civilized population-those who would move away from salt water.
The middle of Louisiana is where the culture of one great thalassic littoral impinges on the other, and a fellow running for Governor has got to straddle the line between them. Pg. 89
See what I mean about trying to pull one bit out? One piece is tied to another, then another and suddenly I am pasting the whole page in here.
His Levant/ Louisianna connection idea is, I think, based on and earlier time’s cliché that was embedded in people’s minds about the nature of the Arab world then.
On meeting the mayor of New Orleans…
The ceremonial coffee is a link between Louisiana and the rest of the Arab world. It is never omitted event though your host is going to throw you out when you have drunk it. pg. 54
Louisiana and New Orleans especially must have been quite a sight back then.
Morrison sees no chance of stemming the tide of Federal court decisions. He suffers under the disadvantage of living in the contemporary world, while the Perezes and Rainachs remain in the Jurassic. It is the gift of the Longs that they could straddle the intervening million years. Pg 179
One of the last political memories before I left the Great State was of the Governor devising political catfish bait. The cat is not a fish to be taken on bird feathers with whimsical names. It demands the solid attraction of chicken guts surrounded by then aura of asafetida: “Smells bad, but cats love,” the manual says.
…But other hands had been setting other trotlines with baits even more persuasive to the legislators….They (the statesmen) left the baits on his hooks untouched; they did not seem to be hungry. Pg. 145
And now Uncle Earl himself…
We got the finest roads, finest schools, finest hospitals in the country- yet there are rich men who complain. They are so tight you can hear ‘em squeak when they walk. They wouldn’t give a nickel to see a earthquake. They sit there wallowin’ hundred-dollar bills like a bullfrog swallow minners-if you chunked them as many as then wan they’d bust. Pg. 96
About his rival Mayor deLesseps S. Morrison of New Orleans…”I hate to say this- I hate to boost old Dellasoups-but he’ll be second again…(he always referred to him as Dellasoups)..I’d rather beat Morrison than eat any blackberry, huckleberry pie my mama ever made. Oh how I am praying for that stump-wormer to get in there. I want him to roll up them cuffs, and get out that little old tuppy, and pull down them shades and make himself up. He’s the easiest man to make a nut out of I’ve ever seen in my life”. The “tuppy” for “toupee”, was a slur on Morrison’s hair, which is thinning, though only Long has ever accused him of wearing a wig. Pg. 26
…if he was going to make up with Mrs. Long, and if he didn’t think that would help him get the women’s vote in the primary.
He said, “If dat’s da price of victory, I rather go ahead and be defeated. After all, lots of men have lost elections before.” Pg. 125
Oh yeah. It’s a very good book.
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