HUEY P. LONG, EVERY MAN A KING (23 FEBRUARY 1934)
- In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt considered Huey Long to be one of the most dangerous men in the United States. What about Long’s rhetoric made him dangerous? Do you agree that he was a dangerous man? Why or why not?
- The essay accompanying this unit provides an explanation for Long’s support among his followers by analyzing Long’s rhetorical style. How would you characterize Long’s style? Provide specific examples from the “Every Man a King” speech to support your interpretation.
- Define the term “demagogue.” Why do some historians and scholars of rhetoric consider Long a demagogue? What specifically defines “Southern Demagoguery”? Is there something different or unique about “demagoguery” in the South?
- Contemporary linguists have identified a term called “code switching,” where speakers can easily shift from one dialect or style to another with different audiences. Do you think Long used code switching? Why or why not? Do you think code switching is a legitimate form of audience adaptation, or do you think it should be taken as evidence of inauthenticity or insincerity?
- In the essay on this site, Long’s style is described as a “revivalist brand of democratic populism.” Unpack those terms and explain what specific elements make Long’s rhetoric “revivalist,” “democratic,” and “populist.”
- Long’s gift for emotional appeals, or pathos, was legendary. What role do you think emotions play in politics? Is there anything wrong or dangerous about politicians appealing to emotions? Can you distinguish between good and bad, or ethical and unethical, emotional appeals?
- Research the policies and programs that Long promoted with his Share Our Wealth societies. Would any of these programs or policies be popular today? If they were proposed today, would they be considered realistic and economically feasible? Why or why not?
- Using the following website, http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/firesi90.html , choose one of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats” from the 1930s and compare it to Long’s speech. How do the speeches differ in terms of the issues addressed, the arguments made, and their rhetorical style?
- Read a speech that Huey Long delivered more than a year after “Every Man a King”: another radio speech entitled, “Share our Wealth.” You can find a text of that speech here: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hueyplongshare.htm. How does this speech compare to “Every Man a King?” Does Long make some of the same arguments or use some of the same examples or stories? Are there new issues or arguments raised in this speech? How, in this speech, did Long distinguish himself from President Roosevelt? Overall, how would you characterize how the tone of this speech differs from “Every Man a King?” Does it sound more radical? More specific and detailed? More like the speech of a serious presidential candidate? Explain your answer.
- Research how Long’s delivery affected the reception of his speeches. What made Long’s delivery effective or unique? How did his gestures, his facial expressions, the tone and volume of his voice, and even his appearance or the way he dressed shape his rhetorical ethos? Do you feel Long’s delivery, particularly the nonverbal attributes of that delivery, enhanced or detracted from the persuasiveness of his message?
- Long identified as a Southerner and proudly displayed his cultural background as he became a candidate for president, speaking to listeners across the nation via radio. Can you think of politicians today who identify with particular regions of the country? Are there still uniquely “Southern” politicians in national politics? Are there politicians who openly identify with other parts of the country (e.g., the Midwest, the West, the Northeast, etc.)? In today’s society, do you think most Americans still identify with the particular states or regions of the country where they live?
- Long cultivated the image of a “common man” in his speeches. Can you think of politicians who do this today? Are these sorts of “populist” appeals still effective in modern politics? Why or why not? How do today’s politicians identify with, or demonstrate a concern for, the “common man?” Are some politicians better at doing this than others? Why? What makes for an effective populist appeal?
- In the 1930s, Long became a voice of the alienated and the dispossessed. Can you think of any politicians today who likewise claim to speak for alienated or neglected voters? Who are those voters, and do you think such appeals are effective?
- Do you think of “populism” as a good or bad thing in contemporary politics? Do you think we can distinguish between “good” and “bad” populists? Historically, populism has been associated both with courageous rural folk who stood up for their rights and narrow-minded bigots opposed to immigration. Does populism today contain both good and bad elements? What do modern-day populists emphasize in their campaign rhetoric?