“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

It will come as no surprise to you, that as a Democrat, I’ve long been a supporter of the Clinton family. (His mother was a Cassidy, you know).

But for the past month and certainly after Tuesday’s New Hampshire catastrophe, I’ve been researching that “new shiny object,” Vermont’s own Bernie Sanders, and listening to his “authentic” rhetoric.

For me, it has a familiar ring. It wasn’t that old 1928 “a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage,” my father echoed. That was Herbert Hoover’s slogan, of course, and he stole that from Henry lV of France. But something in that Vermonter/Brooklyn-ish tone struck a memory chord, one of the few chords I have left.

I remembered a 1950-ish summer’s evening on the veranda of a big antebellum house, the home of a lovely girl I dated at Louisiana Tech.

It was her father who told me about his daddy’s hero, the legendary populist governor of Louisiana back in the ’30s, the great Huey Long, aka The Kingfish, a radical Democrat populist who denounced the “establishment, the rich and the banks.” Sound familiar?

Old Huey, under the banner of his Share Our Wealth program, made a run for president, challenging Franklin Roosevelt at a time when the American economy was sinking like a passel of frogs in quicksand.

He came, for Roosevelt, so close, that FDR called him “one of the two most dangerous men in America.”

Interestingly enough, the other was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Maybe because he kept calling the Great Depression “Roosevelt’s Depression,” as in “Obamacare”?

History tells us that Roosevelt was so frightened by the rising popularity of Long that he created the first nationwide political poll to gauge how great a threat Huey was. Bet you didn’t know that.

What he found smoked up his iconic pince-nez glasses. Huey was polling up to 6 million popular votes, and his appeal was nationwide. I guess that woke them up in the West Wing.

What rang a bell were the stories my girlfriend’s daddy told me about Huey.

After all, the Kingfish had made Louisiana State University one of the great schools.

Hanging out in the cool racks of Louisiana Tech library (the hottest girls hung out there, near the magazine racks), I had learned tidbits about how Huey Long established public schools in every community. He promised free education, good roads, new bridges, free hospital care and lower property taxes. He accomplished all of that, and he abolished the infamous poll tax that kept the poor whites and blacks from voting. He even provided free busing to make sure all students could get to school, as long as “the ‘skeeters didn’t bite and the rivers didn’t rise.”

From New Orleans in the south to Ruston and Shreveport up north, old-timers, including my mother, remembered his share the wealth program, providing free health clinics and immunizations across the state, and elimination of the poll tax.

But this great, quirky populist tripled funding for public health care and grew health clinics statewide. Sound familiar?

In 1924 he ran unsuccessfully for governor by tarring the political bosses as pawns of big business and taxing Standard Oil especially. Sound familiar?

The downside of Huey’s passion for all of his programs was steep and dark. On Sept. 8, 1935, he was assassinated by a young doctor with shadowy connections to a cabal of Long’s enemies in Louisiana government. As they say in politics, it’s complicated.

I don’t imagine any of Bernie’s political foes are going to go shooting anyone. We hope we’re beyond that now.

But I’m sure they’ll employ other means of assassination.

They’ll use that hammer and sickle thing — lots of use of the term “socialist” — which to many of the followers of his opponent with the orangutan-colored hair is simply a code word for communist. They’ll refer to his age and his “get off my lawn” speaking tone and a plethora of other …

Yes, the more things change, indeed. This still early speechifying kerfuffle is already spewing out buckets of venom. Ah, yes … the more things stay the same.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. His book, “Will Write for Food,” is a collection of some of his best Morning Sentinel columns.

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