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September 8, 1935
There was chaos in the lobby of the Louisiana state Capitol. People ran screaming as gun shots went off, again and again. The lobby exploded in a cacophony of shots, screams and the stampede of the crowd. "What happened?" shouted someone, when the gunshots stopped.
"Someone shot the Senator!" cried a bystander.
Huey P. Long lay on the floor, clutching at his chest. "He's hit!" someone shouted.
Long was gasping for air as people crowded around him. Another crowd gathered, unheeded, around the body of the man who, seconds earlier, had shot Long as the Senator walked through the lobby.
Long coughed and tried to stand, but collapsed halfway. A bodyguard helped him to his feet, and as other guards ushered the crowd away, escorted Long to a bench, where he sat to regain his breath. "Are you all right, sir?" asked the guard.
Long wheezed and nodded through another cough. "I think so," he said. He looked over at the body of his would-be assassin. "I wonder why he tried to shoot me," he said, aloud.
"I couldn't say, sir," said the guard, loyally.
Some commotion in the lobby made them both look up as House Speaker Allen Ellender hurried over. "Senator!" he cried, "are you hurt? What happened?"
"I'm all right, Al," said Long. "He didn't get me."
"Al, really, I'm fine. Just some kook. I'm just a bit winded, that's all."
Long stood up again, this time under his own power. The crowd was being dispersed by the police now, and the body of the young man who had been shot fifty times by Long's bodyguards was being dealt with. "That sure was a close one, though," he said. "If I'd been standing an inch closer I'd have become the next FDR..."
November 24, 1935
"Look, honestly, I like your guy, I really do."
Joe Parker sat at the bar staring at his beer. He had to admit that it felt good to be able to do so again. Prohibition had been a serious killjoy.
"He's your guy, too, pal," said Joe. "He's the President of the United States."
"Yeah, but what's he done for me, lately?" asked his companion, cynically. "Other than getting the bars opened again?"
Joe scoffed, ironically. "You want more?"
"I'm serious, pal," said the other drinker. "The country's in one hell of a state. We've got...what was it the papers were saying yesterday? Thirty million Americans unemployed?"
Joe didn't know why, because it didn't help his case, but he corrected the man anyway. "Thirty-two," he said, morosely.
"Right. And what's Garner done? Not a damn thing!"
"What do you want him to do? There's no money! The work's not there!"
"Yeah, well, I voted for Roosevelt because I thought he had a plan to help me out. But Jack Garner don't have a plan. He ain't done a god damn thing to help America out of this mess!"
Joe sighed and left the man with his beer. It was a cold November evening as Joe stepped out of the bar and into the Washington streets.
Of course, it was all over the news these days. The New York Times had run with the bold headline Will These Times Never End? this morning. The President had nearly choked. "What the hell do they want me to do?" he'd spluttered.
There had been general agreement that what they wanted him to do was fix America's economy. But the problem was, he couldn't.
The man in the bar had been right. Roosevelt, God rest his soul, had a plan. But the New Deal, as he'd called it, died when he had. It was too bold, too different, too radical for many Democrats, including the President and, since the mid-terms last year, the majority of Congress. And the Republicans hated it. So, whatever it was Roosevelt had wanted to do could never be done now.
Joe idly dropped a nickel into the hat of the beggar on the street corner as he headed for Pennsylvania Avenue. There seemed to be even more of them around these days. And not just Negroes, either. There were plenty of white folks suffering just as bad.
When he got to the gate, the guard on duty gave him a friendly salute. "Out for a walk, Mister Parker?"
"Yeah," said Joe, "I just can't get enough of the slush, Frank."
Joe trudged up to the main entrance and, having been let through by the Secret Service, walked into the West Wing and sat at his desk. It was, he thought, a good life, all in all. Two years ago he'd been an unknown Democratic fundraiser for hopeless Congressional races in New York and now, here he was as a senior advisor to the President of the United States.
The problem was that in less than twelve months there was going to be an election. And for the first time since taking office, it looked very much like his boss, and then himself, were going to be out of a job real soon. And, in this economic climate, they would probably both end up in the same soup line.
There was a bound book on his desk. Someone had been distributing copies to White House staff for comment, and because they clearly thought the President's blood pressure was too low.
My First Year in the White House, the cover read, by Senator Huey Pierce Long.
"That arrogant son of a bitch," thought Joe. "He's not even in the White House!"
Yet, he added, mentally. At the rate things were going it wasn't complete arrogance to think Long would be replacing Garner sooner rather than later. If he launched a campaign...
The President was still at his desk, reading the offending book and cursing. "Have you seen this, Joe?" he asked, without looking up as Joe entered the Oval Office.
"That arrogant son of a bitch!"
"That's what I thought, sir," said Joe.
"Do you really think that jackass is gonna try and run?"
"Could be, sir."
"Well, shoot, boy, what the hell are we gonna do about it!"
Joe glanced across at Garner's chief adviser, who was still engrossed in Long's tome. "We don't need to do anything," he said, putting the book down. "There's no way Long will get nominated. The state Party machines are all right behind you, Mr. President." He paused, then added, "except for Louisiana, obviously."
"Yeah, 'cos Huey Long is the Louisiana state party machine." said Garner, bitterly.
There was a polite knock on the door and the young secretary whose name Joe never remembered stuck his head in. "Mr. President, the Secretary of State is here." <br. "Thankyou, Pete. Send him in."
Joseph Kennedy looked younger than his forty-seven years. Sprightly and bespectacled, he had the Irish rogue look about him everywhere he went. Of course, everybody who dealt with him knew it was just an image. In reality, Kennedy was a hard-nosed bastard. Joe was never certain whose side Kennedy was on. He had a terrible feeling that Kennedy was mostly on his own side.
"Good evening, Mr. President," said Kennedy in his unmistakable Boston accent. "Hello boys. I bring tidings from the Chancellor of Germany."
Garner bid Kennedy sit, which he did. "How did the meeting with Hitler go?" he asked, curtly. It was no secret Garner despised Kennedy. It hadn't taken much persuasion on Garner's part to re-insert the Congressional presiding officers into the line of succession, just to keep Kennedy as far away from power as possible. And Kennedy knew that, so he despised Garner as well.
"Very well," said Kennedy, leaning back. "I think I can confidently say we can work with him."
Kennedy mulled his answer over for a second. "Mmm...they're cautious," he said, "but I think we can get them on-side. They are re-arming, as you know, in anticipation of another war."
Garner frowned. "Is there going to be another war?"
"I doubt it, Mr. President. I don't think Hitler is at all interested in war. He just wants Germany to be a leading economic voice in Europe."
"Yeah," said Garner, "but whose that guy in England who keeps talking about war? The guy with the cigars?"
"I think," said Kennedy, "you're talking about Winston Churchill. But I wouldn't worry about him. We've established a very good relationship with the new Premier, Baldwin. I don't think Churchill's got the power base to do anything, sir."
"Well, that's something," said Garner. "It's hard enough keeping the Democratic Party together. Now Huey Long wants me to keep the country together, and Churchill wants me to keep the world together!"
"I rather think, Mr. President," said Kennedy, "that that is your job."
Garner looked up at the portrait of Franklin Roosevelt that he'd reluctantly hung in the Oval as a gesture of conciliation to the New Dealers. "No, Joe," he said, darkly, "it's his job. But the bastard just took the easy way out."
January 20, 1936
"Huey! Huey! Huey!"
The chanting of the crowd outside the Louisiana State Capitol, where Huey P. Long has nearly been killed just a few short months ago, was deafening. Long stood before them on the steps, flanked by Governor Allen and other Long supporters. The atmosphere could only be described as 'electric'.
"My friends!" shouted Long, over the roar of the crowd. He felt like Marcus Antonius announcing Caesar's death. It was an allegory which suited him quite nicely. Except that what he was actually doing was announcing Caesar's ressurection.
"My friends!" he repeated, and waved for silence. Over time, several minutes, the hubbub died down.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the great State of Louisiana," Long boomed, "I have come before you with a promise. America is in a great crisis. There are, as I stand here before you today, more than thirty million Americans without a job." There were boos.
"We are facing the toughest economic climate this country has ever seen," Long continued, "and yet our leaders in Washington sit back and do nothing!" More boos. "They tell us to tough it out, saying that the good times are just around the corner. Well, we're waiting on the corner, my friends, and we can't see 'em!" The crowd cheered. "Which is why," Long went on, "after a long discussion with my family and party operators, I have come here before you today. It is my intention to be a candidate for President of the United States!"
Now, the crowd's roar went from deafening to ear-bleeding. Long could hardly hear himself think on the podium. Yet still, he basked. He basked in the warm rays of affection he felt streaming out from the crowd. The cameras covering the rally focused on him as he raised his arms and grinned for them.
"Son of a bitch!" shouted Garner. "Joe!"
Joe Parker hurried into the Oval Office. "Yes, sir?"
Garner thrust the paper into Joe's face. "The bastard's actually going through with it!" he snarled.
"Sir, please, I know," protested Joe, as the President eased off. "I'm sorry, Sir, we should have been prepared for this..."
"You're damn right you should!" shouted Garner. "Does he have a chance in Hell of getting the Democratic nomination?"
Joe didn't answer him. Garner took that as an answer in itself. Then he made a decision. "Get me every state Party chairman in all forty-eight states!" he snapped. "Get me the Speaker, the Senate Pro-Tem. Everybody of influence inside the Party, you got that! Everybody!
Joe hesitated. "Everybody, sir?"
The President caught his meaning. "Okay, so, not everybody," he conceded. He looked down at the photograph on the front page, showing a beaming and waving Huey P. Long of Louisiana. "Not quite everybody..."
July 15, 1936
Things had, Joe Parker reflected, gone from bad to worse in a very short space of time.
First, there had been the primary in...where had it been? Joe was too tired, and too drunk, to even remember. Garner had come in first, but Huey Long had been very close behind him. Suddenly Long was the flavour of the month, and President Garner and his staff were playing catch up. It didn't help that the party organisation in a number of states, especially in the South, were for Long and couldn't be shifted. And then there was Kennedy, who told Garner he was supporting his nomination while, at the same time, it was obvious, telling the exact same thing to Huey Long.
Then there had been the Convention. The whole thing had turned into a floor fight. Long had enough delegates to rob Garner of the nomination on the first ballot. The rules had changed - Long's people had seen to that, and now only a direct majority was needed to nominate, and Garner didn't have it. Neither had Long, of course, so the convention had gone on and on, ballot after ballot. Other candidates - Byrd, Smith, even actor Will Rogers, had thrown their hats in.
It was a bloodbath. After all the fighting, President Garner had at least come through on top, nominated after the eleventh ballot, but with Long only a short way behind, it was obvious the Party were divided.
And then the whole thing started again for the Vice Presidential nomination. Avid New Dealers were determined Garner's running mate should be one of them, and the same was true for Long's people. Long himself didn't nominate, which in retrospect should have been ominous - but then again, hadn't Garner himself described the Vice Presidency as 'not worth a pitcher of warm piss?' Indeed he had, but then he'd become President suddenly, and now people wanted the position. There had been an almost as bloody a fight over that prize, eventually coming down to a three-way race between McAdoo, Harry Byrd and George White. When the dust settled and the nice, neutral Newton Baker was settled on as a compromise, the Democrats were in what could only be described as total chaos.
And then Long had made The Speech.
Outside the convention centre in Philadephia, Long had told the crowd and the press that he would continue his campaign regardless as a third-party nominee. He invoked the spirit of both Roosevelts, Franklin and Theodore, and promoted his 'share the wealth' ideas as the only solution to America's, and the world's, economic woes. As the speech continued, Joe had turned to Garner's chief aide and solemnly said "We just handed the election to Landon."
And now the general election was underway and Alf Landon, the Republican nominee, had a strong lead. Without Long in the race, Garner might be able to claw his way back, but the firebrand Louisianan was splitting the Democratic vote, especially in the South where the vote was strongest. It was clear to everybody - short of a miracle, there was no way Garner was going to win re-election.
A lot of the campaign staff had already quit. Joe, staggering through the Washington streets, wondered whether he oughtn't to become the next one. But it would mean just another unemployed bum wandering the streets. He had to see this through to the end.
He just hoped the end came soon. He couldn't take much more of this...
November 4, 1936
"Well," said Joe, looking around the Oval Office, "that's it."
The President was still in bed. There didn't seem any point in waking him.
There had been a point, a few weeks ago, when it looked like Garner migh, might just have made it. Some of the newspapers and pundits had even predicted a narrow Garner victory, thinking that Long's influence in the South would be countered in the North and midwest. But one pollster, a man named Gallup, claimed to have invented a new polling system and had predicted a solid Republican win. From now on, it looked as if Gallup would be getting a lot more work.
Alf Landon as President of the United States? The concept was mind-boggling.
But, Joe had to admit to himself, there was just possibly one thing worse. He looked at the newspaper from two days before which still lay on the President's desk. The smiling face of Huey Long stared at him from the front page.
He threw the paper aside in disgust and looked up at Franklin Roosevelt's portrait.
"This is your fault," he said, to the painting. "You couldn't have been standing one inch to the left?"
He looked back down at the paper, and Long's grim visage. "And you couldn't have been standing one inch to the right?"
There was a noise behind him, and the President's chief aide entered. "Good morning," he said.
"No. Not really."
Joe turned to face his colleague. "How are the staff holding up?"
"Most of them knew this was coming," said the aide. "But they're still pretty shaken. And now they've got ten weeks to pack up their desks."
"We might get lucky," said Joe, optimistically. "Landon's going to be sworn in in the middle of winter. Maybe he'll do a Harrison and make his speech without an overcoat on."
Slight pause. "That was tasteless, Joe." "Sorry." They headed out of the Oval Office. "Should we wake the President?" asked Joe. His colleague thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No," he said. "The man needs a good night's sleep."
"So do all of us," said Joe, bitterly. "We're not going to get much more sleep."
"Wait four years," said the aide. "We'll be back."
"With Huey Long?"
There was a long silence, broken only by their footsteps as they trod through the West Wing corridors.
"Things will get better," said the aide, finally. "They have to..."