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Monday, 07 March 2005

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Jeremy

The Executioner's Song is fantastic. Are you reading it for work, or is that a pleasure book?

A. Cephalous

It's for pleasure...and I've had to put it down for the time being because I became a little obsessive reading it. There I'd be, at 2 a.m. with 7 papers still to grade, reading it. Or there I'd be, needing to write another couple of dissertation chapters, reading it. However, as it's almost the end of the quarter, I should be able to pick it back up soon. I'd love to talk about it from any number of perspectives: as a work of literary and/or new journalism; as a novel; as a work of social history; as that rarest of Mailer works, i.e. not wholly about himself; etc.

Tex Mex

Huey Long's historical legacy seems to be stuck in permanent paradox. Was he a power and money obsessed dictator, or a crusading beneficiary for the poor? How can a man be both? The answer lies not so much in his politics but in his psychology.

Long showed the defining symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Since childhood, he couldn't stand being second. Despite a professed populism, he was never part of the crowd, but rather wanted to stand apart with all eyes on him -- an addict for attention. But a pathological narcissist can only love his contrived image, which masks a core of self-hate. Thus, he was distant to his family, living in hotels, and treated his slavish minions with contempt. Fear equaled respect.

Image and reality blurs in a pathological narcissist's mind, which manifests as a poor sense of personal boundaries. Indeed, as far as Long was concerned, he was Louisiana. "I'm the Constitution around here now," he retorted to a critic. And being "all good," the end justified the means. Those who disagreed with Long were "all bad," and thus deserving of his political machine's extralegal oppression. A pathological narcissist is threatened by differences of opinion, making compromise almost impossible. It is all about him, and -- without conscience or empathy -- he manipulates others to make sure it is.

So the verdict of history that Long was by nature a dictator is warranted, regardless of his populist sugar-coating to win votes. His presidency would have been a national nightmare.

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