This is my latest blog for the Huffington Post. It starts like this:
Marion Zioncheck is the most colorful character in American history that you’ve never heard of. I’m resurrecting him in order for you to think about him, before you forget about him again.
This is the story of the only U.S. Congressmen ever sent to an insane asylum.
Zioncheck was an ambitious and charismatic young man growing up in Seattle in the 1920s. He was only in his twenties when he led a successful recall election against Seattle Mayor Frank Edwards after Edwards dared tinker with the city’s utilities company in ways that hurt regular citizens. Soon after that Zioncheck was running for Congress. Few in establishment politics took him seriously, but he got media attention by visiting the local jail and passing out cigars to inmates while asking for their vote. When he won, in 1932, people attributed his victory to the force of his personality alone.
Zioncheck was one of a small group of radicals who tried to push the New Deal faster than President Roosevelt would go. He spoke passionately about economic and social justice and the rights of the common man. He was so outspoken and so driven that at one point his name was discussed as a third-party candidate for president.
But Zioncheck wasn’t interested in a third-party candidacy; he wanted to work within the system. And so he started playing by the rules. Because he was so hard-working, he was soon assigned by Democratic leaders to fill the position of party objector. The objector’s job was to read every piece of legislation coming before the House and to object to any proposal that didn’t conform to the party’s platform. This was tedious, difficult work, but it was crucial for the party, and for a political climber it was a major opportunity to rise within party ranks.
But Zioncheck still held radical change in his heart. He saw how people were starving during the Great Depression, and he felt it personally, and deeply.
He felt it so personally and deeply that it drove him mad.
The rest of the post is here.