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Witches, Red-Baiters, & “Patriots” April 14, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Economy, National Politics, Politics, Socialism.
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mccarthyIn the winter of 1692, twenty-six people were accused and convicted of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts.  Every American has heard the stories of how a small band of adolescent girls gripped by emotional hysteria caused the dark episode in our history.  What fewer know, but recent historians agree upon, is that the trials were politically motivated.  The hysterical girls came from families belonging to a more traditional Puritan background.  Many of the accused came from a faction of Salem residents that believed that the new world meant that the more severe restrictions of their religion could be left behind.  To the more traditional families, however, this “independent” viewpoint was viewed as destructive to Puritan society and the traditional way of life.  Many historians now believe that the local magistrates that initially investigated knew the girls were fabricating their stories.  They were, however, quite content to let the hysteria continue because the accused and convicted witches had to forfeit their property and land – property and land that they could then scoop up at little cost.  It was a nice gig while it lasted, but they were unable to stop the juggernaut of the trials after Cotton Mather and other personages of importance became involved. 

In 1950, fear of Communism was rampant in the United States.  Americans were learning about Stalin’s great purges of Eastern Europe, Chairman Mao turned China red the year before, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested for passing the secret of the atomic bomb to the Russians.  Schoolchildren engaged in nuclear blast drills and knew where the fallout shelters were.  It was a frightening time for Americans.  Nuclear technology and the rise of a shadowy and little-understood enemy seemed the threaten American society and its way of life.  On February 9 of that year, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin gave a speech before the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia.  In that speech, he waved a sheet of paper that he said contained the names of 205 “known Communists” working for the State Department.    After three years of a rather undistinguished Senate career, McCarthy found a way to make a name for himself.  In doing so, he ruined the careers and livelihoods of hundreds of Americans. Because of McCarthy’s actions, commissions were set up throughout government to root out the evils of Communism and Communists – even in the Army itself.  The movement fed upon itself and consumed everything in its path – it became too big to stop.

Now, in the spring of 2009, a group of “grass-roots patriots” (sponsored by the Republican party and Fox News) will be holding “tea parties” to protest a duly elected President and his efforts to fix the economy.  An economy that was nearly irreparably broken by the preceding administration – their guy.  Though this is being billed as an “anti-tax” revolt, President Obama has not raised a single tax rate (except for tobacco taxes).  Though this is being billed as an “anti-bailout: revolt, the bailouts were begun by their side after their side destroyed everything.  What is more insidious is that these are really anti-Obama protests – and that they are being underwritten and fueled by a “news” organization that goes to great lengths to say how unbiased they are.  Fox News is responsible for painting the Obama administration as Communist, Socialist, and Fascist – all at once.  They drumbeat constantly that our American way of life is under attack.   They have hysterical talk show hosts crying on the air that he  “just wants to take my country back”.  They are responsible for fueling lies and rumors about Obama wanting to repeal the 2nd Amendment so that the gun-nut lobby goes hysterical – and one of their adherents shoots three police officers.   A nutty Congresswoman is calling for an in-depth expose of the “un-American” members of Congress and comparing Americorps to “re-education camps.”  We have another loony Republican saying he “has a list” of at least 17 Socialists in Congress today.  Doesn’t all this sound familiar?

Though the temptation is to ignore and dismiss these crazies, Progressives do so at their peril.  Paul Krugman is quoted in The Huffington Post as saying, ”  Republicans have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.  But here’s the thing: the G.O.P. looked as crazy 10 or 15 years ago as it does now. That didn’t stop Republicans from taking control of both Congress and the White House. And they could return to power if the Democrats stumble.”

Krugman is right.  We Progressives need to be on our guard and remember 1692 and 1950.  Hopefully, we can head of troubles brewing in 2009 before any American lives are destroyed.