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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.


Socialism – The New Right-Wing Bogeyman April 11, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Economy, National Politics, Politics, Socialism.
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marxAlabama (need I say more) Republican Representative Spencer Bachus announced this week that “at least” 17 of his House colleagues are Socialists.  Of course, when he was asked to name names, Rep. Bachus would not reveal the evildoers, he just wanted to make sure we know that he has “a list”.  This follows on the heels of lunatic-fringe Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachman cautioning over national-service programs such as Americorps because they will led to indoctrination of young people in “re-education camps”. 

“It’s under the guise of — quote — volunteerism,” Bachman said.  ” But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government. … I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums.”   

Bachman, of course, is the Congressman who famously told Chris Matthews on “Hardball” in October that several of her congressional brethren harbor anti-American views and that the media needed to do a “penetrating expose” to ferret them out. 

What has apparently started all these right-wing heads spinning is news that a recent Rasmussen poll found that only 53% of Americans believe that capitalism is the best economic system.  About 47% said that they believed socialism was better (20%) or were unsure (27%).  The real telling statistic in this poll is age.  By large numbers, people over 40 prefer capitalism; only 13% thought that socialism was the most superior system.  Those under the age of 30, however, prefer capitalism by a slim margin of 4%; 37% favor capitalism, 33% favor socialism, and 30% are undecided.  By and large, these are the same folks that are leading the direction that this country is moving in.  This is the Facebook generation and their votes go overwhelmingly Democratic.  Numbers like this are bound to cause distress to Republicans.

Why this fact surprises anyone is beyond me.  I am a big fan of Marxist socialism and social democracy and I’m also a realist.  I doubt many of these young Americans have ever read “Das Kapital”, Karl Marx’ treatise on the pitfalls of unfettered capitalism and industrialization. In it, socialism is classically defined as state ownership of industry and the means of production.  Though there are many different iterations to the extent of what the state controls, the end result is the more equal distribution of the wealth created by industry based upon the amount of work expended in production. 

Young people are attracted to socialism because we raised them to be.  This is the “self-esteem” generation; the kids who played in little leagues where everyone got a trophy at the end of the year and participated in spelling bees where everybody was praised profusely for “trying hard”.   This is the generation that truly sees no race or ethnic differences between people and don’t really care who anybody sleeps with.  This is the generation who, as we their parents taught them, learned that effort was worth reward.  Is it really any wonder that they would seek a society where there was a more equal distribution of wealth as long as everyone participated within their abilities to create it?

Don’t get me wrong, though the non-competition of my daughter’s basketball league left me cold, I think these kids are on to something.  It is my hope that they will embrace Socialism and in turn, create a more equal world for my grandchildren to share in. 

And the Republicans will just have to get used to it.