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Words from Winterbilt

Extreme…. Are we socialist?

Shannon Bohrer

(5/2013) I was having a conversation with an acquaintance when the individual started talking about our countries problems and he then said something socialism, communism and the need for a revolution. I was taken by his comments and choice of words. This individual is a family man, younger than I, with grown children, gainfully employed and generally presents the appearance of being a well-balanced individual. I know that there are individuals and groups that use strong language and espouse the need for revolution, but this person did not match my perception of someone that would say such a thing. I responded to him that we have the power of change by voting. He then stated that neither party is worth voting for which is why we need a revolution. While I agree that neither party is the right choice, however I believe a revolution is the worst choice.

I thought a lot about his words and I thought a lot about the words and phrases that we hear so often in conversations about politics. It seems to be a national hobby to demean and degrade our politicians, of which to some I extent I am also guilty. With this in mind I conducted a little research and I found that Representative Robert Rich of Pennsylvania declared that the president is a socialist and a communist during a debate on the House floor. Senator; Simeon Fess stated, "The president's recent statements, remove any doubt of his policy of state socialism, which necessitates increased activities of the government in either ownership or operation of industry, or both". While this language sounds familiar, these comments were made in 1934 and 1935, and they were directed at President Roosevelt. In fact Representative Rich’s comments were made when the Republicans hinted they were considering a move to impeach Roosevelt. Well, at least the country survived and we eventually prospered and I don’t think that many people today consider Roosevelt a socialist or a communist. Well - maybe some do.

When the political opposition uses inflammatory language, do they believed the words to be true, or are they just to vilify the opposition. I believe a good case could be made that the reason the verbiage is so demeaning and inflammatory is because it is meant to be so, it is advertising for one side against the other. A recent example is the new the Secretary of Defense; Chuck Hagel who appeared to be having a difficult time prior to his confirmation hearings. It was widely reported that Hagel worked for and/or support the junior terrorist league of al-Qaida, or some such organization. His political opposition would not stop in their attacks and yet no such organization existed. However, after it was reported that the organization did not exist, at least one of his opponents inferred that the organization was so secretive that it was not possible to deny they don’t exist. That makes sense - if you wish to vilify someone without any facts.

Well, back to socialism. When the socialist President Roosevelt was running for president, a well-known newspaper mogul initially supported him. But he gradually became disillusioned with the new president's policies, especially taxes on the wealthy. In 1936, "The New York American published a front-page editorial titled, the Radical Brand on the New Deal. It charged that radical and communist leaders had already given their approval to support Roosevelt against Landon." It added that communists had infiltrated the New Deal and that communism was un-American and undemocratic and inferred that since Mr. Roosevelt did not refute these accusations there was truth in the words.

After the attacks became too much the White House issued a statement that mentioned "a certain notorious newspaper owner," and stated that the accusations were not true. Then Mr. Hearst shot back in a front-page editorial. "Let me say that I have not stated at any time whether the President willingly or unwillingly received the support of the Karl Marx Socialists, the Frankfurter radicals, communists and anarchists, the Tugwell Bolsheviks, and the Richberg Revolutionists which constitute the bulk of his following." So much for retractions! Do we see a pattern in politics?

In some ways that seems to make the current attacks mild. However, there were attacks that appeared more inflammatory before President Roosevelt. The attacks before President Roosevelt were against the first President Roosevelt; Teddy Roosevelt. When Teddy Roosevelt ran for president representing the "Bull Moose Party" or as known then as the "Progressive Party" the platform of the new party included a lengthy section on "Social and Industrial Justice." The party called for social reforms that included: a national health insurance, social insurance for the elderly, unemployed and disabled benefits. It also included a minimum wage law for women, a federal securities commission and workers compensation for work related injuries. But what really labeled him a socialist were the proposed inheritance tax and a constitutional amendment to allow a federal income tax. And of course the fact that he had taken Standard Oil to court and Standard Oil was found to be an "unreasonable" monopoly under the Sherman Antitrust Act. I wonder what he would do with the four banks that are currently left on Wall Street. Too big to fail, too big to exist - well maybe, sounds good to me. And there was more, on the political side Teddy Roosevelt (the "Bull Moose" party) wanted strict limits and disclosure for political campaign contributions and they wanted registration for all lobbyist. One hundred years ago and the same issues exist; I do believe I see a pattern and I think he was a socialist…., well maybe, or maybe not.

Under the 1st amendment we have free speech, with some restrictions. It is illegal for one to yell fire in a crowded theater and also that one cannot use hate language and/or language that could incite a civil disturbance. Apparently the restriction with free speech must have exemptions for political rhetoric.

After some contemplation, I must admit that If Social Security and Medicare is socialism, I might be guilty of being a socialist myself.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer