I was watching the news last night when a political attack ad was shown. The ad claimed that Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senatorial candidate, is a radical leftist of dubious motives. This sort of attack is nothing new on the American political scene. The ad also contends that people like Warren are trying to make our government socialist in style. Again, nothing new with such a charge.
If you think the political attack ads you see today are nasty, let me assure you, they pale in comparison to 19th Century rhetoric from that century. Remember, Aaron Burr felt his honor had been challenged when a letter to a newspaper claimed he was a “dangerous man.” Even though dueling was illegal, Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.
In the late 19th and early 20th Century socialism was a new economic philosophy that had taken root in eastern Europe. This socialist movement was embraced by the poor of those various countries. They had suffered under the tyranny of various governments. When those same people emigrated to the United States they brought socialism with them. It had worked and that was all they needed to know.
In 1907 a new labor union was started, the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World). At its head was a man who was an avowed socialist, William “Big Bill” Haywood. Haywood was firmly in the American memory because of his involvement in the violent strikes in which the Western Federation of Miners was involved. At the time Haywood was the president of that union. But even more, Haywood was arrested for the murder of Idaho Governor Steunenberg. It was an obvious ploy by Haywood detractors and Haywood was acquitted. But the spectre of violence followed Haywood. Even more, because of its then radical ideas and ideals, the IWW attracted many self-proclaimed anarchists. Emma Goldman was an extremely outspoken socialist and anarchist who frequented IWW strike gatherings. But history showed Goldman to be if anything, a peaceful woman.
America had been stunned when President William McKinley was assassinated by a self-proclaimed anarchist in 1901. Even though that man never had anything to do with the IWW, the perception was that all things to do with the IWW were socialist and violent.
In 1912 the IWW oversaw the largest strike America had ever seen in a single city, the Lawrence Textile Strike. Newspapers, politicians, and people of power an influence made certain the perception of this IWW strike was negative. To that end, the owner of one of the mills involved acquired dynamite and had it hidden in a boarding house. The police were informed of its existence and that its intended use was to be against one of the mills. The dynamite was quickly discovered and the newspaper ran with the idea that violence was imminent. As it turned out, the only violence that ever happened was precipitated by either the police or state militia. The leaders of the strike, Big Bill Haywood being one, we labeled as a threat to the American way. But in the end the strikers, headed by the IWW, won. A mere two years later, however, the popularity of socialism in Lawrence had waned. One final thing, at a US Congressional hearing was a socialist representative from Wisconsin.
For over 100 years now conservatives have been yelling wolf about perceptions of socialism creeping into the American scene. In the early 1920s when the USSR was formed the scare was strong. But when it became obvious that the USSR had too many internal problems to be of any threat to the US, that scare died out. Then again, in the mid-1950s, Sen Joseph McCarthy saw to it that this communistic socialistic scare was front and center yet again. Thousands of people’s lives were ruined by unfounded charges.
It tires me when powerful people point towards that far left or far right and claim that those people pose an imminent threat to our American way of life. They do not and they never have. Our country has never known a people that a small fringe group did make loud noises. The only validity such groups have is that which we allow. I find it reprehensible for mainstream conservatives and liberals to use such tactics. There are far more important things we need to be talking about. Elizabeth Warren is not some sort of a radical extremist. I am not fully aware of the politics of everyone in our Congress, but I think it fair to assume that most, if not all, of our Congress is not extremist or radical.