“The tea party’s theory of government and the fear and loathing that many adherents harbor toward minorities find a truer expression in the Confederate flag than in the Stars and Stripes …” — Harold Meyerson, Washington Post
MADISON, Wis. — With the possible exception of the Post’s Harold Meyerson, who drew a trenchant parallel to Jacobins and Stalinists, the mainstream media, throughout the just-ended phony fiscal crisis in Washington, have avoided comparing today’s Tea Party zealots with the American Communist Party at the height of the Cold War.
But they should have.
The dread Reds of the Fifties evinced a rigid dogmatism and a contempt for partisan comity rare in U.S. politics. But their old-time religion is rivaled by the scorched-earth ideologues of the radical right who blackmailed the global economy in the name of, well… I guess it’s Ted Cruz, the Trotsky of Tortilla Coast.
The parallel didn’t entirely come home to me until I recently read Alex Ross’ New Yorker (14 Oct.) reassessment of socialist Henry Wallace, the one-term vice president under FDR who came remarkably close to the presidency.
Wallace was undone in his White House ambitions by a too-close association with the domestic Communist Party. His quixotic Progressive Party campaign floundered largely because a few Communist “bullies” in his camp pumped out speeches and statements rife with pro-Stalinist propaganda. For these left-wing zealots (as detailed in Thomas W. Devine’s new book, Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism), imposing their will — and their simpleminded version of Marxism — on the Wallace staff and the American public was the only reason they got involved.
They didn’t care if Wallace won, lost, or dropped dead. Nor did they care about the integrity of the electoral process, the sanctity of U.S. democracy or the mounting mockery of the press. Among their critics, quoted by Devine and Ross, was the great I.F. Stone. “In 30 minutes, cross-legged, saying ‘Oom’ with alternative exhalations,” wrote Stone, “I can conjure up a better third-party movement than Wallace’s.”
Wallace would have lost, anyway. But he might have retained the respect of the press and the sympathy of the electorate — who always love an underdog — if he hadn’t allied himself with the purist thugs of American Communism.
Among the characteristics of those leftist true believers were these:
They clung to a utopian fantasy theorized by a dead prophet, an ideal world appealing in a thousand romantic ways and impossible to implement among the dissonant denizens of reality.
The Communist Party, in those halcyon days of repression and anti-HUAC heroism, evinced a rabid hostility toward both major parties. Although they maintained tenuous bonds with Democrats and progressives, the Reds were happiest when the moment came (it always did) to disavow, denounce and betray their erstwhile friends for the merest heresy against Bolshevik scripture.
Old-school Commies, of course, wallowed in paranoia — their own and that of their McCarthyite foes. While hatching their own (usually feckless) plots, they perceived conspiracies all around them.
They demanded blind loyalty to the cause, while displaying a vicious absence of fealty toward anyone who dared challenge Stalinist orthodoxy. Hence, when Wallace wavered, he was left high and dry by his former Communist “friends.”
Those good old Commies professed a visceral hatred of the government and anyone who worked for it, and a barely suppressed hunger for an uprising that would actually overthrow of the whole shootin’ match.
All of these old-time Communist habits of mind and emotion have re-surfaced, more virulently, among our thoroughly modern Tea Party nihilists, even — at last — the outcry for nullification, secession, insurrection.
For a while, the Tea Party enforced a frail taboo against openly advocating the overthrow of the government they detest. This ban crumbled at a Washington rally last weekend when, amongst all the flags being waved about, there emerged — to cheers — the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy. Suddenly, the recent words of Tea Party Congressnut Paul Broun (R-Ga.), referring to the Civil War as the “great war of Yankee aggression,” didn’t seem so weirdly anachronistic.
There are die-hards in America — millions — still fighting the Civil War, still fighting the dead Dr. King, still fighting hopelessly and pointlessly for a White America, just as the romantic Commies of the Fifties were still fighting tooth-and-nail, hopelessly and pointlessly against capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.
The important difference, the distinction between the Reds of yore and the Tea Party of today, is that Communists never had power inside the U.S. government. They never had a Congressional base from which to wreak serious havoc.
For some reason, Americans didn’t take as seriously the malignancy of the Tea Party as we did our native Commies. We elected Cruz, Broun and others — deeming them harmless, enjoying their bombast, trusting that they were too few to do much harm. And oops! We were wrong. Their mischief is manifest. It has cost us dearly, and it lingers. These barbarians won’t be easily driven from the gate.
We can only hope that the rise of the Tea Party is the seed of its demise. The more prominent they become, the more we all know about them.
We now know, for example, their true colors. We’ve seen their flag. We’ve heard them announce that they would gladly overthrow 237 years of republican democracy in order to “take our country back.” And now, we know who from.
The world’s economy might be trembling, but never mind. The little giants of America’s far-out right have chosen our national mission. The Great War of Yankee Aggression rages on.