>> Friday, March 01, 2013
Egads! Senator Ted Cruz is doubling down on comments he made nearly three years ago about communists at Harvard! Yes, he stands by his remarks even though Harvard has been quick to announce they don't harbor many dirty commies at all (if any!) and even after he comes under fire from segments of the press and from some Democrats for raising the spectre of McCarthyism, etc.
Actually, I'm not pissed at Cruz. I'm pissed at Harvard, much of the supposedly liberal press, and the Democrats who have denounced Cruz's comments.
Because, see, Cruz's comments may not be factually accurate where Harvard's faculty is concerned--although I don't really care if they are or not, maybe they're completely and one-hundred-percent on the Marx; and Cruz's comments about President Obama's radicalism are clearly deranged and fictional, though they're pretty much what we've all come to expect from the Republican party's loudest mouths these days (again, though I don't think it ought to bear this much repetition: much of the President's foreign and domestic policy isn't particularly distinguishable from that of noted socialist rat Richard Nixon's.)
But whether they're accurate or not, isn't the correct response, "So what?" What pisses me off isn't that Cruz is trying to smear people by red-baiting them, it's that the United States has gotten itself wedged so far up inside the prolapsed anus of mid-20th Century right wing talking points that "communist" is still considered a smear instead of something that's either shrugged off or cheerfully admitted.
Most likely shrugged off. I mean, Communism as anything like a viable political movement in the United States was pretty much moribund well before McCarthy turned it into a blackballable offense during the collective paranoia of the immediate postwar era. Socialism in general was pretty much over as an independent political force once the Democrats successfully co-opted the country's more centrist socialist leaders, much of the movement's social justice platform, and incorporated several of the socialists' least-socialist economic policies into the New Deal. By the beginning of World War II, it's fair to say that the most radical leftists in the American socialist movement--including the actual communists (the terms "communist" and "socialist" don't really mean quite the same thing, necessarily) were in prison or exile, or had moderated their views in fear of prison or exile.
It's despicable and unsurprising that anti-communism became a fever after WWII. The American right had always been anti-communist, of course. The center-left jumped on that bandwagon, too. But part of the context of McCarthyism has to be understood in light of the communications breakdown between the Soviet Union and United States after the war, the mutual paranoia and hostility as the Soviets (understandably, from their point of view) seized a buffer zone between themselves and the always-invading-Russia West while the United States (understandably from our point of view) failed to keep the Soviet Union from brutally seizing Eastern Europe and imposing a kind of post-colonial totalitarian colonialism upon territory the Allies were ostensibly liberating ("You say 'po-tay-toe', I say 'po-tah-toe'; you say 'buffer zone of affiliated states under Soviet Socialist Republic sponsorship', I say 'crazed power grab to impose foreign domination on victimized countries in an immediate postwar power vacuum'"). Oh, and of course there was the fact that deficient American scholarship and longstanding American prejudices re: Russia and China ensured that Americans across the political spectrum regarded International Communism as a monolithic bloc in spite of obvious and easily discernible rifts between Soviet and Chinese communists going back to the 1930s so that when the Chinese Nationalists (beloved and supported by the American government for decades) were driven from the mainland in 1949 by a popular (and communist) revolution it certainly appeared to American observers that those conniving Soviet bastards were interfering with our special relationship with the Chinese (we love them, they love us, and gahddammit if only things would settle down over there for us to give a Bible and sell a bicycle to ev'ry yellaoneovem wouldn't that be swell?); which wasn't what was happening at all, but you can't completely fault someone with myopia for misreading billboards (you can fault him for not wearing his glasses). Anyway, the overreaction is understandable.
But despicable. Because the thing that's basically un-American about McCarthyism is that we're supposed to be a country that's founded on a basic right to disagree about stuff, to have your own opinion and express it. The First Amendment covers a right to your opinion and to not be repressed by your government. You might note it doesn't cover anything about what kind of economic system the country might have, maybe aside from the broadly anti-Mercantilist assumptions behind certain Congressional powers over commerce in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution. In a free society, it's perfectly fair to say "communism is stupid" but saying, "Bob is a communist" ought to be regarded as either a statement of fact or a non sequitur, but never as a slight, much less a reason to terminate Bob's employment and arbitrarily blacklist him. (I should note that if someone doesn't want to give Bob a job simply because they don't like his politics, it's a free country; but if they don't want to hire him because they're scared to or prohibited from hiring him, that isn't a free country at all.)
Where this leads, I think, is that the defensive reaction in some circles to Cruz's comments is actually more un-American than Cruz's remarks are to start with. Cruz's claims may be true or false, and either way it's hard to see why they might be relevant to anything at all in this day and age. He may be an oaf for trying to insult someone for their real-or-alleged beliefs, much like someone making an anti-Catholic or anti-Semitic comment might be. But what are we to make of those who are circling the wagons and accusing Cruz of defamation, that is, of making false comments that injure the reputation of the subject? Why should "communist" be a slander any more than "Catholic" or "homosexual" or "quadroon"?
We'll note in passing that Cruz also accuses people of talking about the overthrow of the United States government. Which is obviously ironic coming from someone who's endorsed by Tea Partiers, a group of people who have talked a-plenty about overthrowing the US government and/or about disobeying duly passed laws of that government. But there's also the basic fact that there's a difference between legitimately treasonous acts like advocating, soliciting, or committing actual acts working towards the overthrow of the United States government (e.g. opening fire on an American sea fort--but I digress) and merely talking about it (which again, Tea Partiers often do). The former words and deeds are obviously illegal, but the latter isn't. It's one thing--and you'd think this was obvious--to say that you're gathering up your guns and ammo and setting a date for seizing the Capitol, and another to simply say you think that would be a good idea or wish someone would hurry up and do it, or even that you think it's inevitable that at some point in the unknown future the oppressed working classes will rise up and et cetera. I have no idea what Cruz is saying someone else said, and for all I know Harvard classrooms were hopping with beret-wearing students and teachers busy wiring up barrels of fertilizer to batteries and reviewing their stacks of surreptitiously-harvested blueprints of key infrastructual weak points. Or, you know, it may be that some academics at Harvard, in the time-honored(?) tradition of academics everywhere and at every time in history, occasionally spoke out their asses as people are wont to do when they have a captive audience, especially when they're talking about something they've talked about so much it manages to bore them a little even if they still love it deep down (a paradoxical peril posing problems for pedagogues--I imagine).
Harvard, anyway, ought to be saying they're proud of their tolerance of academic diversity, and the Democrats ought to be fearlessly advocating on behalf of our nation's (oft honored in the breach) tradition of civil liberties.