Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012) .
The Progressive's Progress
New Yorkers have chosen the mayor they deserve. The home of Communist Party USA and the Daily Worker, and, of course, Columbia University and the New York Times, has finally done it. It was only a matter of time. It's fitting that the election of Bill de Blasio occurs amid the "Hope and Change" and "Forward!" presidency of Barack Obama, another "progressive" who eagerly and fundamentally transforms the America we knew.
New York's new Democratic mayor spent his formative years stumping for the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Bill de Blasio peddled subscriptions for the regime's newspaper, Barricada, the Sandinistas' version of Pravda. The Liberation Theology guru was gaga for Latin American Communist dictators. His love ran so deep that he and his bride actually honeymooned in Cuba a decade after his earlier romance in the Soviet Union. The couple somehow orchestrated their Havana honeymoon despite a U.S. embargo on travel - signed by President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat who today would have to change parties. Regardless of the embargo, American Communists always found a way to Fidel's island prison. Bill de Blasio, too, went where his heart led him; he found Fidel.
Today, de Blasio finds himself where his heart has led him again, this time leader of New York. His comrades throughout the city have rolled out the red carpet. De Blasio is declaring war on "inequality" and the evil rich, committing himself to leveling incomes and ensuring vengeance. If only he had more power to level more incomes, but, hey, who knows, in the new America, the White House could be just around the corner.
Bill de Blasio didn't merely edge out his mayoral opponent; he destroyed him. He won by 50 points, the kind of margin Communist despots once staged in phony elections behind the Iron Curtain. The difference, of course, is that citizens of the Soviet Bloc never actually voted for the Communist. In New York in November 2013, no secret police or party apparatchiks manipulated the results; the masses saluted and delivered. If he's watching, Fidel Castro must be stunned, as are the ghosts of Lenin, Stalin, and Bolsheviks past. If the old commies could have won just one legitimate election with the support of the masses, they would have held one.
All of which leads to the question: Just how far left is Bill de Blasio? Is he still a Communist?
In response to Tuesday's vote, one of my anti-communist colleagues wrote a piece titled, "America's First Openly Marxist Big City Mayor." Another, a respected Cold War historian, told me that de Blasio is a "post-communist Communist." Ron Radosh calls de Blasio's win "a victory for the old Communist left," which it undeniably is.
Yet, ask Bill de Blasio his politics and he describes himself the same way American Communists have been doing for 80 years: a "progressive" pursuing "social justice." "Make no mistake," he declared in his victory speech, standing behind a large sign proclaiming "PROGRESS," "the people of this city have chosen a progressive path. And tonight we set forth on it - together, as one city."
Of course he describes himself as a progressive. They all do. The word has become almost meaningless because of how the Communist left has co-opted it to mask its agenda. Worse, certain progressive scholars don't hesitate to anoint certain Communists "progressives."
Go to the website of People's World, successor to the Daily Worker as the flagship publication of Communist Party USA. The writers describe themselves and their ideas as "progressive" infinitely more than "Communist" or "Marxist." It's more palatable language for the uninformed. As I write, the lead piece posted at People's World is an editorial highlighted by a beaming photo of de Blasio behind the "PROGRESS" banner. "The people of the city, in electing de Blasio, took a powerful stand against an array of policies that benefit the 1 percent over the 99 percent," People's World celebrates. "[V]oters overwhelmingly backed him and the progressive agenda he put forward."
Yes, the "forward"-looking "progressive agenda."
Take a look at the founders of the 2008 group Progressives for Obama. From Tom Hayden and Mark Rudd to Jane Fonda and the other fellow travelers, it's a Who's Who of '60s Communists, SDSers, and Weathermen. But they call themselves "progressives."
When I was researching my book Dupes, the biggest challenge was sifting through various self-described "progressive" individuals or "progressive" organizations to figure out if they were genuine liberals or closet Communists cloaked as liberals.
When the U.S. Congress in 1961 published its major investigation of Communist front-groups, titled, "Guide to Subversive Organizations and Publications," one of the most popular title listings in the massive index was "Progressive."
If you want a front for your Communist cause or identity, call it "progressive." American Communists have done this successfully since the 1930s - and they haven't stopped. Indeed, why stop? It works. The label is red meat for enlisting a wider swath of nave liberals to your cause or campaign. It's a deliciously deceptive tactic whose success surely never ceases to amaze its manipulators.
When asked about his Communist past, de Blasio neither denies nor disavows it. At the same time, he doesn't exactly spill his guts. Nor does he say whether and why and how he repudiated it. To the contrary, he embraces the standard Marxist class-warfare rhetoric he has no doubt used his entire adult life; in this, he's not unlike our president.
To that end, what we really have here is another eerie Obama-like situation, or perhaps Obama-like deception. Call it the Obama model of obfuscation, rewarded by a compliant media that allows the model to succeed.
Like Bill de Blasio, Barack Obama has similar skeletons in his ideological closet. Both his mother and father were far to the left, essentially near or on the Marxist left. They met in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii. When Obama's Kenyan father abandoned him, a leftist grandfather introduced him to a potential mentor and father figure, Frank Marshall Davis, who had been a literally card-carrying member of Communist Party USA, an old Party agitator who founded and edited Chicago's Communist newspaper in the 1940s. Davis's work was so extreme that in December 1956 the Democrat-run Senate called him to Washington to testify on his "Soviet activities." He was so radical that the federal government placed him on its Security Index, meaning Davis could be immediately arrested if war broke out between the United States and Soviet Union.
Given all these influences, I pointed out at The American Spectator last year that we Americans actually have our first Red Diaper Baby President. Interestingly, Radosh notes that de Blasio is a "bona fide Red Diaper Baby;" thus, New Yorkers arguably have their first Red Diaper Baby Mayor to go with the Red Diaper Baby President they likewise elected.
When Barack Obama left his Communist influences in Hawaii for Occidental College, he was so far to the left that one eyewitness, the eminently credible Dr. John Drew, who ran the campus Marxist club, was introduced to Obama as a fellow Communist. I interviewed Drew at length for my book on Frank Marshall Davis, The Communist, and his account is wholly consistent and believable.
Thus, here's the million-dollar question for Barack Obama, which is frighteningly similar to what we now ask of Bill de Blasio: When and where and how did he break from these Communist roots? He has never told us, which would be the easiest thing to do - if he genuinely left them.
Instead, we have a young man (Obama) who later, in 1996, went on to join the socialist New Party, who, later still, launched his Illinois state senate bid in the living room of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and then who, in his final year in the U.S. Senate, was ranked by National Journal as the most leftist member of the entire Senate - to the left of Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy. He then soared to the White House, de Blasio-like, on the wings of what he called "redistributive change," "collective action," "spreading the wealth," leveling income, and bashing the rich. The country twice voted him a mandate. But all along we never learn: What does he really believe? When was his Communist past ever rejected?
New Yorkers - those that actually give a damn - can now ask themselves the same questions about their chief executive.
Alas, what does that mean? What's the big picture? Among other things, it means, in short, here we go again: Another "progressive" boldly moves his project "forward!" As for those of us who dare point out the Communist past as relevant to the future, we are mocked as reincarnates of Joe McCarthy. As we scratch our heads trying to make sense out of this insanity, we are labeled extremists by the extreme leftists and their dupes. As we are, another staunch "progressive" waves his banner and carries on his fundamental transformation with the handy compliance of the masses.
Thanks, New York. Thanks, America.
The Progressive Crusade Against Tax Cuts?
There's an ongoing effort by President Obama and fellow "progressives" not only to continue to blame George W. Bush for every economic woe facing America - even as every economic indicator is far worse under Obama - but to permanently discredit the value of tax cuts. Tax cuts are an unmitigated evil that progressive crusaders must forever exorcise.
For President Obama and his allies, this is a project they're taking back to the Reagan years, starting with an assault on President Reagan's enormously successful 1981 tax cuts. Their campaign, however, can't end with Reagan. They need to venture way back to Andrew Mellon in the 1920s.
Mellon was Treasury Secretary throughout the Republican administrations that followed Woodrow Wilson's exit from the White House in 1921. He was a superb Treasury secretary, with few peers before or since.
Unemployment under Wilson's "progressive" presidency had hit almost 12 percent. In 1921, the newly inaugurated president was Republican Warren Harding. As Harding's Treasury Secretary, Mellon argued against spending increases as "stimulus" for economic growth and, instead, pushed for tax rate cuts. It was a Reagan-like move, with Reagan-like results. By 1923, unemployment dropped to under 3 percent, where it (roughly) remained throughout the 1920s under Harding and his Republican successor, Calvin Coolidge.
The economy did not begin its crash and sustained slide until the presidencies of Herbert Hoover, a Republican, and FDR, a Democrat. Both Hoover and FDR jacked tax rates through the roof. The federal tax rate on income reached a breathtaking 94 percent under FDR. As historian Burt Folsom shows, FDR actually considered raising the upper rate to 99.5 percent on income above $100,000. (Yes, you read that right.)
FDR, for the record, despised Andrew Mellon. He subjected Mellon to an intense, intrusive investigation of his income-tax returns, pursuing him to his deathbed. FDR had a vendetta against Mellon's entire philosophy on taxation. It became personal as well as political.
Here's a Mellon insight that FDR no doubt detested:
It seems difficult for some to understand that high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the government, and that more revenue may often be obtained by lower rates.
FDR certainly didn't understand, though his Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, eventually came to that conclusion. "We have tried spending money," said Morgenthau.
We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!
Morgenthau figured out what Andrew Mellon already knew. Said Mellon:
The problem of government is to fix rates which will bring in a maximum amount of revenue to the Treasury and at the same time bear not too heavily on the taxpayer or on business enterprises.
And so, during the Harding and Coolidge administrations, Mellon succeeded in promoting tax-rate cuts rates across the board, with upper-income rates reduced from 73 to 24 percent. The cuts were very similar to Reagan's in the 1980s. And like under Reagan - and contrary to liberal mythology - total tax revenue to the Treasury actually increased.
Under Reagan, federal revenue rose from $599 billion to almost $1 trillion. Under Mellon's stewardship in the 1920s, revenue went from $700 million to above $1 billion. And unlike under Reagan, Mellon's policies eliminated the budget deficit. (Coolidge was able and willing to cut spending where Reagan did not.)
For President Obama and his fellow liberals, these are inconvenient, unwelcome facts. They believe they need higher taxes to feed and sustain their government class. Democrats are banking on that government class - which they want to expand and unionize - to keep them in power not another four years but another 40 years.
Tax cuts are anathema to our president and progressives. And so is the wisdom of Andrew Mellon.
Bonding Over Baseball?
My cousin Drew is a 45-year-old veteran of the first Gulf War (1991), which he served aboard a battleship in the Persian Gulf. A former high school quarterback out of Western Pennsylvania, he has always been carefree and a little wild, and always fun to be around. Today, Drew is confined to a wheelchair. He suffers from what was officially diagnosed as "Gulf War Syndrome." The condition has manifested itself as advanced MS, which he believes he contracted on the ship after being forced to take an experimental drug designed to counter the impact of a (suspected) chemical-weapons attack by Saddam Hussein.
This isn't where Drew expected to be in his mid-40s.
Drew and I haven't been in touch much since we were kids. I've always regretted that. I would call him occasionally and we'd engage in whatever small talk we could, usually about politics and the country.
In August, I phoned Drew again, after no contact for a while. His sister told me his condition had worsened. "How are you?" I began. "Well," he sighed. "I'm still alive."
After some uneasy words, our conversation picked up and lit up when we suddenly hit upon something we hadn't discussed in years: baseball. Specifically, the focus was Pittsburgh Pirates' baseball. The Pirates were looking at their first winning season in over 20 years. Drew and I talked for probably a half hour just about the Pirates.
But the dialogue didn't end with that phone call. I soon thereafter learned that Drew loves to send text messages. I don't, and (up until then) had resisted learning how. But the growing onslaught of Drew's text messages forced a reappraisal, especially because the subject was baseball.
Over the course of the next three months, not a Pirates game went by where Drew and I weren't texting throughout. It was a blast. When I was on vacation and didn't have the local cable channel that carries the Pirates, Drew handled the play-by-play for me. It was like a live-feed, accompanied by Drew's usual color and (uncensored) flare.
One afternoon, I was driving my 11-year-old daughter home from swim practice with the game on the radio. My phone repeatedly chimed in with various snippets of analysis by Drew. My daughter intercepted them with a bemused glance. After one particularly awful Pirates' error, I heard the chime and told her she might not want to read that one. She caught the four-letter word and blushed and giggled the rest of the way home.
Beautiful. Classic Drew.
When the Pirates finally made the playoffs, for the first time since 1992, Drew texted to inform me that he ventured out and bought a 60-inch big-screen TV for the occasion. I have no idea how he got to the store, got the TV in a car, and got it inside the hotel room where he lives, or got it hooked up. But not unlike his ability to somehow fly himself to Europe when he gets the urge, or get himself to a Pirates game - a 103-mile one-way cab ride to Pittsburgh - Drew made it happen. He always made things happen.
I texted him about half an hour into the game. "How's the TV?" I asked. "Awesome," he replied.
Our communication continued during down time in between games, when we discussed (always via text) the latest on politics, the world, Syria, Russia, Iraq, and the circumstances in the Middle East that had contributed to his condition.
His texts have been much more frequent than mine. I have seven kids and I'm never alone. Drew is alone. He's confined. But every single message makes me smile. In fact, as I write this sentence, another just came in.
Happily, the texts have continued beyond the Pirates' exit from the post-season. Throughout the championship series in each league, whether the Cardinals vs. the Dodgers or Red Sox vs. the Tigers, we exchanged texts. I asked Drew for an update on the 60-inch TV, and got it:
I also bought the surround sound system that went with the TV and it is awesome. Watching a ballgame on it is unbelievable.
It's a "smart TV," has some sort of "flex belt." Drew says the TV is smarter than him. And me, too, I'm sure.
My point, of course, is this: what has happened is that Drew and I bonded over baseball, beginning with the resurrection of our beleaguered Pittsburgh Pirates. We're now in touch more than ever before.
Baseball has long been America's past time, bringing friends and family together for over a century. It's there every day, day in and day out, from April to October. It's still our pasttime. It still brings people together. That's an intangible that doesn't appear anywhere in any box score.
Patton, Ike, and My Teenage Boys?
I recently took my two teenage sons to a talk by Frank Kravetz, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who survived Hitler's Nuremberg prisons. Frank published his story in a memoir, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman's Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom.
Frank's ordeal began in November 1944 during a bomb-run over Germany. He took his regular position, crammed into the tail of a B-17. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers - each carrying eighteen 250-pound bombs - escorted by 900 fighter planes.
While the Americans were ready for business, so was the Luftwaffe, which set aside every aircraft to defend Merseberg. Frank's plane came under hot pursuit by German fighters. Frank took them on with a twin .50 caliber machine gun. It was a dogfight, and Frank was shot badly. His B-17 was filled with holes. The crew had to bail.
Frank was bleeding profusely. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, trying not to cross the chords, and tossed him out. To Frank's great relief, the chute opened. Instantly, the deafening chaos quieted, and Frank floated like on angels' wings.
The tranquility halted with a rude thump as Frank hit the ground and tumbled like a shot jackrabbit. German soldiers seized him.
Thus began "a lousy existence," or, as Frank dubbed it - "Hell's journey." Destination: Stalag 13-D. In the end, Frank's weight dropped to 125 pounds.
Frank's liberation came April 29, 1945, by Gen. Patton's Third Army. For any fan of Patton, Frank's account will bring a lump to your throat:
After the flag was raised, and within a few hours of our troops arriving in camp, Gen. Patton rolled in, sitting high in a command car. His very presence was awe-inspiring. I stood there staring at Gen. Patton, our liberator, appearing larger than life.
Thousands of emaciated, ecstatic POWs chanted, "Patton! Patton! Patton!" Some fell to their knees, overcome with emotion. Standing in the car, Patton seized a bullhorn and spoke: "Gentlemen-you're now liberated and under Allied control. . . . We're going to get you out of here."
Embracing Patton's every word, it finally hit Frank: "I'm going home. I'm really going home!"
As Frank was moved out of his camp en route back home, he had a stop in Rheims, France. There, just as unexpectedly as encountering Patton, he sat in a room with fellow wounded GIs when he looked and suddenly saw Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stroll in. The soldiers jumped to their feet to salute the Supreme Allied Commander. "Sit down, boys," the former Kansas farm-boy humbly said, "I should be standing for you."
Frank eventually got home, first arriving in New York City and then hitchhiking all the way to East Pittsburgh. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks' front door - no trumpets, no dramatic music, no parade. He hugged his mom and dad and sat down. He found his sweetheart, Anne. They've been happily married ever since.
As Frank recently shared his story in a classroom at Grove City College, my two teenage sons were riveted. After his talk, they met Frank, who eagerly shook their hands.
As he did, I was struck by this realization: If my teenage boys live to be Frank's age, they'll live to nearly 2090, roughly 150 years after World War II. They'll be able to tell teenage boys that they shook the hand of a World War II veteran who met Generals Patton and Eisenhower.
That's an amazing thought. It would be like any of us right now meeting an elderly person who met someone who stretched back 150 years to the Civil War, someone who stood in the presence of Ulysses S. Grant or perhaps even Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Gee, when you think about it that way, America doesn't really seem all that old.
I shared that thought with a friend and colleague, Darren Morton. In turn, Darren told me about his late grandfather, born in 1909, who could remember parades as a little boy where Civil War vets were present. After one parade, one of those vets recalled that, when he was a boy, his grandfather took him to meet an elderly vet of the Revolutionary War. "So," Darren told me, "I touched the hand of a man who touched the hand of a Civil War vet who in turn touched the hand of a Revolutionary War vet. We are not a very old country."
Indeed, we're not. Like Darren, like my sons, I encourage everyone to meet these vets before they pass on. Hear their stories. Someday you'll be able to pass on your own story about meeting someone from that old war not-so-long ago. *