In The News
POLITICS: Zeidler, Palin -- one of these socialists is not like the other
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Election 2008 has become riddled with delicious or maddening ironies, depending on your politics.
On television, John McCain continues to rail against the scourge of socialism.
In the city of Milwaukee, Democrats and Republicans have flocked in record numbers to vote early at the Frank Zeidler Municipal Building next to City Hall, once again invoking the name and umbrella of a great Socialist mayor who defended civility and civil rights throughout his life.
Zeidler, now honored by all sides if not by McCain, provided the model of public service that McCain once upon a time endorsed and Barack Obama still proudly describes as a belief that “government should do that which we cannot do for ourselves -- protect us from harm; provide a decent education for all children, invest in new roads and new bridges, in new science and technology.”
Evil socialism? From 1948 to 1960 -- the McCarthy era that shaped the adolescent McCain’s beliefs -- Zeidler stood up in contrast to the times and forced the era to respect the virtues of his philosophy. He was for world peace yet provided a civil defense system that the nation envied. Under his tenure, the city virtually doubled in population and geography while personal wealth, affordable housing and education also boomed.
Confounding those who would conflate socialism with communism, he build water, fire, health, transit and other public services – a proud “sewer socialism” that no one should profit off these essentials at the expense of taxpayers. There are many who still believe that and call themselves democratic capitalists. (They can only imagine what Zeidler would think of the current schemes to privatize for profit Milwaukee water, sewers and parks.)
Zeidler, who died a few years ago, once told me his disappointments were failing to stem segregated housing patterns and failing to keep the electrified trolleys, but he was a true believer in pragmatic socialism.
The only thing he strongly redistributed was the concept of clean and competent government. Too bad he didn’t have Bush, Cheney and McCain as his students.
He would probably be appalled at the “socialism” of Gov. Sarah Palin, which attaches corporate welfare and corporate blackmail to the redistribution of Alaska’s oil wealth for political gain.
Yes, it is her government that ignores individual accomplishment to give $1,200 to each citizen regardless of effort or need. That is the sort of redistribution that defies the traditional economic texts of Adam Smith and the progressive tax policy of both parties.
It also underlines the desperation to win that led McCain to resurrect the demagogue phrases of 60 years ago, ignoring the high principles and accomplishments of socialists such as Zeidler.
It is not just the robocalls that are treating American voters to blasts of fear, ignorance and hatred. The revival of simpleton views of distributed wealth, tax-and-spend liberalism and socialism recall that long-ago era that blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo memorably called “the time of the toad.”
We can hardly want to return to the sad side of the Eisenhower years when what was good for General Motors was good for the country – though it was a good time for a young bureaucrat pushing for Alaskan statehood and looser rules about government largesse.
What Ted Stevens wanted and got as his reward was power and influence for 40 years in the US Congress, an ability to run roughshod around the rules. (No wonder he and the other fading caribou bull in the Senate, the equally stubborn McCain, faced off often with disdain, distrust and perhaps mutual recognition.)
But on Oct. 27 Stevens became a felon. He was convicted on seven counts of trying to hide more than a quarter of a million dollars in home renovations and other gifts received from a wealthy oil contractor. (Alaska not only swims atop oil but apparently atop corruption.)
Sen. Stevens wanted the early trial; figuring vindication would put him ahead in the neck to neck race with Democratic challenger Mark Begich, the admired mayor of Anchorage. Vindicated he was not, as many predicted. Now McCain, Palin and other GOP notables want him gone, but he has vowed to appeal and fight on for re-election through loopholes in the law. Amazingly, convicted felons can serve in the Senate and can only be removed by a vote of two-thirds of the members. Stevens is banking on his own surge, this one is belated sympathy for a pioneer tough guy.
He’d also like to vote for himself (every vote counts) – except he’s a felon. In Alaska, the law is clear, that "a person convicted of a crime that constitutes a felony involving moral turpitude under state or federal law may not vote in a state, federal, or municipal election.” Stevens supporters are scrambling through the lawbooks trying to find a loophole that his conviction does not rise to “moral turpitude,” defined in some lawbooks as “contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals.”
Enter the other irony. “Moral turpitude” is a key to GOP lawsuits seeking the purging of voter lists. It is a tactic in states like Mississippi and Alabama where local Republican officials are trying to resolve conflicting statutes and redefine virtually every felony to reflect “moral turpitude,” a phrase they believe allows them to permanently ban voting.
The aim, of course, is to suppress the vote, since the turnout is so heavily against the GOP. Nationwide, in a gimmick that Stevens once would proudly have pushed and today wishes would go away, the GOP is attempting to demonize felons past and present.