Interesting commentary today by (click) Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, on the current trend to call people a communist.
This is how old I am: When I got into journalism you had to be very very careful about who you called a communist. The term has so much emotional baggage attached to it — the Cold War was on — that someone you called a commie could sue you for libel, no matter who they were, even public figures, and they would win, hands down, no debate, unless you could prove they were actual enrolled members of the Communist Party, card carrying and all that. The label “communist” was one of those few things that were “libel per se,” meaning prove it in court or pay up.
It was that nasty a term.
Sen. Joe McCarthy got away with calling all and sundry a communist in the 1950s because he was careful to commit all his libel on the floor of the congress, where he enjoyed constitutionally guaranteed immunity.
Now, apparently, not so much.
First some congressman from Florida says 81 members of Congress are commies, now Bill O’Reilly says Reich is one. He also says Reich is a secret admirer of Karl Marx, which is an interesting accusation on a number of levels.
As Reich notes, if he’s a “secret” admirer, how do we know that?
More to the point, there’s nothing at all wrong with Karl Marx. He was an early sociological thinker whose work is still taught, today, by sociologists at Weber State University and many other fine places.
His teachings on the relationship of people to the society in which they live and work were ground breaking and were adopted by the Communists who took over Russia, but the harsh dictatorship they instituted hardly resembles anything Marx discussed. Blame Lenin and Stalin for that. Mostly Stalin.
Which is the problem with the “communist” lable, just like the “socialism” epithet being tossed around. They don’t really mean what the tone of the conversation implies they mean. The US has had many communal communities start up — the Shakers, for example. Anyone who lives in a commune is a communist, but that’s obviously not the intent of the people using the word today.
The real lesson here is the power of words to completely end all reasonable discussion. When you are comparing your opponents actions to Hitler, or accusing him of being a commie, it’s clear you don’t want to talk about real issues, you just want the other guy to shut up.
For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party, so watch yourself.