My friend Myrtle Kastner, proud campaigner for peace and economic and social justice, has, she suggests, been “quite amused” by the health care debate that reached the end of the beginning with President Obama’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23.
What’s so amusing?
“As I understand it, we have taken over the country,” says Kastner, who is a proud member of the Milwaukee local of the Socialist Party. “The Republicans in Congress, the talk radio, all through the health-care debate, they’ve been saying its proof that the Socialists are in charge. Can you believe it?”
There really are socialists in America, unapologetic adherents of the social gospel of Norman Thomas and the “an-injury-to-one-is-an-injury-to-all” working-class populism of Eugene Victor Debs–and, of course, of the remarkable Milwaukee tradition that produced Socialist Mayors Emil Seidel, Dan Hoan and Frank Zeidler, as well as the nation’s first Socialist congressman, free-speech champion Victor Berger.
Kastner celebrates the history of Socialism in Milwaukee, and keeps it alive with a steady schedule of meetings, lectures and, of course, the annual party picnic in a local park–No. 113, she notes, reminding any and all that the Milwaukee Socialists have been a steady presence on the American political landscape for more than a century. Maybe it was the early start that made the Milwaukee Socialists so successful–a success that earned international headlines one hundred years ago this April, when the party’s endorsed candidates swept the city’s 1910 municipal elections. Suddenly, the city that made beer famous had a Socialists school board, a Socialist city council and a Socialist mayor, Seidel, who appointed as his aide a young scribbler named Carl Sandburg.
They ran things so well that, for most of the next five decades, the good burghers of Milwaukee kept putting Socialists in charge until, finally, the last of the Socialist mayors, Zeidler, voluntarily stepped down in April, 1960.
It has been almost exactly 50 years since a capital “S” Socialist last ran a major American city, let alone anything more major.
But, now, a bemused Myrtle Kastner notes that her party appears to have taken complete charge of the U.S. government–or so House Minority Leader John Boehner, various and sundry sulking Republican politicians, and their amen corner in the media (led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity) would have us believe.
What surprises Kastner is not merely the fact that the party, which sometimes has a hard time filling all the chairs at its meetings, organized the takeover without informing her–or, to her knowledge, any other Socialists.