Years ago at summer camp, a counselor scared us into silence at bedtime by telling us about a man who came out of the swamp at night to kill loud children. It worked!
Just like our twisted counselor, America’s elites know that fear is a powerful tool to keep people in line. For decades, they have been teaching Americans to fear Socialism. But they don’t want you to know what happened when an American city voted in the Socialists–again and again and again, for 50 years!
Campaign of fear
They’ve told us that Socialism has failed everywhere it’s been tried and sought to link Socialism with the gulags of Josef Stalin. Some on the right wing have even claimed (wrongly) that the Nazis were Socialist because the word “Socialist” is part of the party name. But the fact is that Nazis arrested and killed Socialists
Ronald Reagan, quipped, “Socialism only works in two places: heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.” The Gipper was apparently unaware that Biblical descriptions of early Christian communities sound quite Socialist [see the book of Acts].
Most recently, Republican Presidential candidates have warned us in dire tones about its dangers. They have heaped scorn on the Democrats, especially Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic Socialist. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has become the most recent object of their scorn.
Would you vote for a Socialist?
The success of their propaganda is demonstrated by a June 2015 Gallup poll that showed 50 percent of Americans said they would not vote to elect a Socialist President if their party nominated one; only 47 percent said they would.
But Socialist programs are popular
Of course, all this ignores the obvious: some of America’s most popular government programs are Socialist. Social Security and Medicare are just two. There is also a not-so-obvious fact: Socialists took over an American city–and governed it for decades. No fooling.
Socialism vs. Reaganomics
Socialism stands in staunch opposition to the ideas of Ronald Reagan who famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” [Some have commented acidly that Reagan and his Administration spent eight years trying to prove Reagan right]. Socialists, on the other hand, see government as a vehicle for greatly improving the lives of the people by doing things the private sector can’t–or won’t–do well. Public libraries, public health, and public education are a few examples.
So what happened when the Socialists took power?
John Nichols, tells the remarkable story in his book, The “S” Word : a Short History of an American Tradition–Socialism. Around the turn of the century, the city of Milwaukee was led by a city government whose corruption was on par with the city of Chicago. But unlike Chicago, the people of Milwaukee threw the crooks out on their ears.
In 1910, the disgusted voters ousted Mayor David Rose and elected Socialist Emil Seidel and a Socialist majority to the city council. For most of the next 50 years, the Socialists controlled the city government.
Contrast Mayor Seidel’s aspirations for the people with what you hear from most of today’s candidates, who promise more military spending, cuts in social programs, still more tax cuts for the wealthy, and persecution of immigrants. Mayor Seidel said,
“We wanted our workers to have pure air, we wanted them to have sunshine, we wanted planned homes, we wanted them to have living wages, we wanted recreation for young and old, we wanted vocational education, we wanted a chance for every human being to be strong and live a life of happiness. And we wanted everything that was necessary to give them that: playgrounds, parks, lakes, beaches, clean creeks and rivers, swimming and wading pools, social centers, reading rooms, clean fun, music, dance, song and joy for all.”
Once in power, the Socialists actually delivered on their promises, rooting out corruption and ushering in an era of clean, caring government. Using the power of government to make the city a better place to live and work, they built an impressive network of public parks, public libraries, and public schools. They raised the wages of city workers. The Milwaukee police department came to be recognized as the nation’s best for honesty and public service.
Leadership in Public Health
Milwaukee’s Socialist government was passionate about protecting public health. Since public water supplies were often a health hazard due to uncontrolled dumping of sewage in the rivers, the Socialists constructed sewers. They developed food safety initiatives and undertook mass immunizations. Their public health programs attracted national attention and became models for other cities and the national government. In fact, Milwaukee so regularly won national awards for their public health programs that competitions began to exclude Milwaukee so as to give other cities a chance to win.
Of course, we’ve been trained to think that all the “free stuff” the Socialists give away drives governments to the poor house. But the opposite was true. Despite the many undertakings that vastly improved the quality of life, Milwaukee’s Socialists gained recognition as the nation’s most fiscally-sound city. In 1936, Time Magazine named Milwaukee the best-governed city in the United States. Voters enthusiastically returned them to office again and again for most of a fifty-year period.
As a side note, I mention that although I grew up in Milwaukee, no teacher ever mentioned that Socialists once ran our city–let alone discussing their accomplishments. Nor was it ever mentioned in any of my Political Science classes at the University of Wisconsin.
Despite their great success in Milwaukee, Socialism didn’t spread to other cities. Ultimately, the Socialists lost popularity due to red-baiting campaigns that questioned their patriotism and because both Democrats and Republicans ate into their base by adopting many Socialist ideas.
Reaganomics seemingly banished it forever. The right-wing succeeded in turning Socialism into a dirty word.
Devastation of Reaganomics
But after decades of Reaganomics, many Americans have re-examined Socialism. Ironically, though Reagan slashed many of the social programs he considered wasteful in his alleged zeal to balance the budget, his Administration ran up record deficits due to the three-legged stool of Reaganomics: militarism, deregulation/bailout, and tax cuts. This resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth, as the American aristocracy mugged the poor and the middle class.
Reaganomics, practiced ever since by both Republicans and Democrats, has devastated the middle class. The Census Bureau tells us that 46.7 million Americans, or 14.8% of the nation, are now living below the poverty line. Not by coincidence, the number of billionaires has skyrocketed, going from just 15 in 1984 to 560 today.
Reaganomics and free reign capitalism got us into this mess of poverty, joblessness, and income inequality; perhaps Socialism can show us the way out.