Our First Serious Socialist Candidate for President? Not Really!




Okay, it’s the season of far too many words on the airwaves devoted to far too little of real importance.

  1. What will The Donald do with a second place finish in Iowa?
  2. Can Hillary survive a double-digit lose to Sanders in New Hampshire?
  3. Is Rubio the establishment’s new Great White Hispanic hope?
  4. Who in the democratic race is a real progressive?

These are four of the dumber examples.

Quick answers for the pundits:

  1. Big D will spin the loss by acting like he won, accuse Cruz of cheating, and grab his jet to NH, where he will kick everyone’s ass.
  2. HRC will smile bravely as she gets lambasted in NH and her folks work their asses off in SC, and then she will go kick Bernie’s ass in that state.
  3. No one has any real idea, since he just placed third in the R caucuses in a state with more pigs and more chickens than people.  So, you should just keep talking about his robotic manner and Cuban heels to your depraved heart’s content.
  4. No one cares except nerds like Chris Hayes and campaign staff who have to answer the question.  People do not vote for labels.  They vote for people and issues. But, you might as well fill air time with this type of meaningless crap because you really don’t have anything more meaningful to do at this point in the electoral process.

But, such bullshit is no reason for sensible people to be allowed to completely shut down higher cortical functions.  How about a bit of history to help you break away from your budding word jumble  addiction?

Some commentators, especially Chris Matthews in the circles to whom I listen, make considerable hay out of Bernie’s use of the “S” bomb – socialist and ask everyone whether in earshot whether someone who calls himself a socialist can be elected to anything in America.  Chris is correct.  Ever since the Palmer raids in the post-WWI era (driven both by fear of Russian Bolshevism and a deep desire by the business class to destroy left-leaning unions) thru the Cold War, we have had an aversion to the term.  But, it was not always the case.


Ah, who could forget the magnificent Eugene Victor Debs.  Born in Terre Haute, Indiana (the heartland) Debs began his work life as a railroader, but he quickly moved into working for railroaders’ unions.  An opponent of craft unions (think AFL) and a believer in industrial unionism, he was first a presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Party in 1900 and polled just under 100,000 votes.

His electoral career topped out in 1912 when he garnered 6% of the popular vote.  That year, over 16% of the vote in both Oklahoma and New York went to Debs; 13% of voters in Arizona and Montana went for Debs; both Washington and California gave him 12% of their vote.  Nor too shabby for a socialist candidate, especially when on remembers that John Anderson, who ran as an independent in 1980 only garnered 6.6 percent of the vote. Also, that same year, socialists claimed that over 400 of their ilk had been elected to state or local offices that year (mostly local).

However, the story become much more interesting when, in 1920 while in federal prison for speaking out against the war and the draft, he received almost a million write-in votes. His ten-year sentence was commuted by President Harding to time served in 1921. On his return to Terre Haute from Atlanta, he was said to have been greeted by a crowd of almost 50,000 people and a marching band.

So, the USA is really no stranger to democratic socialists running for president.  If a guy in prison for sedition can get almost a million write-ins in an era rife with social turmoil, then a bunch of people today should be okay with voting for someone who looks like their grandfather, even if he calls himself a socialist.

Besides, given the level of political knowledge today, half of those who hear he is a “socialist” will probably think it means he is a strong believer in “social” media.

Besides, just to hark back to the leftist vernacular of the day at the turn of the 20th century, Debs would denounce Bernie as an unrepentant “Slowcialist,” not a real socialist at all because of his commitment to electoral politics (kind of sounds like Bernie rapping on HRC for being a moderate rather than a progressive).  And Bernie, using the same vernacular, in his turn could label Debs an “Impossibilist” (basically what HRC calls Bernie today).  So, the names may change, but the name-calling pretty much stay the same.  I am not sure whether that is heartening or disheartening.

However, we have too few today who would speak like Debs with such richness about their dreams.  This is his statement at his sentencing in 1918:

“Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means….

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul….

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own. When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.

Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.”

(See Debs in Wikipedia)




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