July 08, 2004

Andrew Sullivan Calls George W. Bush a Dirty Commie-Lover

Courtesy of the Poor Man and Oliver Willis, 3 1/2 years ago American politician George W. Bush praised African-American poet Langston Hughes. Now Andrew Sullivan attacks American politicians who praise Hughes as dirty Communist sympathizers. I think that Sullivan has crossed the line. We really do need a much better press corps:

George W. Bush: When we examine our Nation's history, we discover these and countless other stories that inspire us. They are stories of the triumph of the human spirit, tragic stories of cruelty rooted in ignorance and bigotry, yet stories of everyday people rising above their circumstances and the prejudice of others to build lives of dignity. This month, and throughout the year, let us celebrate and remember these stories, which reflect the history of African Americans and all Americans. We can all enjoy the works of writers like Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes.

Now Andrew Sullivan tells us exactly what he thinks of American politicians--like George W. Bush--who praise Langston Hughes:

www.AndrewSullivan.com - Daily Dish: Wouldn't it be helpful to read the Langston Hughes poem? Here it is in full. It is indeed beautiful and lyrical if a little trite at times. But it is also clearly a call to Communist revolution, as Tim Noah first observed and Bill Buckley noticed. The poem is rooted in the notion that the ideal of American freedom was a lie from the beginning for many people, and that public ownership of private property was the only hope....

Now... does [politician] really want to cite a man who wanted to abolish private property and loved Stalin? Again, the right-left double standard. If a fascist poet in 1938 had called to remake a pure racial America on the lines of Hitler's Germany, would he now be quoted by any leading politician? But the communists get a pass. Again. And again. And again....

How long are we going to hear "Let America be America" and Hughes references before someone, other than Bill Buckley, points out exactly what sort of America Hughes was hoping to see?... I guess it's a nice poem and all, but apparently someone forgot to tell someone else that Langston Hughes was not just a poor, black, populist poet, but a Marxist one. The America he was looking for is an interesting one. Guys, you gotta vet the poets you quote.


And the poem? It's very good, unless one's a corrupt enrichee of the First or the Second Gilded Age:

'Let America Be America Again' :: A poem by Langston Hughes :: PoetryConnection.net:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
Posted by DeLong at July 8, 2004 08:17 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

I wonder what that makes me if I dare to quote William Blake:

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it's much scarier sounding call to action than Hughes's plan of nationalizing resources and industries.

Is it possible that these are poems and not policy white papers?

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 8, 2004 08:45 PM

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It might help to read the whole Poem:
Jerusalem
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I shall not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green & pleasant Land

He is speaking of spreading the faith. Salvation only comes through Christ so it was imperative to spread the Word of God to the unbelievers of England.

Posted by: Barry O'Connell on July 8, 2004 08:56 PM

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What on earth is Sullivan smoking?

I'm ABD in English and can't find the Communism in the poem. Someone help me.

Stuff like this makes me wish Sullivan would go back to supporting Bush, because I really don't want to agree with him on anything worthwhile.

Posted by: Andy on July 8, 2004 09:17 PM

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As i noted during the sully on why there are no bush republicans thread, it's hopeless to expect consistency or logic from sullivan any further. He just spews out random words, some of which make sense and many of which don't.

On the other hand, he really isn't the problem with the press corps. Silly pundits who write clever sentences have always been among us. There are many bigger problems with the press than that andrew sullivan is an ink-stained wretch....

Posted by: howard on July 8, 2004 09:27 PM

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>It might help to read the whole Poem:

Well, I was trying to keep the copy-paste manageable.

Anyway, my point was just that summarizing the Langston Hughes poem as "public ownership of private property [is] the only hope" is about as fair as summarizing Jerusalem as Blake's call for turning England into a theocracy--and then blacklisting him from any favorable public reference thereafter. I can't read the mind of either poet, but I like both poems. On the other hand, I would be frightened of having either interpreted literally as a prescription for their respective countries.

Sullivan's comparison to quoting Nazi poets is not really fair. The pariah status of Nazis (and probably any explicitly racist art) is more the exception than the rule. The call for spreading Christianity or for extending public ownership may offend some groups, but neither are grounds for blacklisting a poet who advocates them.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 8, 2004 09:31 PM

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> I'm ABD in English and can't find the Communism in the poem. Someone help me.

Well, my degree is in computer science but I think Sullivan means:

We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--

At first, it sounds as if Hughes is merely advocating greater environmental protection and might side with a good Republican like Teddy Roosevelt. But the addition of "the mines" settles it. Clearly, he plans to nationalize all industries.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 8, 2004 09:40 PM

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There's a pattern here. Glenn Reynolds used to be semi-moderate. So did Sullivan. Now they're both crazy. There are still some real moderates left: Drezner, the Oxblog guys... but for the most part, the conservatives seem to be going off the deep end one by one.

I think it's some sort of frantic response to the turning of the tide.

Posted by: Josh Yelon on July 8, 2004 09:42 PM

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I can't see where "Let America Be America Again" explicitly calls for public ownership of resources. And Hughes would be a very sloppy writer to use that title phrase if that is what he meant. What "Again" of America was he referring to where there was public ownership of the means of production? It could as well be a metaphor for equality of opportunity and ability of anyone to live a decent life.

Hughes was not a lifelong doctrinaire communist, and to accuse him of being is ignorant and bigoted. Yes, he did associate with the US Communist Party in the 30s and his poems appeared in its publications, and he was a defender to Stalin for awhile. Does that mean we should banish everything he wrote?

So I suppose we should condemn anyone who use any line for any reason from Ezra Pound a fascist anti-Semite. And TS Eliot is also banned since he was Pound's protege, and pretty conservative himself. Beethoven initially supported Napoleon, so obviously supported the Terror, and revolutionary dictatorship. Sure, he tried to weasel out later and apologize but let's not fall for that, but once stained, always stained. That's what I say. Stravinsky's out since he can be called a commie and and monarchist, depending on what period you consider. So no playing Stravinsky's arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner, even if most people could actually sing it, no telling what secret messages are in there. And then there is... Wagner...

I think that "Let America" was written in the Depression, and it can be read simply as a protest against injustice and concentration of wealth, and discrimination. If people today had the memory of working conditions and distribution of wealth before WWII, they might have more sympathy for the sentiments expressed. I recently saw a book of contemporary first person narratives of life from the late 19th century through the 1920s in a bookstore and read through it. The narratives were by the poor US native born and immigrants. It was frightening reading: forced labor, employer fraud, racism, employee abuse, grotesquely unsafe working conditions, no safety net for anything unless you had wealthy relatives or were very lucky.

Re Blake: Yes, read the whole poem, but do not believe for a second that Blake was anything like a conventional Christian. One clue: "Bring me my Arrows of desire". Now where did that line come from? Doesn't sound like conventional Christian imagery to me. I don't remember Elijah looking for his arrows of desire while riding up to heaven in his chariot of fire.

But Callahan's second post raises a good point -if we remembered all the political sojourns that artists made during their lives, and branded them because of that, then we would banish almost everything. What would be left? Ogden Nash, I guess. But then I don't know much bout him.

Posted by: jml on July 8, 2004 09:44 PM

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Oh, gimme a break...

"We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--"

I think of company towns when I read "the mines"

Maybe poltical pundits and economists shouldn't be allowed to read poetry, since they can only handle one meaning at a time.

Twain is also out. He is doubly damned since he started as a racist Confederate, then became a racist imperialist, and finally transformed into a raving moral relativist who refused to condemn Native American violence and terror committed upon White settlers.

Posted by: jml on July 8, 2004 09:54 PM

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Finding logical inconsistencies in Sullivan's scribblings is like shooting fish in a barrel, only easier.

Posted by: Kuas on July 8, 2004 09:58 PM

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What I find the best about this whole story is that Buckley sounds like a snitch (http://www.nationalreview.com/buckley/wfb200406021606.asp):

Langston Hughes was asking America to "be America again," meaning, not an America that history had known and chronicled, but an America realizable in a new and different vision. The land of Marx and Lenin and Stalin.

Posted by: bubba on July 8, 2004 10:02 PM

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Well, yes, if conservatives out to make cheap points can make a big deal of this, then I suppose we can all agree that it is bad choice for a slogan.

But I still think it is a cheap point. Hughes was not a lifelong Communist, and the poem doesn't have to be read as advocating communism in the US -even if Hughes was flirting with that idea when he wrote it.

But this is the age of mindless "gotcha". I don't like it whether it is practiced by either the right or the left. It is mean nasty and turning political discourse to an infantile level.

If anyone here insists this poem must be read in a sinister light, then I think they should stick to reading food labels and traffic signs. And they shouldn't ever quote any writer until they have done an exhaustive study of the person's life, evolution of their poltical beliefs and decoded all the political implications of every line and word of the material. You will be surprized by the cans or worms that can be opened up.

Posted by: jml on July 8, 2004 10:18 PM

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Sorry to post again... But want to reinforce my point, and my memory of some things is delayed, and my dander is up. Callahan makes a good point about Blake, but I think Callahan doesn't understand enough about Blakes unusual brand of Christianity. By some definitions, I think Blake would be considered a satanist today, at least by many conservative Christians, and certainly by fundamentalists, and totally by dispensationalists.

So politicians had better scrub any phrases or images from Blake, and do it right now. And Blake is one of thise insidious writers --probably a lot of Blakeisms floating around undetected.

Posted by: jml on July 8, 2004 10:36 PM

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Hughes was a communist, but I don't think this poem is communist per se. Even if you look at "We, the people, must redeem / The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers," really the only way to conclude that this means "socialize all industry" is if you know Hughes was communist, and/or are looking for that sort of thing in the poem. That's fair, but I think the lines could more fairly be read in the vaguer terms that they are written in, especially given that the context doesn't suggest a specific, policy-type reading. Really, I think the way to take it is as the general sentiment of "power to the people."

But I also don't think it matters. As jml points out, lots of people who did good stuff have thought bad stuff, and we don't blacklist them for it. It also goes without saying that Kerry doesn't share Hughes' thoughts re: communism and Stalin. Sullivan says this: "If a fascist poet in 1938 had called to remake a pure racial America on the lines of Hitler's Germany, would he now be quoted by any leading politician? But the communists get a pass. Again. And again. And again." That's pretty silly. There have been lots of ideologies that led to slaughter. But there's nothing in communist theory - or, say, Christian theology - that promotes it, whereas Nazism is evil root and branch. That's why it's held to a different standard.

I think the choice is kind of a great one for Kerry. The poem is a great example of left patriotism - a call for America to match its ideals, rather than an expression of simple nationalism. The title carries this message both in itself and through the poem. It carries the parallel message that the past four years have been a turn from what America should be, that there is something fundamentally rotten in the Bush administration. And also, quoting poetry for a campaign theme is just cool.

Posted by: EH on July 8, 2004 10:47 PM

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OK, I am off my soapbox now, but I do have a question. Why is "Again" in the title? If Buckley is right, and *when he wrote the poem* Hughes wanted to advocate public ownership of the means of production, why did he use the word *again*? (I am not sure that Hughes ever really meant that, though). If Hughes wanted to write a stratightforward poltical screed that said the US should go commie, he could have.

So Buckley's interpretatino seems kind of odd to me. It is more like a thoughtless assertion to get to the conclusion he wants. Since when does "again" mean a transformation to something that has never been?

So: If the poem means what these conservos say it does, why "Let America Be America *Again*"?

Maybe I am missing something obvious...

Posted by: jml on July 8, 2004 11:00 PM

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will be brief, but this makes me so angry I am being pushy and cranky... I looked up some stuff on Hughes. Above, bubba referenced column by Buckley. Buckley's column quoted a poem called Goodby Christ, and Buckley said that this poem clearly showed that Hughes was anti-religion and an athiest as well as a communist. Well, check out the following link and decide for yourselves how clear "Goodby Christ" is on that point.

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/goodbye.htm

I now think that Buckley and Sulliven (and the TNR guy too) are foisting tendentious and strained readings in order to score cheap political points.

Actually people like these should not be allowed to read traffic signs either, since some signs only say "stop" and if they really think as displayed in their columns, their resulting behavior would create a safety hazard and traffic jams.

Posted by: jml on July 8, 2004 11:51 PM

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Sheesh. 'Clearly, he plans to nationalize all industries.' I think that's a long shot...

It seems to me the direct lift from the preamble to the Constitution seems have some sort of bearing on Mr. Hughes' meaning, as do the echoes of America the Beautiful. And the word 'redeem' seems to play nicely assuming one or several of its meanings. And the word 'again' is not only in the title, it is used repeatedly, including the final word of the poem.

As the old perfessor used to say, extracting literal meaning from poetry is a dicey proposition. IMO, Mr. Hughes thinks the American dream hasn't been there for many Americans, the system is corrupt, and America deserves better. I think this Mr. Hughes is more of a kindred spirit of Woody Guthrie than Joe Stalin... And I suspect many Americans today would find this poem still pertinent.

Posted by: Nat on July 9, 2004 12:12 AM

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I'm all for being fair. If the Republicans want to put up something by Ezra Pound or Wyndham Lewis or Martin Heidegger (all of whom supported fascism or Nazism), great. Even Neitzsche, though he was abused by the Nazis rather than being one. I would love to see authentic literature and thought become part of the popular discourse. I would also love to see mangoes grow on concrete, and am about as likely to, especially from the Repugs.

Posted by: Martin Bento on July 9, 2004 02:00 AM

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"There's a pattern here. Glenn Reynolds used to be semi-moderate. So did Sullivan. Now they're both crazy. There are still some real moderates left: Drezner, the Oxblog guys... but for the most part, the conservatives seem to be going off the deep end one by one.

I think it's some sort of frantic response to the turning of the tide."

Posted by Josh Yelon

Well, under this administration, it comes down to three choices - reject it, accept incompetancy, corruption and evil, or live in a fantasy world.

Of course, for most of these people it's choice (2) disguised as choice (3).

Posted by: Barry on July 9, 2004 03:57 AM

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Gotta like Nat's old perfessor.

Hughes had lots to say. That is part of why he is among the 20th century greats - without regard to the specific message. There was something unjust about the way American industry operated, about the way American justice operated, about the way American society operated, when Hughes wrote. Sully has adopted the first half of the old "American, right or wrong" slogan. Hughes is invoking the second half. Is communism Hughes' answer? Maybe, but it is his identification of the problem, his call to his readers to find an answer, that matters more than any hint at an answer that Hughes may offer. The "Again" part is really, really important to reading this poem, but there is no mystery about where it fits in. "Let it be the dream it used to be." In our early history, and in each of our earlier lives, we had high hopes for justice, for greatness, for liberty in our country. As we and the country grow older, there is a realization that we have strayed from those hopes. So, "let America be America again."

Posted by: kharris on July 9, 2004 04:35 AM

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Refdesk.com's quote for the day does a good job of addressing Sullivan's approach to literary criticism.

"But the greatest menace to our civilization today is the conflict between giant organized systems of self-righteousness - each system only too delighted to find that the other is wicked - each only too glad that the sins give it the pretext for still deeper hatred and animosity." - Herbert Butterfield

Posted by: kharris on July 9, 2004 04:38 AM

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Next thing you know they'll be teaching our kindergarteners "This Land is Youur Land". Damn Commies!!!

Posted by: JM on July 9, 2004 04:44 AM

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"We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers."

I think nationalisation is a bit of a stretch from that quote (not that nationalisation of large industries is necessarily communism, but never mind). He's just saying that we the people must save these things. In the case of rivers and the land - from destruction/pollution. In the case of plants and mines - from being the horrors that were when the poem was written. That could mean a lot of things - nationalisation being one of several (decent regulation being another).

Being British I didn't know Hughes. I must thank Sullivan for introducing me to him. Damn fine poem.

Posted by: Cian on July 9, 2004 05:06 AM

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As a huge fan of Hughes the "Let America..." line has always confused me. It implies there was an ideal/better than his time American "state of being" to which she should return.....at least this a literal take on the line.

This certainly could not have been what he meant....at least as far as black folk (or the Irish/immigrants etc for that matter)were concerned.

I propose this be transferred to the repugs as

"Let Amerikkka be Amerikkka again"


Friendly wannbe "alien" (I love what you guys call furriners ) electoral consultant

Posted by: venky on July 9, 2004 05:18 AM

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Also...if GWB's reference to Hughes is based on actually reading him, I will personnaly lead a movement to stop Indian IT cos peddling solutions and services in the US - in Bangalore. My understanding is that he was reading "My Pet Goat" and the towelheads didn't even let him finish that

Posted by: venky on July 9, 2004 05:24 AM

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Well, what about that song that says we should "spread thy good and brotherhood from sea to shining sea"? Isn't "spreading" just commie codetalk for redistribution? Isn't "brotherhood" just the "fraternitie" of the French Revolution?

Recently I was in a nursing home dining room during breakfast and somebody had put Peter Paul and Mary on the cd-player. This provoked a number of jibes and rude comments as we listened to a number of songs like "The Fox" (who went out for a hunt etc) and others. Then they sang "This Land is Your Land" and first, a hush fell on the room, and then, people began singing along. Still gives me chills to remember. Seems some ideas are more powerful than labels.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 9, 2004 05:52 AM

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It does seem that Sulli is asking the GOP to return to the Joe McCarthy days - trying to impute everything left of center to the evils of Communism.

Posted by: Harol on July 9, 2004 05:55 AM

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This was my first time reading the poem and I am quite moved by it. I don't know how anyone could have trouble figuring out its meaning - that "America" as we dream of it has never existed for many, it is a mythology that we should try to make real. "Let America be America Again" is a bitter response to "conservatives" who long for the "old days" before people struggling for their rights made matters so complicated for rich white men. In this sense it resembles "Marxism" -whatever that is supposed to be - and by the way, the teachings of Christ. One can see why the poem troubles right wing propagandists - it appeals to our conscience, that which is decent in our soul, the "better angels of our nature." People like Buckley and Sullivan recognize that their ideology can't survive unless such moral sentiment is suppressed.

Posted by: Southpaw on July 9, 2004 06:49 AM

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[It does seem that Sulli is asking the GOP to return to the Joe McCarthy days - trying to impute everything left of center to the evils of Communism.]

And remember how far to the right Joe McCarthy's center was, and how far to the right the New Republican Tribe's "center" is. Actually, to be frank, I'm still waiting to see where the "center" is for the NRT. They seem to be driving very hard toward the economic system and legalized social prejudices of the late 19th century, while trying to centralize the executive's power in a way that's not really precedented in the United States. I am pretty sure I know that the word for that is, but people get all worked up about using it.

Posted by: paperwight on July 9, 2004 07:14 AM

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> Sheesh. 'Clearly, he plans to nationalize all industries.' I think that's a long shot...

I was being facetious. But now I really wonder if anyone picked up on it.

Sullivan's claim was that the poem had advocated making private property public. I was puzzled how he could read that into it, and I think the operative line has to be the one I quoted. Since most of that list isn't even property per se but part of nature, it's not very convincing (or does "plants" refer to industrial plants?)

"The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain"

So, yeah, it's a long shot, but don't blame me for the long shot. I was trying to explain what I imagine Sullivan was getting at. Or maybe he just meant the poem's generally negative view of property:

Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I guess in Sullivan's world we are only allowed to read poems that celebrate the free market.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 9, 2004 07:32 AM

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"Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, /
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,..."

Sounds like Hughes could be talking about the Bush Administration.

"Redeem"--interestingly enough, it does derive from the Latin "to buy back," which does provide some evidence for an economic (if not Marxist) interpretation of Hughes's intent.

But, in context, "mines" has an obviously environmental meaning, not an industrial one. That is, unless, Sully would like to claim that Marxists wished to nationalize "the land," "the plants," "the rivers," "the mountains," "the endless plaines," and "these great green states."

Of course, I contributed to Kerry in order "to redeem / The land" from Bush's "graft, and stealth, and lies"--so call me a Communist!

Posted by: abf on July 9, 2004 07:39 AM

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I forgot to add:

When John Kerry was in Vietnam fighting Marxists, WHERE WAS GEORGE???!!!

heh.

Posted by: Southpaw on July 9, 2004 07:47 AM

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> Callahan makes a good point about Blake, but I think Callahan doesn't understand enough about Blakes unusual brand of Christianity.

My first post was a cheap shot. When I read the end of Let America Be America Again, I found myself mentally filing it under "Poems that end with a bold call to action for the poet's country." And there was Blake's poem sitting there. But I didn't mean to limit the point to Blake; any poet is likely to have some beliefs that a modern politician would not want to align with, and the further back you go, the more likely it is.

As for the "again" issue, it's right in the poem:

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.

The "again" is clearly intended as shorthand for "what it was claimed to be in the first place." Hughes is vague enough on how to go about getting there that Sullivan's summary is a ridiculous misreading, and a completely inappropriate way to critique a poem.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 9, 2004 07:48 AM

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"When John Kerry was in Vietnam fighting Marxists, WHERE WAS GEORGE???!!!"

Training to be a figher pilot, so one day he could be capable of shooting down Marxists.

Better question, when John Kerry was doing his best to defeat America's efforts to keep Marxists from taking over South Vietnam--by, among other things, meeting with the Marxists in Paris--where was George W. Bush? He was flying the F-102 he was trained on, and not doing a thing to undermine Nixon's successful strategy.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on July 9, 2004 08:07 AM

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"Nixon's successful strategy."

Maw haw haw haw haw. Snort, harumph, giggle, ha ha ha ha ha.

Yeah supporting a fanatical catholic south vietnamese leadership in a budhist country was a winning strategy. I've said it once I'll say it again, the only thing more dangerous than a committed marxist is a committed anti-communist. Extremism in the defence of liberty is the end of freedom itself.

I suggest you read Christopher Hitchens book on Kissenger as a chaser.

Posted by: Scott McArthur on July 9, 2004 08:18 AM

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"When John Kerry was in Vietnam fighting Marxists, WHERE WAS GEORGE???!!!"

"Training to be a figher pilot, so one day he could be capable of shooting down Marxists."

Yeah, the Marxists in Texas and Alabama. LOL

Posted by: James R. Bath on July 9, 2004 08:32 AM

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There were a lot of communists in America. Dockworkers and other union workers, actors, writers, educators, the young. Such convictions didn't arise from heady academic debates about philosophy. They arose from the simple fact of the lousy way workers were being treated by employers and the failure of capitalists to respond to the Great Depression (though Teddy R did have a decent time of it with his trust-busting, at least).

And Hughes, a black man, certainly had even more reasons to disdain the status quo that was still lynching blacks during the Roaring Twenties.

Supporting Communism in that time, before the knowledge of Stalinist purges became widespread, was not support of the terrible results of that failed ideology. It was simply support of workers against the brutal conditions of their work experience and of the repression in governments, from Prohibition to Civil Rights to guys like Harry Anslinger and J. Edgar Hoover, up through Joe McCarthy.

Langston Hughes was a great poet and a great American. His ideals were in pursuit of justice, not tyranny. If Andy sees fit to diss him because Andy's been well-served by capitalism, that's Andy's right. But, just as Hughes can be faulted for not succeeding as an economist, Andy can be faulted for not succeeding as a humanitarian, a literary critic or a champion of social justice.

Hell, if Andy could even write one-tenth as well as Hughes did, he might find something important to write about.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden on July 9, 2004 08:40 AM

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It is a great slogan, working not only at the opaque level (return us back to what we were before the "Bush doctrine"), but as a window into our former selves (return us to an age when bards sung of how people believed there was more to life than the naked pursuit of wealth and power). Anyone who reads Marxism into the poem has no idea what reading a poem is, nor any idea why we might want to enjoy the suggestiveness of well written words without boiling them down to McCarthyite soundbites. I don't care so much who fought and killed what, but if a candidate can enliven the memory of the Harlem Renaissance, that is a reason to cast a vote. Now, if Edwards can quote Lorca when he debates the Republican VP candidate, I'll start tithing the Democratic Party.

Posted by: MarkC on July 9, 2004 08:57 AM

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Andrew Sullivan took several days off from his column to go see Madonna in concert. I am not sure he deserves any credence as a critic, literary or otherwise.

Posted by: badger ellen on July 9, 2004 09:00 AM

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Paul Callahan notes: "I guess in Sullivan's world we are only allowed to read poems that celebrate the free market."

And not allowed to suggest that the free market might have some limitations and disadvantages.

Posted by: Jon on July 9, 2004 09:20 AM

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Clearly. Nothing could be more pelucid.

You were right the first time Paul.

We, the people, must redeem... can mean nothing but full nationalization of the means of production.

This passage is all to revealing:
"The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again."

The land that's mine could not be a clearer reference to a complete rejection of private property rights.

Who made America, etc. reveals a stalinist insistance on the dignity of labor. It's dripping with communism.

Yes we can only conclude that Hughes is a WITCH, er, I mean, is a COMMUNIST. And that dirty Kerry must be too.

Posted by: Gordon on July 9, 2004 09:28 AM

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We really need an ode to the slippery slope.

"We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--"

This must be just the first step on the proverbial slippery slope to somewhere bad (and is the slope green with wet moss, sliding down to a creek -- we could make it poetic)

And of course, should we believe that what follows inevitably is:

and then redeem our factories and workplaces
and not just redeem them, but take them over;
and not just take them over but imprison their owners etc...

Posted by: CSTAR on July 9, 2004 09:54 AM

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Were Bush to quote the fascist Ezra Pound, I wouldn't really care: Pound's a great poet, politics aside.

I would be pretty amazed to see Bush quoting ANY writer other than the person who wrote MY PET GOAT though...

Posted by: Brad Reed on July 9, 2004 10:01 AM

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Who are these people who have inherited a share of America without knowing anything about it?

Posted by: sm on July 9, 2004 11:41 AM

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Since this literature discussion has taken a turn toward the barnyard, here's a link to Shiela Lennon's My Pet Goat post (containing excerpt and links) - http://www.projo.com/cgi-bin/include.pl/blogs/shenews/archives/week112.htm#petgoat

Posted by: Anna on July 9, 2004 12:54 PM

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Regarding the "again" bit: Hughes says again and again that America never was the America he wants, at least not for most people. He wants the dream, the land of opportunity and equality, to become the reality. His vision of America is quite frankly socialist, but probably not communist. And contrary to Sully's hysteria, Marxism is not equivalent to fascism. Having actually read vol. 1 of Capital, it's amazing how much of his arguments were directly in response, and agreement, with 'mainstream' Political Economy. Smith himself warned his readers against ever trusting Businessmen, and stated frankly that the workers interests were identical with the common good. Stalin was communist in the same way that Mussolini was a Nationalist: both of their ideologies were primarily cover for Fascism. I recommend Polanyi's take on Fascism as the end-point of a broken Market Society; neither Communist nor Capitalist, but ammenable to both. So one can be a Marxist without swearing off democracy, one just has to disavow the governments who called themselves Marxist. Nazism, on the other hand, was what it claimed to be: exterminationist, racist, and imperialist.

Posted by: Padraig on July 9, 2004 01:20 PM

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A slave has no moral obligation whatsoever to his master. To free himself, or merely in retribution, the slave is utterly justified in killing his master, as the master has by his outrage upon the slave forfeited any claim to justice or mercy.

A second-class citizen in an apartheid regime (as Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson were) is not in as extreme a situation as a slave, and does not have the moral carte blanche that a slave inherently possesses. But if a Hughes or a Robeson says that America is irrevocably corrupt and must be begun again, no one in the privileged caste (that would include Sullivan and Buckley) has moral standing to criticize them.

Posted by: son volt on July 9, 2004 08:32 PM

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JM:
> Next thing you know they'll be teaching our kindergarteners "This Land is Youur Land". Damn Commies!!!

In case anyone is still reading the comments on this item, here's something from NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/11/weekinreview/11tone.html?pagewanted=2&hp
At the end of one of his biggest rallies, on a farm in Wisconsin, he joined the band to play the guitar to Woody Guthrie's populist anthem, "This Land Is Your Land." As the sun set behind him, and the largely rural crowd sang along, he was smiling, and he seemed to transcend his demographics, as presidential candidates have to do.

Uh oh! Better not tell Sully. Next thing, Kerry will be moving on to Phil Ochs, and by the end of the campaign he'll have them singing the Internationale.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 10, 2004 08:29 AM

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What were the options for explicitly anti-racist ideologies in the 1920s and 1930s? There weren't many. I think it's absurd to expect Hughes to support the racist American status quo of that time, if that's the standard for patriotism that jerks like Buckley advocate. Maybe we should avoid quoting Buckley because of his former racist views.

Even if personal property liberties were somewhat more limited in Hughes' ideal state, and there's no evidence to think that they would be, or that he would support totalitarianism, you have to remember that Hughes' liberties were already quite limited, and people were willing to use force what they couldn't extract from law. It's plain insulting to allege that Hughes doesn't understand the need for liberty, since he was deprived of it every day of his life. In fact, he uses the word "liberty" prominently in his poem.

If anything, I read this poem as an appeal for real American egalitarianism, something that would make revolution unnecessary, especially when you consider American ideals. To me, it seems that "again" is referring to the abstract ideals invoked at the country's inception. And as far as "redeeming the mines" goes, remember the part that comes before it that establishes the redepmtion of the land from steath, lies, graft, and death.

There's a subtler criticism lurking in this poem, which is that people use the fact of private property as an excuse for greed, an excuse not to wash one's hands of any responsibility for fellow human beings, or to turn selfish use of private property into a virtue. "Am I my brother's keeper?" asks Cain sarcastically. (The cheek, being sarcastic to God!) We can have an argument about to what extent we can use state power to intervene on behalf of our fellow human beings, but it does seem plain that jerks like Buckley have no intention of taking any responsibility for them whatsoever, and are more interested in preserving their own wealth than anyone's well-being or freedom.

Finally, I'll just toss in the idea that someone who has to choose between working a shitty job and starving, or not having medical care, or losing one's home is not making in any sense a free choice. That state is not freedom. It's one thing if the cruelty of nature imposes those circumstances upon you, as can happen, but what laissez-faire capitalists want is to use state power to enforce those circumstances if they arise. That I find sickening.

Posted by: Melissa O on July 10, 2004 11:14 AM

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I love good people.

check out who you wish, and pick and choose who you like...

its all in the granschemathings, aint it?

www.goodpeopleonthenet.blogspot.com

Posted by: nobodyspec. on July 25, 2004 01:06 AM

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Im a DEM but I like conservative blogs better for some reason. So wassup with the beef with Andrew Sullivan? Yeah, I admit, I read him every day, and I write him relentlessly...poor guy...seriously though, forget the 'tics, I think andrew is a decent guy. I think a lot of his politics are totally full of shit, as I have told him in emails literally, and that if he doesn't like me, he can kiss my ass, I send him dirty jokes...who knows what he reads and writes...yeah, so I got about 5 replies in 403,238,345 emails, but I dont give a rat's ass. He wrote me last time, thanking me, so I guess he still likes me, and honestly, I dont care if the guy likes me or not...I think he be cool..I'd like to meet him sometime.

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