The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, April 10, 2000, Page 5, Image 5

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    Social studies
American history has forgotten that many of its heroes were socialists
“It is not only radical or current
ly unfashionable ideas that the texts
leave out - it is all ideas, including
those of their heroes
- Frances FitzGerald
In America, “socialism” is
almost an obscene word. In the
minds of most Americans, the word
calls to mind images of the Berlin
Wall and a tyrannical government; ii
is a virtual synonym for “commu
When Hillary Clinton floated
around her national health care plan
a few years back, Republican leader
on Capitol Hill were quick to
denounce it as “socialistic.”
Socialism is seen as a threat to
the American way of life - this
tremendous freedom we’re suppose<
to have to make ourselves into any
thing we want to be. Because social
ism holds that not every citizen has
this opportunity because of econom
ic inequality, it is seen as a threat to
“family values.”
Pat Robertson once said, “The
feminist agenda is not about equal
rights for women... It is about a
socialist, anti-family political move
ment that encourages women to
leave their husbands, kill their chil
dren, practice witchcraft, destroy
capitalism and become lesbians.”
(Hill & Cheadle, 1996)
So Robertson puts an attack bn
capitalism in the same list of evils as
child-murder and witchcraft; it’s
hard to tell which he thinks is the
The ironic thing is that many of
our nation’s most cherished heroes
were socialists.
In history textbooks, the
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is
glorified as the leading black civil
rights leader of the 20* Century.
This is arguably true, but besides
ignoring the often fierce resentment
King provoked in other black lead
ers, the textbooks almost uniformly
ignore the fact that King was a self
5 proclaimed socialist. He knew that
the overwhelming poverty suffered
by blacks could not be caused solely
by racism.
In 1967, just a year before he was
1 assassinated, King said, “... One day
we must ask the question, ‘Why are
there 40 million poor people in
America?’ And when you begin to
ask that question, you are raising
questions about the economic sys
tem, about a broader redistribution
of wealth. When you ask that ques
tion, you begin to question the capi
talistic economy.” (103 Harv. L. Rev.
Another example of historical
tunnel vision is Helen Keller. She’s
remembered as the determined and
courageous woman who learned to
speak and write while blind and deaf
and went on to be an advocate for the
disabled. Her life is lauded to such
an extent that she becomes almost a
cartoon figure. Keller is held out as
the embodiment of the belief that
through hard work, anything is pos
sible. ^
What the textbooks don’t say,
however, is that Keller was a radical
socialist. She joined a socialist polit
ical group in her early twenties and
remained a socialist until her death al
the age of 88.
Keller spent most of her life writ
ing and speaking on socialist causes.
At the time she became a socialist,
however, she was idolized world
wide; the shift in her political views
caused a fickle public to react angri
ly and newspapers, once full of
praise, became full of disdain.
Keller spoke about one of these
critics, an editor at the Brooklyn
Eagle: “The compliments that he
[once] paid me were so generous thai
I blush to remember them. But now
that I have come out for socialism,
he reminds me and the public that I
am blind and deaf and especially
liable to error. I must have shrunk in
intelligence during the years since I
met him.” (Loewen, 1995)
History has immortalized the
first two decades of Keller’s life. It
has forgotten the last six decades of
her life that she spent fighting for
economic justice under the banner of
We’ve all heard of the famous
novel “The Jungle” by Upton
Sinclair. When I talk to people about
it, all they can remember (with justi
fied horror) are the disgusting prac
tices of the meat-packing industry
detailed within. When the book first
came out, it horrified society to such
an extent that it led to the passage of
the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906,
one of the most extensive food safety
regulations the country had ever
Focusing on this small portion of
the book, however, completely
ignores the main thrust of it. “The
Jungle” is a call to arms for social
ists. It was written as a wake-up call
for the poor to unite and protect
themselves from economic exploita
Much of Sinclair’s life was
devoted to socialism. History choos
es to remember him generically as a
“reformer” or a “progressive.”
Glossing over these national
heroes’ socialist beliefs is commqji.
The New America Desk /
Encyclopedia (3rd ed.) for example,
does not use the word “socialist”
once in any of the entries for King,
Keller or Sinclair. History has pulled
out a piece of their lives and ignored
the rest, distorting what they were
really like.
Understanding King’s desire for
racial equality cannot be complete
without understanding his desire for
economic equality. Keller’s drive to
help the disabled is inseparably inter
twined with her drive to help the
poor. Sinclair’s passion for “muck
raking” is inexplicable without
understanding the socialist beliefs on
which it was based.
Just as the influence of socialism
on these individuals has been forgot
ten, so has the influence of socialism
on America. Many of today’s govern
ment policies, such as minimum
wage laws, Social Security benefits
and Medicaid, were espoused by
socialist parties long before they
were adopted by Democrats or
As Michael Harrington, one of
the leading American socialists of
the 20th Century, said, “One of the
main consequences of the socialist
movement has not been socialism,
but a more humane, rational and
intelligent capitalism, usually in
spite of the capitalists.”
Even if the textbooks are igno
rant of the contribution of socialism
to our nation and its heroes, we
shouldn’t be.
Jeremy Patrick is a first-year law student and a Daily Nebraskan columnist.
Goodbye boob tube
Take a break from your television set and yoiunight learn something
Many of us seem to have become
the dupes of the marketing and mass
media industries. We buy what they
tell us to buy and look how they teil us
to look. We accept their ideas of free
dom, which largely consist of the free
dom to buy their products.
According to die Nielsen
Corporation, our television sets faith
fully flicker with their nonsense an
average of seven hours and 12 minutes
each day. We need to stop the madness,
disconnect our cable and turn off our
Last ween, notea autnor jean
Kilboume gave a lecture in the Mary
Riepma Ross Film Theater. The main
thrust of her talk dealt with reasons
women should reject the popular,
media-driven image of beauty, but we
should go a step further and remove
media almost entirely from our lives.
News and weather are useful, but what
did “South Park” add to our society?
According to Kilboume, the aver
age American is accosted by 3,000
advertisements each day. Our capitalisi
society is infested with labels, logos
and limitless advertisements. Don’t wc
have better things to do than look, lis
ten and feel who is selling what?
I admit, some ad campaigns are
amusing. My roommate says, “whaz
zuupp” to me at least three times a day
And I laugh every time I hear the word
The American College Dictionary
defines “prosaic” as “lacking in imagi
nation; dull” and “Prozac” as a “popu
lar mood-altering drug.” Irony is a
beautiful thing, but these few little
gems of marketing genius do not mak<
up for what TV costs us.
Poor people are three times more
likely to watch four or more hours of
television per day when compared to
the wealthy. Content is another impor
tant issue. By age 18, the average per
son has witnessed 16,000 depictions of
homicide. And by age 65, on average,
we’ve spent nine years watching tele
Many organizations, including TV
Free America, have raised objec
tions to the growing concentration
of media power into a few
hands. Media outlets are
increasingly held by fewer and
fewer corporations. According
to Ad Busters, an organization
that attempts to police images in
advertising, “Right now, television
is controlled by seven megacorpora
tions in the U.S. and is strongly domi
nated by three world-wide.”
One question we must ask our
selves is, who benefits from die sys
tem of media ownership we have
allowed to spawn? Our best interest is
not served by offering our attention to
the media giants.
One feasible solution is ottered by
TV Turnoff Week. On April 24-30,
while the hard-working students of
UNL will be experiencing dead week,
TV Free America humbly suggests we
take a week-long respite from the tube.
So, when you wake up on April 24,
unplug your television and don’t plug
it in again for a week. Read a book, go
see a play or just study for your finals.
If you’re a marketing or journalism
major, you may not be able to avoid
the media altogether but limiting your
exposure for a week won’t kill you.
And avoiding television will certainly
add hours to your day, hours you can
use more productively than memoriz
ing reruns of “Friends.”
In Anrerica, the greatest risk to our
freedom is our own poor decisions. We
can decide to educate ourselves in ref
erence to our current governmental
and social challenges or we can be
happy with what others have decided
we should think about
In truth, the television is not the
: whole problem. Television content is a
great disgrace, but we each choose to
sit down and gaze. It’s a lot easier to
follow the old, easy patterns of mind
less entertainment than it is to cre
ate a new hobby or interest. The
human mind loves patterns. New
patterns are tough to
create and old ones are
hard to break - but it’s
worth a try.
Neal Obermeyer/DN
Michael Donley is a senior sociology major and a Daily Nebraskan columnist