Mislabeling a Brezhnevian G.O.P. coup as “stalinism”

“Bad search engines can yield amusing results” was the original name of this post. Pardon me if that sounds like a weak headline from most any daily newspaper you’re able to find in Milwaukee these days. (How many are there now again?) But it’s true. I was trying to find the editorial in which the Wisconsin State Journal referred to Madison’s Progressive Dane party as “stalinist.” Not even Google would turn that one up, so I tried WSJ’s search engine.

While the editorial which condemned Progressive Dane was absent, the very last item in the results was quite amusing to me:

PEOPLE OF NOTE

ARTICLE: Barry Alvarez

Linking “stalinism” and the football team’s coach is the most daring thing I’ve seen the State Journal do in decades. If not the most honest.

But what am I saying? As the Badger Herald once printed, such labels should not be lightly tossed around. Especially when people don’t know anything about what the labels actually mean.

As someone who’s extensively studied Russian and Soviet history, I may be a little better able to do that with the term “stalinism.” I’m not sure I’d use it to describe Alvarez. He’s no Joe Stalin. For instance, Josef Stalin helped beat Hitler in World War II. And that’s fine and good. But did he ever lead a football team to the Rose Bowl? I don’t think so!

So when New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes that “G.O.P. Stalinists” have “invade[d] Upstate New York,” I have to pause to wonder. Is this another case of the misapplication of an incendiary phrase, similar to calling President Obama a marxist? When the Progressive Dane party and future-former Republican evangelists such as Sarah Palin and the teabaggers are labelled “stalinists,” I have to wonder if that’s appropriate. Or even correct. These terms tend to be applied when somone is trying to raise the temper of their perceived audience, even when they don’t really know what they’re saying. Sadly, it works.

I have a hunch that Frank Rich knows something about the history of the Soviet Union and the horrors that befell it under Uncle Joe. He probably knows a lot more about it than Sarah Palin does, even if her house happened to be on Attu Island. Calling the move “stalinist” may be over-reaching, but I take that term literally. To me, it means having secret police rounding up people in the middle of the night, and taking them to deep underground prisons, from which they never return.

This is not to say that Mr. Rich does not have a point. As I’ve wondered aloud, what will be the effect of the moderate Republicans such as Dede Scozzafava getting pushed out by the reactionary wing of the party and its once-and-future members?

While this has been a purge, to the best of my knowledge, it has been a completely bloodless purge. Thus it is much more in line with the outer of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was put on trial by the Soviet Politburo on drummed-up charges two years after the Cuban-Turkish Missile Crisis and quietly made to step down.

So, even if Palin couldn’t actually see Russia from her house (wink!), the rush to throw love and money at Hoffman seems slightly more in the style of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (the Politburo) in 1964 than Stalin’s Great Purge (nee “Great Terror”) of 1932-1939.

But who on earth knows what you’re talking about if you say, “Geez, the G.O.P. sure pulled a real Brezhnevian coup there in New York twenty-third, huh?”

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.