Been There, Done That

Guess Who Would Be Labeled a Socialist in Today’s Politics

By RICK MELLERUP | Mar 13, 2019

Who knows who will emerge from the crowded field to become the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020? However, it is pretty clear that Donald Trump, the GOP and the conservative media will blast that candidate, even if he or she is a slightly left of center traditional Democrat, such as Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar, as a dangerous socialist.

They’re already doing it, saying all Democrats have signed on to new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a 70 percent marginal federal income tax rate for incomes over $10 million and a Green New Deal and Bernie Sander’s Medicare for all, free public college and $15 minimum wage plans. All Dems haven’t signed up for socialism, of course, with the example of local Representatives Andy Kim and Jeff Van Drew, who still lean more toward the center than the far left, but they’re all being painted with the same brush.

Democrats are being put in the same boat as socialist dictators such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro or, worse, infamous communist tyrants such as Stalin, Mao, Castro and three generations of North Korea’s Kim dynasty. Sanders will tell you that’s a different kind of socialism than the democratic socialism he’s talking about in the form of Scandinavian countries, but the likes of Sean Hannity will say socialism is socialism is socialism period.

Well, if all forms of socialism are equally poisonous, I suggest we should add another name to the right wing’s long list of socialist monsters: Dwight Eisenhower!

The top tax rate in the U.S. during the 1953 to 1961 Eisenhower administration was over 90 percent. Just about everybody I’ve ever told that said I’m crazy. Well, Google it! And the highest tax rate during Eisenhower’s days in the White House was applied to incomes over $200,000, which translates to approximately $2.4 million today. The U.S. of the 1950s not only taxed the rich far more than what Ocasio-Cortez is recommending, but taxed less wealthy people than she is asking for as well.

That sounds pretty socialist. And you can’t blame it on a Democratic Congress. We had a divided government for six out of Ike’s eight years, but the 83rd Congress, which sat from 1953-54, was controlled by the GOP. If Republicans had wanted lower taxes, it seems like they would have struck then.

In 1956, Eisenhower launched one of the largest public works projects in American history, the Interstate Highway System. Some Democrats in Congress supported it, but don’t think it was they who pushed it, because the official name of the system is the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The “Defense Highways” part of that title was rather misleading because while our major enemies at the time – the Soviet Union and Red China – posed a nuclear threat, there was no way in hell that they, with their limited navies, could have ever launched an amphibious attack on the continental U.S. at that time (that is true to this day), necessitating the rapid movement of troops across the country. The main, uh, drive behind the interstate was economic, not military.

The Communists in Russia and China were known for their “Five Year Plans.” The Interstate Highway System put them to shame. Launched in 1956, the original construction, authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, wasn’t completed until 35 years later.

That wasn’t the only huge public works project approved by Eisenhower. On May 13, 1954, he signed the Wiley-Dondero Seaway Act, which authorized the joint construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway by Canada and the U.S., a series of canals and locks that joined the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The seaway diverted much of the Great Lakes shipping through Montreal and Quebec, Canadian cities, away from New York City, which had been the shipping capital of the world, thanks in part to the Erie Canal. The outdated Erie, it has to be imagined, could have been enlarged. But the U.S., under Eisenhower, allowed the expansion of trade to go, in the main, through Canada instead. Imagine, in today’s “American First” climate, if the internationalist seaway were to be suggested.

More examples of Eisenhower’s socialist leanings: He was the president of Columbia University from 1948 through 1953, what today’s critics would call a left-wing elitist university. He was the first supreme allied commander Europe of NATO, another internationalist effort, from 1951 to 1952. NATO. He deployed the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to protect the “Little Rock Nine,” nine black students integrating the Little Rock High School in 1957 in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954. Some today would call that a blatant federal intrusion into states’ rights.

Finally, was Eisenhower a communist? After all, he agreed to end the Korean War in a draw instead of nuking North Korea and Red China, as Douglas MacArthur had recommended. He didn’t jump in to support the French in Vietnam after that country’s devastating defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. And he allowed Fidel Castro to march into Havana in 1959.

I’m speaking in jest. Obviously Eisenhower wasn’t a socialist, to say nothing about a communist. But some quick facts:

One, thanks in large part to the high tax rate on the richest Americans, the national debt in 1960, the last year of Eisenhower’s presidency, was $286 billion. Now it is over $22 trillion. Two, thanks to the National Interstate System, motorists can drive across the country in two days if they want to push the pace. Before the system, that trip could take a week on two-lane roads. And forget pleasure trips, imagine how the delivery of goods was sped up by the interstate system, improving the nation’s economy.

Donald Trump, who says he wants to make America great again, has never defined the era when America was great before. But for white Americans (not blacks, because they were being lynched and having police dogs loosed on them), especially union workers, the 1950s might well have been that time.

So, was the 1950s a socialist era or just a time of smart bipartisan politics in the U.S.?

It is according to your definition.

 

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