Monday, June 12, 2006

Coleman wins Spotty with oak leaf collar!

Spot's back, and he sees that Nick Coleman weighed in on the "Reds in the DFL" screed by our favorite bird of pray, Katherine Kersten. In his column, which ran this weekend, he brought a history of the formation of the DFL to the table that shows Katie for the simple smear artist she is. For the column, Nick Coleman wins a Spotty with an oak leaf collar in the professional division. (Spot doesn't think he has ever awarded a Spotty to someone who, like, writes for a living.)

Because there will come a time when the Strib takes this column down, Spot is going to reproduce the whole thing. It is such a useful bit of history.
It was recently revealed in these pages that the DFL Party of Minnesota was "penetrated" by Communists in its early days, with the implication that even to mention this out loud takes courage.

This kind of hyperventilation, delivered from the rear area of an ancient battle, serves an obvious political purpose. But only someone unfamiliar with Minnesota or uninterested in its history would suggest that the Communist attempts to hijack Minnesota's progressive politics in the 1930s and '40s are unknown.

In fact, it was the fight for control of the fledgling DFL Party after World War II that became the very public crucible in which the DFL was formed and found its strength.

A proud history

Like Gov. Tim Pawlenty, I grew up eating at a DFL kitchen table and heard many stories about battles won and lost before I was born. It is sometimes my happy duty to criticize Democrats when they are in power (it's been a long while), and I vote independently. But I have buried too many people who called themselves DFLers to stay quiet when someone throws "DFL" and "Communist" in the same sentence and acts as if they are flinging new dirt.

The short version is well-known: Minnesota liberals purged the Communists who came into the newly merged DFL when Democrats joined with the Farmer-Labor party in 1944. It took one of the biggest political fights in state history.

Reds around the edges

Defeating the Communists took numerous acts of political courage. Not by people who enjoy sullying Minnesota Democrats with the old "Reds" defamation. No, the courage came 60 years ago, from the tough-nosed anti-Communist founders of the DFL -- departed leaders such as Hubert Humphrey, Art Naftalin, Orville Freeman and others who outmaneuvered and outfought undemocratic forces for the soul of the DFL.

In recent years, researchers have learned that the American Communist Party and its operatives in Minnesota were more closely controlled by Moscow than anyone knew in the 1940s. But that just underscores the accomplishments of Humphrey and the rest who stood up to them.

This was a vicious battle for control of a major state party, and the crusade against the Communists helped propel Humphrey to national prominence. It is a story that deserves to be remembered and which used to be told frequently, including in "Almost to the Presidency," Albert Eisele's 1972 book about Humphrey and his rival for the White House, fellow DFLer Eugene McCarthy.

"No single experience of his early political career did more to mold Humphrey as a man and a politician than the savage struggle" for control of the DFL from 1946 to 1948, Eisele wrote. (Washington correspondent for the St. Paul newspaper, Eisele later was press secretary for Vice President Walter Mondale.) Purging the Communists, Eisele added, was "when the future of the party -- and of Humphrey -- was determined."

Humphrey wrongly vilified

It was the ultimate calumny, then, when Arnold Schwarzenegger told the 2004 Republican National Convention that Humphrey sounded like a "Socialist" to Arnold when he heard the 1968 Nixon-Humphrey debates.

(Arnold, it turned out, was a big fat liar: There were no Nixon-Humphrey debates, and Arnold did not even know English in 1968.)

The truth that should be remembered, by Democrats and Republicans alike, is that just as the Cold War began, Minnesota's DFL Party managed to defeat the forces that America continued to fight for 44 more years.

For that service, Hubert Humphrey was vilified as a "red-baiter" all his life. Now, 28 years after his death, with memories fading, the "Commie" threat he fought against is raised again, used by those who tag Democrats with 60-year-old red paint.

In doing so, they stand history on its head.

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