Whitewashing Pete Seeger in the Wall Street Journal

 

Like Andrew, I thought that Peter Robinson was excessively charitable in his discussion of the late Pete Seeger. After all, the old apparatchik waited until 1995 to break with Joe Stalin, and his instinct for thuggery stayed with him to the very end. Witness his support for Occupy Wall Street.

Moreover, when invited to sing at the first inauguration of Barack Obama, Seeger resurrected some telling verses ordinarily snipped these days from his old comrade Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land, which was written in 1940 as the Popular Front’s answer to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,And on the sign there, it said, “No Trespassing.” But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple,By the relief office I seen my people;As they stood there hungry, I stood there askingIs this land made for you and me?

Seeger may have decided at some point after the collapse of the Soviet Union to jettison the old baggage. But the old leopard did not change his spots. As he readily acknowledged, he remained a small-c communist until the very end. He was, as Howard Husock observed in a fine article in City Journal nine years ago, America’s Most Successful Communist.

There are only two things about the response to his death that surprise me. The first is the fact that Pravda-on-the-Hudson mentioned that he once followed “the Communist Party line.” Years ago, that outlet decided to redefine Angela Davis, who had actually run for high office on the Communist Party ticket and who never tried to hide her allegiance to the Soviet Union, as a warm and fuzzy “social activist.” That move marked the revival of the Popular Front in American politics, and it prepared the way for the transformation of the Democratic Party visible today. I am amazed that the obituary that appeared in New York’s Pravda said anything at all about Seeger’s unsavory past. I would have expected the folks who brought us Bill de Blasio to write something like this:

Once called “America’s tuning fork,” Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along.

That bit of agitprop was reserved, however, for the President of the United States.

The other thing that amazed me was that, in its treatment of Seeger, The Wall Street Journal was considerably more dishonest than Pravda-on-the-Hudson. In the notice that appeared on Wednesday, Stephen Miller referred to “accusations of Communist sympathies [that] hamstrung” Seeger’s efforts. He noted that he had refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, that he was convicted of contempt of Congress in 1961, and that the verdict was overturned in 1963, but he never acknowledges that Seeger was ever a member of the Communist Party, that he ever supported the Soviet Union, that he was part of a conspiracy to subject this country to a murderous dictatorship. Nope, we learn only that he “marched with Martin Luther King Jr.” and that “his causes came to embrace environmentalism, the Iraq War, and Occupy Wall Street.” In short, one is left with the impression that Pete Seeger was a social activist more sinned against than sinning.

That same day, in the section on Leisure & Arts, Jim Fusilli threw in his two cents. He mentioned Seeger’s participation, along with Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, and Millar Lampell, in the Almanach Singers, “a folk group staunchly supportive of unions, racial justice and religious equality.” He leaves out their support for communism and their defense of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. To be fair, Fusilli does note that the group was “hounded for its communist affiliations,” but he leaves one with the impression that those affiliations were entirely honorable and that the hounding was entirely regrettable. He, too, touches on Seeger’s refusal to testify and notes ruefully that he was for a time banned from television. But he never pauses to reflect on the man’s allegiances. The last three paragraphs of his piece tell the tale:

Troubadour, rabble rouser, thorn in the side of the bloated and complacent, recipient of the National Medal of Arts, American idealist and family man, Seeger maintained what Mr. Springsteen called his “nasty optimism” until late in life. In 2011, he marched in Manhattan in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, talking reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience,” Mr. Springsteen said in May 2009 during celebrations at Madison Square Garden honoring Seeger’s 90th birthday. The event featured dozens of musicians influenced by Seeger.

“The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place,” said Seeger in 2008. That is his enduring legacy.

Someone should assign Miller, Fusilli, and Bruce Springsteen to read in its entirety Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Perhaps, then, they would come to understand the cause that Pete Seeger’s championing of unions, civil rights, and environmentalism was really intended to serve.

The idea of using music and the arts more generally to subvert allegiance to this country and to make Americans thoroughly ashamed of a history that is, for the most part, admirable, the idea of using music and the arts more generally to undermine the principles that make this country prosperous and free, and the idea of using music and the arts to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a thuggish, populist, kleptocratic dictatorship here—that is Peter Seeger’s legacy, and it is, alas, enduring.

Much, if not most, of what we see on television and in the movies; much, if not most, of what we hear on the radio these days is soothing agitprop, and Pete Seeger was its master.

I sometimes wonder whether Rupert Murdoch ever reads his newspaper. Those who whitewash horrors in the past prepare the way for horrors in the future. If a troubadour really wanted to be “a thorn in the side of the bloated and complacent” today, he would start with the credentialed elite that brought us Obamacare, the global warming scam, and the Occupy Wall Street circus. He would start with those who take communist thugs and pass them off as social activists. I doubt, however, whether such a troubadour would get any air time at all in today’s America.

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  1. Profile Photo Listener
    @FricosisGuy

    He was sure was punctilious in his about faces upon the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, then Operation Barbarossa.

    I hope that lousy Commie repented.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @EJHill

    Pete Seeger: Still a Commie, Still Dead.

    Be grateful.

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    @

    A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union. He obviously would have been laughed out of polite company (more likely, tossed out on his ear) and been savaged in every obit.

    It’s nice that Seeger kinda, sorta disowned Stalin’s mountain of skulls a half century after it mattered, but a brief apology hardly seems sufficient.

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    @FricosisGuy

    He got pretty darned close, of course, while the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in force.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union. He obviously would have been laughed out of polite company (more likely, tossed out on his ear) and been savaged in every obit.

    It’s nice that Seeger kinda, sorta disowned Stalin’s mountain of skulls a half century after it mattered, but a brief apology hardly seems sufficient. · in 0 minutes

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @Instugator
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union. He obviously would have been laughed out of polite company (more likely, tossed out on his ear) and been savaged in every obit.

    It’s nice that Seeger kinda, sorta disowned Stalin’s mountain of skulls a half century after it mattered, but a brief apology hardly seems sufficient. · in 0 minutes

    I commented on this very thing here. The moneyline…

    However, the key takeaway is in the headline and is directed to our Media -“If only Leni Reifenstahl was a Communist like Pete Seeger…”

    • #5
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    @

    Speaking for the under-30 crowd,  I don’t understand why his death is such a big deal.  I can only assume that the left wing media is trying to canonize a progressive hero.  Thankfully, he’ll be lost to history in a week or so. 

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    @flownover

    I say we dig Paul Robeson up , then Lincoln Steffens , Upton Sinclair, Walter Duranty , John Dewey , the list goes on and on . 

    I imagine all of their obituaries were glowing in most circles . 

    One verse of the Big Joe Blues won’t revive 30 million dead. Certain things we have to let the Almighty decide and I bet that banjo is damned hard to tune in extreme temperatures.

    With the presidential brother’s picture surfacing as he wear a kaffiyeh with Death to Israel messages, I’d say we have bigger fish fry in the media . Perhaps a mention or two rather than dead folksingers ?

    • #7
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    @PaulARahe
    Bob Laing: Speaking for the under-30 crowd,  I don’t understand why his death is such a big deal.  I can only assume that the left wing media is trying to canonize a progressive hero.  Thankfully, he’ll be lost to history in a week or so.  · 32 minutes ago

    For the mainstream media to eulogize Pete Seeger is for them to praise themselves. Those who control the manner in which we think about the past control our future.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @GumbyMark
    Fricosis Guy: He got pretty darned close, of course, while the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in force.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union. He obviously would have been laughed out of polite company (more likely, tossed out on his ear) and been savaged in every obit.

    It’s nice that Seeger kinda, sorta disowned Stalin’s mountain of skulls a half century after it mattered, but a brief apology hardly seems sufficient. · in 0 minutes

    1 hour ago

    What is pathetic is that if he had merely been guilty of flirting with Hitler he would have ended up an outcast.  Instead he got the protective sheen of being a communist which insulated him from his Nazi collaboration period and he ends up celebrated by our media.   Odd world we live in.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    @billy
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union. He obviously would have been laughed out of polite company (more likely, tossed out on his ear) and been savaged in every obit.

    It’s nice that Seeger kinda, sorta disowned Stalin’s mountain of skulls a half century after it mattered, but a brief apology hardly seems sufficient. · 1 hour ago

    That’s not fair Jon. I remember the media just gushing when the folk-stylings of Prussian Blue burst on to the scene.

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    @Franco

    I won’t forgive him of the crime of using music to actively promote a partisan cause. If there is anything un-musical and in-artistic, it’s trying to force a point of view on people. Nothing so grates my ear as being preached to in the form of song.

    Such a man is not an artist but a propagandist.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @GumbyMark
    Franco: I won’t forgive him of the crime of using music to actively promote a partisan cause. If there is anything un-musical and in-artistic, it’s trying to force a point of view on people. Nothing so grates my ear as being preached to in the form of song.

    Such a man is not an artist but a propagandist. · 5 minutes ago

    That’s what distinguishes Seeger from many other artist and entertainers whose political views I disagree with (that is, apart from the extreme nature of his politics).  For most, politics is merely a sidelight for what they are otherwise doing and it doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment if they are good at what they do.  For Seeger, art was solely a vehicle for his rotten politics, it was all bundled up together. 

    • #12
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    @FricosisGuy

    Sheen is a good word. It describes the slick left behind as Seeger oozed Leninist expediency.

    Mark

    Fricosis Guy: He got pretty darned close, of course, while the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in force.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union. He obviously would have been laughed out of polite company (more likely, tossed out on his ear) and been savaged in every obit.

    It’s nice that Seeger kinda, sorta disowned Stalin’s mountain of skulls a half century after it mattered, but a brief apology hardly seems sufficient. · in 0 minutes

    1 hour ago

    What is pathetic is that if he had merely been guilty of flirting with Hitler he would have ended up an outcast.  Instead he got the protective sheen of being a communist which insulated him from his Nazi collaboration period and he ends up celebrated by our media.   Odd world we live in. · 18 minutes ago

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe

    For a defense of Seeger, see this. For a critique that makes my own discussion look tame, see this. Ed Driscoll is also worth reading.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ScarletPimpernel

    This post reminds me of a point I read somewhere recently: the fall of the Soviet Union has liberated the Left.

    Absent a particular, tyrannical foreign nation to cheer for, and to be accused of supporting, the Left can reveal its true colors in the U.S.  Moreover, given how history is taught to most of our kids, few will recognize the truth about what is being said and done in the name of “social justice.”

    That’s why the Times can mention his communism. The word only resonates for a few.  Had he died in 1985, it would have been very different.

    P.S. The Journal’s news pages have always been more Lefty than the Times’, statistically speaking–see Tim G’s work.

    • #15
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    @PaulARahe
    Scarlet Pimpernel: This post reminds me of a point I read somewhere recently: the fall of the Soviet Union has liberated the Left.

    Absent a particular, tyrannical foreign nation to cheer for, and to be accused of supporting, the Left can reveal its true colors in the U.S.  Moreover, given how history is taught to most of our kids, few will recognize the truth about what is being said and done in the name of “social justice.”

    That’s why the Times can mention his communism. The word only resonates for a few.  Had he died in 1985, it would have been very different.

    P.S. The Journal’s news pages have always been more Lefty than the Times’, statistically speaking–see Tim G’s work. · 37 minutes ago

    Interesting.

    • #16
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    @SouthernPessimist
    Paul A. Rahe: For a defense of Seeger, see this. For a critique that makes my own discussion look tame, see this. Ed Driscoll is also worth reading. · 47 minutes ago

    For another thoughtful defense of Seeger, I can link you to this letter in today’s Post and Courier.

    The significant point to me is in the opening paragraph:

    “For all his years at the edge of politics – and the center of folk culture – he really never thought very deeply about ideologies. And for all his lifetime of thinking enough about the world to write some wonderful songs, he was by no means an intellectual.”

    Pete Seeger, like most liberals, never thought deeply about any of the obvious problems  and challenges of our life. He blindly thought that if poverty and racism were wrong, then he was smarter than the rest of us because he had at least figured that much out and obviously the rest of us haven’t figured that out.

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  18. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe

    Here is Tom Lehrer on the changes Pete Seeger wrought:

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @GumbyMark
    Southern Pessimist

    Paul A. Rahe: For a defense of Seeger, see this. For a critique that makes my own discussion look tame, see this. Ed Driscoll is also worth reading. · 47 minutes ago

    For another thoughtful defense of Seeger, I can link you to this letter in today’s Post and Courier.

    Pete Seeger, like most liberals, never thought deeply about any of the obvious problems  and challenges of our life. He blindly thought that if poverty and racism were wrong, then he was smarter than the rest of us because he had at least figured that much out and obviously the rest of us haven’t figured that out. · 3 minutes ago

    One of the transformations that began in the 60s is the collapse of anti-communist liberalism of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and early 60s.  There once was a vibrant anti-communist liberalism – for instance, The Americans For Democratic Action, JFK, Humphrey, and even Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party was fiercely anti-communist.  Somehow that all got lost and liberals today just see Seeger as one of them and the entire history of the anti-communist left has been erased from the memory banks.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Member
    @TheLostDutchman
    Franco: I won’t forgive him of the crime of using music to actively promote a partisan cause. If there is anything un-musical and in-artistic, it’s trying to force a point of view on people. Nothing so grates my ear as being preached to in the form of song.

    Such a man is not an artist but a propagandist. · 1 hour ago

    So you don’t like my three-act opera about supply-side economics and effective anti-poverty policy?

    :-(

    • #20
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    @Solon
    Paul A. Rahe: Here is Tom Lehrer on the changes Pete Seeger wrought: ·

    Tom Lehrer is one of my heroes!  Funny how the folk singers think they are so original.  I remember when they re-did ‘Give Peace a Chance’ for the 1st Iraq war, and my dad said sarcastically, “Oh, give peace a chance, I never thought about that!” 

    Bach said that all music should be in praise of God, the opposite of these rebellious sentiments that predominate music now. 

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Member
    @Franco
    The Lost Dutchman

    Franco: I won’t forgive him of the crime of using music to actively promote a partisan cause. If there is anything un-musical and in-artistic, it’s trying to force a point of view on people. Nothing so grates my ear as being preached to in the form of song.

    Such a man is not an artist but a propagandist. · 1 hour ago

    So you don’t like my three-act opera about supply-side economics and effective anti-poverty policy?

    :-( · 4 minutes ago

    You wrote Les Miz? Who knew?

    • #22
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    @Gretchen
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: A good thought experiment is to consider if Pete Seeger showed the same sympathies to the Third Reich as he did for the Soviet Union.[…]

    Actually, he did, as did all good Communists and communists right up until Hitler broke the pact and invaded Mother Russia. (Which, curiously, was also the moment when the American press turned in favor of the U.S. entering the war.)

    And thank you, Dr. Rahe, for telling it like it was.

    • #23
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    @EJHill
    Paul A. Rahe: I sometimes wonder whether Rupert Murdoch ever reads his newspaper.

    If Mr. Murdoch ever said anything the squawking would never stop. Reporters and editors would be quoted about how Rupert allows his politics to interfere with the editorial decisions of the paper.

    • #24
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    @BasilFawlty

    When I read in the WSJ tribute about Seeger’s role in bringing folk music (e.g., The Lion Sleeps Tonight) into popular music, I couldn’t help but recall Mark Steyn’s take on the subject.  And despair of the paper.

    • #25
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    @Douglas
    EJHill

    Paul A. Rahe: I sometimes wonder whether Rupert Murdoch ever reads his newspaper.

    If Mr. Murdoch ever said anything the squawking would never stop. Reporters and editors would be quoted about how Rupert allows his politics to interfere with the editorial decisions of the paper. · 1 hour ago

    They say that anyway, though. So he may as well do as he pleases.

    • #26

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