(Swans - March 28, 2011) In order to better understand the role played by socialism in the American political landscape, it might be helpful to look in on a recent Town Hall meeting convened by the city fathers of Pleasantville, USA. Barney R., town councilman and president of the PTA, has proposed an appropriation from the general fund to pay for a couple of buckets of reflective paint and two paintbrushes for a city crew to use to repaint the lines in the school crosswalks in town, which have become faded and difficult to see. Councilman Fred F. jumps to his feet, pounds his fist on the table, and thunders,
"That smacks of socialism, councilman. We won't stand for that here in Pleasantville! You can take your Bolshevik ideas back to your comrades in Moscow where you came from."
Councilman Barney protests,
"I'm no socialist, Fred. You've known me all my life and you know I was born and raised right here in Pleasantville. I just think it would make sense for the safety of the schoolchildren if we make the crosswalk lines more visible."
Fred's not really a bad guy. He cares about the kids, too. But as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, he knows that they're trying to lure a factory or two to Pleasantville by offering them a fifty year exemption on all taxes, so that those same kids will later on have the opportunity to spend their adult lives slapping together widgets for minimum wage. If they succeed, it's going to take every dime in the general fund just to cover the absolute basic necessities like police protection, fire protection, transportation and accommodations for Chamber members to attend those trade shows in Las Vegas and Atlantic City for the good of the future of Pleasantville. There's just no money available for frills, so he slams down his fist again and shouts,
"No sir. There will be no socialism in Pleasantville. Not here! Not ever!"
Barney likes being president of the PTA. He thinks that he does a good job there and would like to remain on the job to try to continue accomplishing what good he can. So he meekly sits down so as not to offend the good will of those whose support has put him in the job, quietly muttering something about children and safety. It's decided to put the matter in the hands of the good people of Pleasantville in the form of a referendum.
It's worth noting here that out of a population of some 30,000 citizens in Pleasantville, less than five possess the capacity to step up to the rostrum and provide a coherent definition of what socialism actually is, how it works, and what benefits it might offer against what drawbacks it might suffer. And the two or three who could explain it have pretty much given up trying. Which doesn't prevent it from being an active component of the Crosswalk Referendum debates that take place around the water cooler, at the coffee shop, and in Bud's Bar & Grill during the weeks leading up to election day.
Come election day, about half of the good citizens of Pleasantville, maybe a few more, maybe a few less, enter the booth thinking, "It just makes good sense to have visible crosswalks by the school. I just don't see how giving them a fresh coat of paint could possibly be socialism." And the other half, give or take a few, enter the booth thinking, "Even if the crosswalks are a little faded, we can't just let these socialists come in here and start telling us how to run our town. Who knows what that could lead to."
The state of the crosswalk lines in Pleasantville represents a microcosm of the political wrangles that go on day in and day out, every week of every year, at every level of democratic government, local, urban municipal, state, and national. Sometimes the crosswalks get a new coat of paint. Sometimes they don't. That much is of marginal relevance. The important thing is that here in Pleasantville there are no Godless socialists. We're all good Americans here!
(Just to be on the safe side, though, better keep an eye on that Barney guy.)
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Michael DeLang is a self-defined middle-aged blue collar worker in the trucking industry who lives in Golden, Colorado. (back)