Americans and Socialism — “You Just Have to Get Their Attention"

There is an old story about a Quaker farmer who had a visitor one day. After chatting a bit, the farmer said, “I have to do some chores. Does thee want to come along?”

“Sure,” said the visitor.

The farmer went out to the barn and went to the stall of a mule. “This is Mortimer,” he said. Then he picked up a two-by-four about four feet long and whacked Mortimer on the head with it.

“Why in heaven’s name did thee do that?” the shocked visitor cried.

“Oh, Morty is a fine old mule—very hard worker. It’s just a little hard to get his attention.”

That, I think, is a big problem with Americans and socialism. To begin to discuss such a theoretical, airy-fairy notion as that with them, you first have to get their attention.

I don’t mean, of course, hitting them with a two-by-four, or any other kind of violence. But something has to get their minds off what they are usually paying attention to, which is definitely not an alternative economic system.

The Great Depression of the 1930s was such a whack on the head, but even that didn’t get everyone to listen up to socialists such as Gene Debs, though there was more interest in the subject in those years than there has been before or since.

If even such a catastrophe as that didn’t divert very many people from voting Democratic faithfully, what might do the trick? We certainly wouldn’t want anything as painful as another 1930s to happen, but is there anything else that would serve socialists even better?

I think I will write a bit more on that subject before long.

qedd© Jon Johanning 2011