(this is a bit dated, as all personal statements become. It was written probably in 2009 as a pre-emptive response, and also so i would not feel like muddying up the story in any other locations with disclaimers)
A lot of people hung out in Henry's kitchen. I was one of them. I am not a Socialist, neither am I a socialist. This story was just too good to let it disappear. Henry Schnautz shared whatever he had, and he had damn little. He told me he did not talk about his past a lot because people misunderstood, thought he was un-American. Some people did not know what to make of him, so naturally they try to connect the dots to something they know. He was not the kind of guy that took orders. He was exactly what he seemed to be. He was a very literate old guy, when I knew him, who knew more about every period of history, and had more interesting stories to tell, than anybody I ever met. I am rather sure he was not a member of any political group after the mid to late 40s. From 1960 on he was consumed by his history studies.
Tony Judt, historian, noted the recent tendency to use the word socialism as a political slur, and said, i am not interested in defending an abstraction, if i were going to defend an abstraction, i would defend justice, or truth.
As for me, if it matters, I have almost always voted Democrat for President, because I think a Democrat president is more likely to not go to war. I am fundamentally anti-war and do not understand the American tolerance for war and for war budgets. At all lower levels, senate, governor, I have been just as likely in later years to vote Repubican. My mind is open now, as our current Democrat president seems to be pretty inept. I think Republican and Democrat are labels, and to a certain extent you lose your independence of mind if you adopt either one.
I believe America is in a fair amount of trouble. The precipitous decline of manufacturing is the most obvious sign of the real problem. You cannot go to the store and buy a tool or an appliance or a toothbrush that is made in America. How are people supposed to support themselves? I have seen this for years, at first, I heard the nonsense that we were post-industrial, or that we were now an information society, or jobs were going to the service sector. We have a 600 year industrial revolution, going back to Leonardo, and we have allowed the thrill of invention to die. Kids need to see tractors being built. They need to see steel being melted. Steel is the stuff of civilization since 1000 B.C. They don't call it the iron age for nothing. If you don't want to do that stuff, you are going to buy it from the experts. American won two world wars on the strength of its ability to mold steel.
We have so many bogus arguments in America today. Somebody needs to figure out why people divide themselves into two camps and fight. I am completely independent and feel uncomfortable when anyone assumes i am a member of anything. I am not a joiner. No one can claim me. As I get older, I identify less and less with what liberalism has become.
One area where America has retained its joy of learning, is medicine. A lot of medicine is trash, the tranquilizers, the pill in case your other pill is not working, but the medical industry as a whole is amazingly competent, replacing knees, etc. Why has America done so well? It has not worried about the cost, and everybody wants to live longer and better. Now the cost is too high, but at least it is a type of excellence. America has been unwilling to save money if it meant someone had to die sooner. Good. Its a refreshing change from the overwhelming commercialism of everything.
America though is going bankrupt, at least many of its citizens are. America went to the moon, and now we pay other nations to take us to the space station. We used to make toasters. Manufacturing needs to be seen as a survival issue, just like transplanting a heart. We need jobs, and we need to pay the premium that it takes to have them. We will not have a society if we do not have jobs. There is a great joy in designing something and building it. There is a great joy in learning how things work. Outsourcing is quitting. Manufacturing is a creative art. Inventing radio changes the world. If you outsource all your radio production, the television gets invented over there.
Socialism, as noted, is an abstraction. Socialists split and argue more often than Protestants. I really favor the analogy that Socialism was a replacement for religion after its adherents lost their faith. Unfortunately, conservatism is also a religion stand-in these days. Such statements as conservatism has always worked every time its been tried, those are statements of faith. Its not even possible to define. The political argument in America is like the intense middle ages argument, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I am sure people died over it. America needs to drop the government by slogan approach and try to understand where real jobs come from. If there was a little more job satisfaction, there would be less stupid arguing. I don't quite understand why people feel so much compulsion to pick sides and either attack or defend, against any logic, the other side.
Socialism in America - it peaked before WW1 - was a reaction to poverty. In that sense, it is totally improper to get hysterical about it. It was a different place and time. What the people who are now crying socialism and using it for an insult are objecting to is the tendency to be autocratic - central planning. You cannot have a politician telling Leonardo what to invent. You can never predict what the next big thing will be. The train, the telegraph, the telephone, developing steel from cast iron, the electric system, the internal combustion engine, none of these could have been predicted. They had to be invented. Its a reason to be optimistic, things are waiting out there.
We need to restore an environment where business can prosper but most of all, where small business can start up. We will always have business that fails. What we have today, is not enough new business starting up. Innovation comes from small business, big business absorbs it, big business grows and dies, then it starts over.
Socialism to the idealist Americans in the early part of the 20th century, meant, as much as anything, an end to the corruption, an end to central planning for the benefit of the elite. Their own definition - it is a fair distribution of the fruits of effort. Slavery, debt slavery, peonage, working without hope of benefit, crushing, unhealthy conditions, creating vast empires with labor held in poverty, these were more evident in the early 20th century than today. Many of the early socialists were not-very-well-off intellectuals. There was real poverty in rural America before WW2. There was nothing shameful about reaching for a better way. They were not looking for a handout, they were looking for a fair shake.
I am a believer in free enterprise. Obviously its the creativity of the individual that is the source of everything. Since World War Two though, America has spent too much on projecting its power around the world, forgetting the real source of its strength. Systems, all systems, grow, consolidate, strengthen, stiffen, weaken and die. I think we have a system where the political and the financial are consolidating. How can a business be too big to fail and call it anything except a monarchy? Modern american democracy is largely a war of propaganda. Those who control the message, and can buy the most skillful molders and presenters of that message, gain power. We award many things extravagantly, but not the guy willing to build toasters. He does have too much red tape, too many taxes, and too many problems other than how to build this thing. The government has watched while small manufacturers have gone out of business and walmart imports everything. How can you have a vibrant society when you do not even have the knowledge to build the stuff you need? In that sense, the modern political arguments are all foolish, like squabbling on the deck of the Titanic.
Those who maintain manufacturing, who fight hard not to fold up, who hire people and give them a chance to earn a living and raise their family, they put far more into their communities than any charity or government program.
I believe the majority of people will always be interested in making things, and that is what needs to be restored, the middle class who just make things. How that is done I don't know, but it does not seem like it should be that difficult. I think we will get back to it. Things have a way of working out.
Other than that, if its a good story, you dont need a reason to tell it.