Volume 80, Number 14 | September 2-8, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

Outing AIM’s idiocy after it ‘outs’ Zinn as a Communist

By Barrett Zinn Gross

A certain editor recently sent me an e-mail with “Howard Zinn ‘Outed’ as a Communist and a Liar” in the subject line. I am asked often if we are related, as my left-leaning politics lead many to believe. The answer is no; my middle name, Zinn, comes from my maternal grandfather, who was adopted in Austria in the late 19th century, and is by blood a Torten.

And the truth is I have only skimmed Zinn’s seminal 1980 book, “A People’s History of the United States.” I recall a strident, one-sided presentation of alternative history without a single citation of primary source evidence. Although a 2004 book edited by Zinn provides cover for the sins of the original, I prefer history to be either fictional or scholarly. “A People’s History of the United States” is neither.

But the bigger question is, why bother calling him a Communist? I thought Muslims and baby-dropping immigrants were bogeymen de jour of the right. When did Commies become a threat again?

It’s a sign of desperation when people make wild accusations to discredit their enemies. Various versions of “A People’s History” have been taught in high school and college history classes throughout America for more than two decades. Howard Zinn’s legacy of exposing the injustice inherent in America’s social and foreign policies is deeply threatening to right-wing ideologues. They are delighted by any opportunity to impugn Zinn and his legacy.

It turns out the e-mail originated at a Web site called Accuracy In Media, or aim.org. To give you an idea of where these people are coming from, there is an article on their front page bemoaning Glenn Beck’s absence of leadership in the culture wars.

Accuracy in Media is an outlet for the strange breed of otherwise sentient human beings — O.S.H.B.’s, for short — known as Tea Partiers. Back in ’04, I invented the term O.S.H.B. to characterize anyone who could speak in full sentences but still planned to vote for Bush again. Today, they are ruining the Republican Party’s chances to retake the U.S. Congress. But more on that in another column.

The basis of the article was Zinn’s F.B.I. file, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. This in itself is ironic, since the right has always hated and tried to weaken this valuable piece of legislation. In the file, “reliable sources” working for the infamous cross-dresser J. Edgar Hoover insist that Zinn was a Communist because he once told a college classroom, “I stand to the left of Mao.” That was also a favorite laugh line of one of my music professors.

In a post-Dubya, post-Iraq, post-Katrina, post subprime meltdown, post-Sarah Palin world, one would hope the O.S.H.B.’s would finally see the error of their ways. Alas, it is not to be. The xenophobic hard right is unbowed and unbroken. If their corporate mouthpieces / overlords at Fox News are to be believed, they are more numerous than ever.

The O.S.H.B.’s will fight against any form of social progress despite vast evidence of their own victimization at the hands of Reagan and his heirs. In the two years since Obama’s election, they have vitriolically defended their right to have their pockets picked by the healthcare and financial industries, while vigorously opposing any government efforts to repair their crumbling infrastructure, improve their public schools or modernize their energy supply. At the same time, they will insist that we continue to spend billions doing exactly the things in Iraq and Afghanistan that we cannot afford in America, and sacrifice thousands of young lives in the process.

The O.S.H.B.’s demand laws that harass, imprison and deport the immigrants who butcher their meat, pick their crops, build their homes and tend their gardens, as if the American dream belongs only to those legally admitted to this country before 9/11. Most recently, they will insist on reducing government spending by cutting their own Social Security benefits, while at the same time demanding hundreds of billions in tax cuts for a handful of the wealthiest Americans. In a world of science-fiction digital convergence, where the technology of Dick Tracy’s wristwatch-phone is accessible even to the homeless, the cognitive dissonance of the hard-right wing is a wonder to behold.

To the O.S.H.B.’s, Zinn hated injustice in America; ergo, he hated America; ergo, he was a Communist. This airtight logic is repeated nightly on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard and on any Fox News discussion of the proposed Islamic community center on Park Place. Why stop at calling Zinn a Communist? He was probably a secret Muslim, too! Communists, Muslims, illegal immigrants — they are all the same, the other, the threat, in the eyes of the paranoid or the willfully ignorant. Proving the point, aim.org proudly trumpets the second- and third-degree connections between Zinn and Obama in its article.

To the O.S.H.B.’s, I say: Damn right, Howard Zinn was a Communist! Good for him, too. My fraternal grandfather, a Jewish immigrant who came to this country without a word of English, became a dentist and worked well into his 80’s. He used to joke about the fact that he was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party in the 1930’s. The Great Depression was a time when corporate greed and environmental change devastated our economy and impoverished our citizenry. Many intellectuals had high hopes that socialism and Marxism could improve the world. There was a rise in support for xenophobes and fascists at the same time. We seem headed for similar tormented times.

On a closing note, I’ll mention an experience I had as a tutor in a public high school last fall. Several of the students inspired me with their intense interest in politics, but they held some bizarre misbeliefs. One railed against the “Communists” we were fighting in Iraq; another thought the world’s three largest religions were Christianity, Catholicism and Judaism, in that order. Yet another complained bitterly about the Californians who voted to deprive gays of their constitutionally guaranteed right to marry. Why didn’t they study more, I asked? Another student answered: “This is New York in 2009. We have the Internet.”

And so do we, and so do the O.S.H.B.’s and their mouthpieces like aim.org. Breaking News: Howard Zinn was a Communist! And with spasms of ridiculousness like this, the Reagan Revolution is slowly, fitfully coming to a close.

P.S.: Here’s another news flash for all the O.S.H.B.’s reading this column: Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. Thanks for the laughs, Senator Franken, and keep up the good work.

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