JOHN KERRY has written the introduction to Let America Be America Again, a new but very slim selection of verse by the famous black poet Langston Hughes. In the preface, Kerry insists he was "drawn to incorporate the words" of the title--taken from a poem Hughes wrote in the 1930s--into his presidential run because America is "always in the process of becoming."
That's one way of looking at it. Here's another. Kerry has a special affinity for left-wing literary icons, with Hughes the most conspicuous. Hughes's poem describes America as a place where the "mighty crush the weak" and "millions," yes millions, are "shot down when we strike." America is also full of "rape and rot of graft and stealth, and lies." After bashing America silly, the poet says he will still strive to make this nation a nicer place. By nicer place, he meant a Communist place.
Kerry's choice of campaign poet laureate is curious. In the 1930s and 40s, Hughes was, by his own admission, deeply pro-Soviet. He visited Moscow in the 30s, lived there for a time, and loved it. In "Goodbye Christ," he yearns for Christ to move on and make way for a "real guy named Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME--I said ME!" "Good Morning, Revolution" hails the "Socialist Soviet Republic" and ends with these stirring words: "Let's Go, Revolution."
Among my personal favorites along these lines: "One More 'S' in the U.S.A.," published in the April 2, 1934, Daily Worker, the official organ of the Communist party. The first two lines give us more than a hint of his leanings: "Put one more S in the U.S.A. to make it Soviet." Hughes paid homage to the Soviet Union, Stalin, and Lenin during World War II and even afterwards. He informed senators Joe McCarthy (R.-Wis.) and John McClellan (D.-Ark.) in 1953 that he was no longer enthralled by Moscow, but he always remained a man of the left.
During the campaign, Kerry has also been frequently heard strumming on his guitar Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," which, in its original version in 1940, concluded by chiding America for letting people go hungry. Virtually all his adult life, as Ed Cray notes in his favorable biography, Guthrie was a "fellow traveler" who followed the party line quite scrupulously.
He wrote for the People's World and the Daily Worker, both Communist party publications. He attacked FDR for aiding England during the Hitler-Stalin pact, then switched as soon as Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Fellow radical and friend Pete Seeger insisted that Woody and he "read the Daily Worker and took it as our main guideline in what our politics should be." Cray says Woody "followed the party line even to the extent of endorsing Communist North Korea's invasion of autocratic South Korea."
Hughes's and Guthrie's musings were integral to Kerry's pre-Democratic convention campaign, but Kerry omitted mention of them or their writings in his acceptance speech. A convincing reason: the heartfelt warning to Kerry by his well-wishers at Slate, the online liberal publication.
Timothy Noah complained in a July 26 posting that Kerry, by constantly quoting Hughes, was unfortunately "sanitiz[ing] a Stalinist." Please, Noah begged, "do not incorporate the phrase, 'Let America Be America Again' into your acceptance speech this Thursday. The New York Times is onto this. The Washington Post can't be far behind."
Kerry has shown a penchant for quoting radical folk heroes to prove a point, and not just during this campaign. On January 11, 1991, Kerry leaned on another literary icon of the far left--once a full-fledged Communist party member--in opposing the congressional resolution giving George H.W. Bush the authority to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
At the end of his Senate speech, Kerry said he "would like to share with my colleagues something that Dalton Trumbo wrote in a book called Johnny Got His Gun," a 1939 novel graphically depicting the horrors of war through the protagonist, a completely paralyzed World War I victim.
For reasons only Kerry can explain, the senator deliberately chose the writings of a well-known Hollywood Red to make the case against the Gulf War. A prominent screenwriter, Trumbo was one of the famous Hollywood Ten, those writers, directors, and producers who appeared in 1947 before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and refused to say whether they were, or had ever been, members of the Communist party.
Long after serving time in jail in the early 1950s for refusing to respond to the question, Trumbo would admit that he had joined the party in 1943, informing his biographer Bruce Cook that his views were such that he "might as well have been a Communist ten years earlier." Trumbo acknowledged that he "reaffiliated" with the party in 1954, apparently having enjoyed the experience so much the first time around.