Monday, October 13, 2008

Pegler and McWilliams

Writing from Tokyo, Mark Ettlin asks, "So how does Carey McWilliams intersect with Westbrook Pegler? They must have mixed it up a few times... With the Palin-Pegler appropriation hot off the presses, it would be timely for you to blog some Mac remark on the man."

I missed the fact that Sarah Palin cribbed a quote from Pegler, a Hearst columnist, in her RNC speech. Here it is: "A writer observed: 'We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.' I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman."

So what's the big deal? Well, consider Pegler's other notable quotes, some of which are gathered by David Neiwert on his blog.

It was "regrettable that Giuseppe Zangara hit the wrong man when he shot at Roosevelt in Miami."

It is "clearly the bounden duty of all intelligent Americans to proclaim and practice bigotry." (November 1963)

About his proposal for a state takeover of the major labor unions: "Yes, that would be fascism. But I, who detest fascism, see advantages in such fascism."

In a column defending a lynching in California: "I am a member of the rabble in good standing."

Here's a 1965 quote that Dave missed. Writing about Robert F. Kennedy, Pegler wished that "some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies."

Turns out McWilliams and Pegler did have a couple of encounters. One of the first involved Chicago gangster Willie Bioff, who headed out to Hollywood in the 1930s for some labor racketeering. At the time, McWilliams was representing some rank-and-file union members who had been muscled out of IATSE. After Pegler identified Bioff and his criminal past in Chicago, McWilliams took behind-the-scenes action to expose Bioff in Los Angeles.

But more often than not, Pegler and McWilliams were on opposite sides of any given issue. Very soon after Pearl Harbor, Pegler called for the evacuation of all Japanese from the West Coast. McWilliams thought that was crazy, but a Democratic president and governor also called for a massive internment, and McWilliams went along with it--while he was serving in state office, anyway. As soon as he was out, he wrote Prejudice (1944), which destroyed every argument for that action. It was also cited that year by a Supreme Court dissenting opinion in the case that upheld the constitutionality of the evacuation and internment.

In 1951, when McWilliams was wondering whether or not to move east to become editor of The Nation, he wrote to publisher Frieda Kirchwey about his politics--and his critics.

Politically, I consider myself a radical democrat who might better be called a socialist, with both "democrat" and "socialist" being written without caps. I mention this only because I want to remind you that Pegler, Tenney, Lewis, and the others, can be relied on to charge that I am a red, a fellow-traveller (real news to my Communist friends!) and one who has given aid-and-comfort to "public enemies" like Harry Bridges.

That pretty much sums up Pegler's reputation at the time, I think. He went on to write for the John Birch Society, which, according to his Wikipedia entry, "invited him to leave for his extreme views." Yikes.



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