Hannity’s ‘Tree of Liberty’ bears bogus fruit

I thought Republican charges that Barack Obama is a “socialist” couldn’t get any goofier.

Sean Hannity proved me wrong. He used a cartoon tree.

Hannity recently co-starred with the “The Tree of Liberty” on his Fox News show. The tree sprouted on a big screen.

The graphic was so crude it was comical. I half expected to see Keebler elves in tiny “Nobama” t-shirts running around the tree.

Anyway, three apples — labeled “industry,” “commerce,” and “security” – dangled from a limb. The fruit fell into a box Hannity called “the collective crate of socialism.” The box was marked with a tiny star and hammer-and-sickle.

“It is those apples, the fruits of our liberty, that this administration is now picking clean,” Hannity said. 

I don’t know if the president saw the Liberty Tree on his TV. Steven Colbert did, though Hannity probably wishes the host of The Colbert Report had been watching something else.

Colbert skewered Fox’s new flora and fauna on his show. He deadpanned that the Liberty Tree trumped his “own visual allegory for America – the Freedom Fungus.”

Colbert flashed the “fungus” on his screen. It was a greenish growth flecked with brown that had infected a cartoon foot.

The “Freedom Fungus” was imperiled by chemical warfare, which Colbert called “The Tinactin of Tyranny.” It was – you guessed it – a spray can.

The Fox News Liberty Tree, as silly as it was, is another example of conservatives twisting history to suit their own ends. (The real hammer-and-sickle crowd does the same thing for their side.)

Patriots rallied ‘round real Liberty Trees to protest British injustice before and during the American Revolution. Given Hannity’s right-wing politics, he might have been a Tory.

At the same time, I’m wondering when – or if – Republicans like Hannity will discover that tagging Obama a “socialist” isn’t getting them anywhere. (Obama probably hopes the GOP never figures it out.)

The Republicans started knocking Obama as a “socialist” on the campaign trail last year, hoping to scare voters to their man, McCain. Obama clobbered McCain.

Since he was inaugurated, the president’s approval ratings have been way up, according to polls. The same surveys show the GOP is popularity-challenged.

The polls don’t rate Brian P. Moore, last year’s Socialist Party U.S.A. presidential candidate. Moore got only 6,528 votes, according to the Federal Election Commission.

But the GOP’s “socialist” slam on Obama is grabbing Moore some press. He has been on the Colbert Report and C-Span insisting Obama isn’t a socialist. He’s been saying the same thing on the radio and in other media, too.

Moore claims Obama isn’t even a liberal. He says the president is a “centrist.”

Obama and the Democrats probably don’t mind being called “centrist.” But, so far, they haven’t used Moore to prove they aren’t socialists.

Maybe they feel they don’t need do. After all, many – if not most – Americans have never heard of the Socialist Party U.S.A.

But Socialists weren’t always far out on the American political fringe. A century ago, a lot of Americans didn’t think “socialism” was a dirty word either.

Socialist Eugene V. Debs polled more than 901,000 votes when he sought the presidency in 1912. In 1920, he collected almost 913,700 ballots.

Though Debs didn’t come close to capturing the White House – he ran five times — many other Socialists were elected to office in his day. The winners included a pair of Socialist congressmen and scores of state legislators, mayors and other local officials.

Several reformers were in the party at one time or another. Catholic social activist Dorothy Day was a Socialist. So was W.E.B. DuBois, who helped start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Bayard Rustin, another early NAACP leader, was a Socialist, too. Other party members included union leaders David Dubinsky, Morris Hillquit, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, A. Philip Randolph and Walter Reuther, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, humanitarian Helen Keller and writers Jack London, Carl Sandburg and Upton Sinclair.

In addition, the Rev. Francis Bellamy, a Baptist pastor and author of the Pledge of Allegiance, was a Socialist.

So what happened to the Socialists? They were suppressed as “traitors” during World War I and afterwards, says Moore, a 65-year-old Floridian.

Several Socialists, including Debs, were jailed for opposing American involvement in the war. They said the conflict was gotten up by rich imperialist powers but was being fought by poor farmers and poor workers who had no stake in victory by either side.

After the war, more Socialists were arrested during the 1919 “Great Red Scare,” in which federal agents rounded up dozens of suspected “Reds,” who purportedly were plotting to turn America communist like Soviet Russia.

In the end, Atty. Gen. A. Mitchell Palmer, who orchestrated the Red Scare, was discredited as a fraud and a fear-monger. Most of the “Reds” were released.

But the Socialists were all but finished. (Milwaukee and Bridgeport, Conn., were notable exceptions. Both cities elected Socialist mayors for years, Milwaukee until 1960.)

Gradually, the Socialist Party dwindled into virtual extinction. Some Socialists became Democrats because of FDR’s New Deal. Other Socialists protested that the New Deal was only small-potatoes reform, not socialism, and that the president’s real aim was to save capitalism from its greedy excesses.

In the 1970s, the Socialist Party split into factions, including the Socialist Party U.S.A.

Anyway, bad publicity is supposed to be better than no publicity. If nothing else, Republican charges that Obama is a socialist might prompt many Americans to investigate socialism for themselves. If they do, they will discover the socialism Moore preaches isn’t totalitarian communism, not by a long shot. They will also find out that many people in other democratic nations – including our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies – routinely vote socialists into office. “Socialist” isn’t a slam to millions of Europeans.

NATO was formed during the cold war as an anti-communist alliance. Hannity’s Liberty Tree reminded me of the hokey and ham-fisted propaganda we got from the Soviets and their communist Chinese comrades.

I remember a photo of an anti-American skit performed in Communist China. It showed a People’s Liberation Army soldier knocking a guy in an Uncle Sam suit on his duff. Subtlety is not a strong suit of propagandists, of the Fox News or Peking People’s Daily and Pravda persuasion.

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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