“Communist” was once a potent word, especially when used to describe someone you disliked.
But like the hot rod, the D. A., and the word “daddy-o” as a form of address, it’s lost a lot of its punch since the 1950s.
Still, on Wednesday, Representative Allen West (R- Fla.) used it to describe 78 to 81 members of the House Democratic Caucus. In response to a question about Marxists, West replied, “I believe there is about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.”
Upon hearing this, I felt almost nostalgic.
Calling someone a communist hearkens back to a simpler time, when men were Company Men, women wore aprons, white picket fences were still in vogue, ceilings were made of glass and you could hide under your desk in the event of nuclear attack. Joe McCarthy held sway, terrifying everyone with his paranoid ramblings and compulsive list-making.
It’s so last century! Commies were the sort of thing you associated with sweaty, pointing men and special commissions. “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” The words crackled out of giant box-like televisions with black and white screens. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it might just be a communist duck!”
But the Red Menace dwindled along with our appreciation for bobby socks and our tendency to show up at sock hops. The Soviet Union disbanded. We’re friends with Russia.
And there’s China to consider.
We seem almost to have decided to stop worrying about communists. The new scariest Ists are socialists, terrorists and racists, in variable order.
Not that the words lacked sting. But perhaps it wasn’t quite the sting West intended. Once, you identified a few members of the Communist party and they never worked in Hollywood again. Now, everyone yells at you instead. In fact, there are proud Communists right now retorting. The word lacks its silencing effect.
Sure, it’s troubling to be called a communist. But in a strange twist, it might be worse to be called a McCarthyite.