Old enemies and new

Red baiting: It was an interesting time to be having a conversation with America’s top communist. The United States bombing campaign against Afghanistan had just started the previous day, but the War on Terrorism was already shaping up to look more like the Cold War than the Gulf War.

Rather than quick and painless with made-for-television images, President George Bush speaks of paying a high price in a long, drawn-out struggle against the shadowy threats that live among us, as well as the client states that spread this scourge. He could be JFK in 1961 rather than W in 2001.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall made communism seem as quaint as it was irrelevant, communists such as Sam Webb were the enemies that needed to be wiped out “by any means necessary,” an imperative that forced us into the same kind of unsavory alliances that we’re now being forced to forge (Bites remembers when Pakistan was a “rogue nation” like it was just last month).

Webb, the national chairman of Communist Party USA, had been planning this trip to Sacramento for months, so the timing was coincidental. He wanted to stick to the script—“Our goal remains the construction of a socialist society here, and that will be a project of the majority of the American people”—yet the war seemed like a more relevant topic than this lofty goal.

When pressed, Webb sounded a few of the lefty points about how the United Nations rather than the U.S. should be leading the effort to eradicate terrorism and bring the September 11 collaborators to justice, and how the ultimate solution lies in the U.S. facilitating the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians and ending the sanctions against Iraq.

But that wasn’t the revolutionary rhetoric that Bites was hoping to hear from a genuine Red. C’mon, Bites goaded, if this sucker escalates out of control and morphs into the Christian Crusade for Capitalism, might that not be comeback time for the Communists or some other egalitarian equivalent? Long wars are fertile ground for major social upheaval, right?

Webb—a soft-spoken, grandfatherly sort with a graying mustache—wasn’t biting. While admitting that “wars have a momentum and logic of their own and can easily get out of hand,” he said it somberly, more like a pacifist than one of those old-fashioned communists bent on world domination.

“We’re for a peaceful path to socialism and we don’t see any advantage to the heightening of tensions,” he said, utterly destroying any hope this column had of a “Reds welcome war” headline. It’s really a shame that the only radicals left in the world are bomb-wielding terrorists. Coalitions and consensus are so boring.

No picnic: The communists may have gone soft, but there are still a few loony lefties out there that make good punching bags (which come in handy when Bites’ boss gets in one of his “Why do you always have to beat up on conservatives?” moods).

Actually, it doesn’t take much prodding to get Bites’ dander up over the logical gymnastics that many so-called liberals employ in the name of political correctness. So step on forward, Michael Harris, and take your medicine.

Harris is heading up an effort to change the name of Old Sacramento’s Picnic Park, calling it racist and highly offensive to African-Americans like himself. Utterly baffled by the charge, Bites had a minion investigate the matter and discovered that some Southerners have used the word “picnic” to describe not just an outdoor meal, but apparently one in which lynching a black person was part of the program.

Now, considering both the word and the French root on which it was based predate the founding of this country, “picnic” was at best co-opted by a few murderous idiots in white sheets and semi-popularized in the John Singleton film Rosewood. But most Sacramentans have never even heard the connection.

Is that any reason to decry picnics or this park as racist and offensive? Of course not. Do Harris and people like him make it more difficult to change labels and address issues in society that really are offensive? Absolutely.