MILL VALLEY, CA. -- Election Day, plus 4
A few people who probably belong to the Tea Party that's going to shake up Washington on Tuesday have questioned why I, a devout libertarian, would want to waste my time on a lousy left-wing writer like John Steinbeck.
First of all, if I only wrote about people whose politics I agreed with even 50 percent of the time, I would have had few people to write about during my journalism career.
Second, Steinbeck was no more to the left than Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern or Teddy Kennedy were. In fact, in some ways -- specifically his animosity/bellicosity toward the Soviet Union and communism and his hawkish position on Vietnam -- Steinbeck was to the right of McGovern, Teddy Kennedy and most of his fellow liberal artists and celebrities.
Steinbeck was a highly partisan Democrat, a New Dealer, a huge fan of FDR; he was especially fond of Adlai Stevenson, the great egghead Steinbeck thought could save the nation from country club Republicanism, Tricky Dick Nixon and Ike's poor syntax.
Though he cast an absentee ballot for John F. Kennedy from Pacific Grove, Ca., on Nov. 8, 1960, Steinbeck was leery of JFK. He didn't like JFK in part because, as Steinbeck wrote in a letter before the 1960 election, JFK was "a bed hopper" and bed-hoppers were not trustworthy.
Here, below, is something lefty Steinbeck wrote that endeared him to libertarian me. He mistakenly believed that a bigger federal government could fix social problems or micromanage the economy without making things worse or diminishing its citizens' freedom.
But Steinbeck was no commie and no fool. He knew what was wrong with the Soviet Union. He proved it in this wise and prescient message he delivered over Radio Free Europe in 1954 to the peoples of Eastern Europe who looked then like they would be trapped forever behind the Iron Curtain.
"To my friends,
"There was a time when I could visit you and you were free to visit me. My books were in your stores and you were free to write to me on any subject. Now your borders are closed with barbed wire and guarded by armed men and fierce dogs, not to keep me out but to keep you in. And now your minds are also imprisoned. You are told that I am a bad writer but you are not permitted to judge for yourselves. You are told we are bad people but you are forbidden to see and to compare. You are treated like untrustworthy animals, subjected to conditioning as cold and ruthless as though you were rats in a laboratory. You cannot travel, you cannot read freely and you cannot work at the profession of your choice. Your writers are the conditioned servants of a regime. All of this is designed to destroy your ability to think.
"I beg you to keep alive the integrity of the individual in his ability to judge and compare and create. May your writers write secretly and hold their writing for the time when this grey anesthetic has passed as pass it must. The free world outside your prison still lives. You will join it again and it will welcome you. Everything around you is cynically designed to destroy you as individuals. You must remember and teach your children that they are precious, not as dull cogs in the wheel of party existence, but as units complete and shining in themselves."