Political Correctness: Picasso, Stalin, and ObamaCare
By Sol W. Sanders
Monday, October 7th, 2013 @ 12:58AM
One of the marvels this amateur historian has found musing over intellectual trends through a long life is how concepts float back and forth, as often as not taking on new meaning about which their contemporary utilizers haven’t a clue.
An interesting example: Back in the early 1930s, worldwide Communism had a serious dilemma. It wanted to exploit well-known adherents, especially in the non-Soviet world. But some of these brightest stars were artists or intellectuals whose work was anathema to Josef Stalin, the monster who had taken over the Soviet Union. Zigzagging intellectually, with the Moscow Trials Stalin had finished off rivals as “saboteurs” and “foreign agents”. The incredible complexity of this travesty was best illustrated in Arthur Koestler’s roman a cléf, Darkness at Noon, about victims who remained loyal to “the movement” to their bitter end.
During his long reign, Stalin’s slightest whim became the order of the day. His prejudices on any issue replaced the early revolutionaries’ wildly gyrating experimentation. That intellectual ferment was something; again, they had inherited, even from the tyrannical tsars, but Stalin called a halt to anything but his “Party Line”.
Still, a quintessential instance of Moscow’s problem was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso. A virtual lifelong émigré, especially after the defeat of his (adoptive) Catalan nationalist comrades and their allies the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Picasso dominated world plastic arts for a good part of the 20th century. But whatever else Picasso was, he was an incredible innovator. His unparalleled profusion (50,000 items or more) of painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawings, and prints made him an enormous celebrity. But after an initial youthful period of “academic realism,” Picasso’s creations were anything but “realistic”.
Stalin, on the other hand, anointing himself as an art critic as well as the high panjameter of everything else, only accepted “realistic” painting, ironically the sort Americans were to honor in Norman Rockwell. So “Soviet realism” was the order of the day through his years as supremo.
Picasso, in Paris’s Bohemian art world, like so many other interwar artists and intellectuals, drifted into Communism. Whatever Moscow’s political “line,” no matter its incredible turns and inconsistencies, he remained a loyal member of the French Party.
Moscow’s conundrum was how to reconcile using this incredibly valuable weapon, Picasso’s popularity, in the war against Western democracy, particularly during the post-World War II Cold War, yet alongside Stalin’s “Soviet realism”? (That even reached into music, where the Soviet’s most talented composer, Dimitri Shostakovich, “disappeared” for a time, a victim of Stalin’s ire against innovation.)
For the Communists, Picasso was too valuable a propaganda commodity to be trashed. Even when they wandered off the reservation with their work, as did Picasso and other vedettes (for example, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell), they followed the world Communist movement’s general instruction.
That’s how, in the fullness of time, one of the world’s most successful propaganda campaigns got a gigantic boost. Picasso’s father, José Ruiz Blasco, an art teacher and painter himself, was a passionate bird lover, particularly of doves and pigeons, and passed this sensitivity on to his son. So in 1949 after Picasso’s reputation as an artist – and a Communist – was long established, Louis Aragon, a more disciplined if inferior French Communist journalist and poet, went begging. He was looking for a symbol for one of the endless Communist “peace” conferences advocating unilateral Western disarmament. Picasso offered a lithograph of a Milano dove which the artist later simplified into a line drawing
That little dove became universally iconic, the Communist symbol for its on-and-off “peace campaign”. On and off, because after the 1939 Nazi attack resulting in the third Polish partition between the two totalitarian powers, World War II was “an imperialist struggle” which good Communists should eschew. But when Hitler smashed the September 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact two years later attacking the Soviets in his Operation Barbarosa, the same war became a crusade to save “the Socialist motherland”
Meanwhile, Picasso, whatever his politics, had a certain artistic integrity. Of Aragon’s choice, he said: “The poor man! He doesn’t know anything about pigeons! And as for the gentle dove, what a myth that is! They’re very cruel. I had some here and they pecked a poor little pigeon to death because they didn’t like it. They pecked its eyes out, then pulled it to pieces. It was horrible. How’s that for a symbol of Peace?”
How, then, were the Communists to cover all these indiscretions, contradictions and outright lies? Always inventive, clandestinely swapping propaganda tricks with their arch-rival Hitler’s genius propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, Moscow came up with a dodge. Picasso – as with similar problematic stars of the Western Communist world – however much through their work or thought defying Stalin’s peccadilloes, were to be labeled acceptable. These luminaries became Communist tools. (Vladimir Lenin, Stalin’s predecessor and mentor, called them nash – “ours” – and others in the Italian Communist hierarchy called them “useful idiots”.) They were excused from the Party’s full panoply of “discipline,” dubbed by Moscow as “politically correct.” For whatever their indiscretions, they were loyal to “the cause”.
I thought of all this listening last week to a U.S. government-subsidized broadcast of “The Diane Rhem Show” on my local NPR (“National People’s Radio”) station. As with her too often one-sided, loaded guest panel, and carefully screened call-ins, pirouetted into near hysteria, something was obvious: ObamaCare has now become “politically correct” for our media and the Washington elite.
Wait a minute: I am not (repeat not) saying they are Communists. But I am saying that they have adopted a Communist technique. (My old friend, Robert Strausz-Hupé, teacher, historian, diplomat and politician, not long before his death, reminded me in a discussion of what we feared were unfavorable trends in the Republic, that “it would not be the first time in history, a society had adopted doctrines of its defeated adversary.”)
No amount of argument is going to dissuade most advocates of ObamaCare from admitting its failure.
That such a new concept should be adopted without more extensive debate, rammed through the Congress by a Democratic majority in both houses without a single Republican vote, is not to be considered. Yes, the Supreme Court did pass on it. But remember, it was necessary to have a constitutional amendment to implement the federal income tax – and for prohibition, later repealed, of course! – because it demonstrably impacted The Founders old fundamental concepts. Why not a constitutional amendment for the concept that the state owes each and every citizen “health care” to be paid for from the commonweal? Or that we were fundamentally altering one-sixth of the U.S. economy with one 2,000-plus-page law? (Take rather than that much abused interstate commerce clause. That, in fact, was totally contrary to its sponsors, the Obama Administration Democrats, who had skirted Roberts’ tax justification – for obvious political reasons.)
Then there is the long list of promises, already not met. Check the much touted Congress Research Service. (Despite the oft repeated cliché, it is not more impartial than most of the Washington federal bureaucracy in the Democrat’s pocket. Ask those Maryland and Virginia Congressmen elected by suburban federal bureaucrats). It has not inhibited the overall growth in medical expenditures. (Yes, they are dropping temporarily like the rest of a failing economy for the same reasons. But as an ageing and grumpy old Medicare-Advantage recipient, I can tell you why in too much tortured detail if you want to know.) It admits the announced economic goals will not be met. ObamaCare has already increased insurance costs. It is not curing the shrinking doctors’ registry, especially including general practitioners (woops! Sorry. “family practice doctors”.
I will not even venture into the violation of basic Constitutional rights by its ordering citizens to buy products. Nor the President’s promise that ObamaCare would permit every citizen to keep any medical arrangements should he prefer – including insurance and doctors. Nor the violation of the 14th amendment by the President, probably illegally, giving chosen corporations and the Washington bureaucracy variances and waivers. Nor will I include arguments about the enormous additional costs on a stagnating economy.
If one were paranoid, he might have to speculate if the whole mess were not a “conspiracy”. Did its sponsors intend this morass that would bring, out of sheer exhaustion and frustration, the electorate’s acceptance of a “single-payer” regime, so-called “socialized” medicine such as exists, however brokenly, in the U.K. and Canada? Most official ardent proponents of ObamaCare had argued for that even if they have supposedly accepted what the president, himself a single-payer advocate, has called a compromise.
But backing away from conspiracy theories, one asks: how do otherwise intelligent and well informed members of the media, Washington bureaucrats, Hollywood, and the academy – America’s self-appointed elite – cling to ObamaCare? Why do some liberal friends (“some of my best friends are … liberals – or used to be), still hang on to this “security blanket”?
It is perfectly clear. One may not budge from loyalty to it without joining the barbarians. As old British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan might have said: My dear, ObamaCare is “politically correct”.
*A version of this column is scheduled to appear on Monday, October 7, on worldtribune.com