In the title of his excellent essay on Pete Seeger, Howard Husock (accurately) proclaimed Pete Seeger “America’s most successful Communist.” Seeger faithfully toed the Stalinist line through more than two decades and publicly declared that he was still a communist periodically ever after. The New York Times compiled Seeger’s statements of repentance, such as they were, here in 2007.
It is something beyond pathetic that the White House has issued this statement in the name of President Obama on Seeger’s death yesterday at the age of 94:
Once called “America’s tuning fork,” Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Pete’s family and all those who loved him.
“Worker’s and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservatism” — they’re shibboleths and euphemisms requiring translation. If nothing else, Seeger’s career provides a useful key to the translation.