Tea Party Racism & Milwaukee Socialism

Paranoia in Wonderland by David Horsey, see reader comments in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer 

Socialism before it was a four-letter word

By John Gurda

Journal Sentinel files
In 1910 in Milwaukee, Emil Seidel became the first Socialist mayor elected by a major American city.

One hundred years ago tomorrow, Milwaukee made political history. On April 5, 1910, we became the first (and only) major city in America to elect a Socialist mayor. A former patternmaker named Emil Seidel won a decisive victory in the spring election, beginning a period of Socialist success at the polls that would last until Frank Zeidler stepped down in 1960.

To those outside the city, Seidel’s win seemed positively revolutionary, a bold and abrupt departure from the American norm. The truth is that municipal Socialism had been germinating here for generations. It mattered, first of all, that Milwaukee was the most German city in America and that some of its residents were genuine revolutionaries. An 1848 revolt against the German monarchs had ended in victory for the crowned set and exile for thousands of rebels, many of them well-educated idealists who wanted nothing less than to change the world.

A significant number of these “Forty-Eighters” found their way to Milwaukee, where they established music societies, theater groups, schools and other organizations that made their new home the “German Athens” of America. The exiles were as passionate about politics as they were about culture. Their Turner halls and freethinker congregations became forums for ideas that would come to life as Milwaukee Socialism.

European intellectuals may have supplied the seeds, but workers furnished the soil. As Milwaukee became a center of industry in the late 1800s, the city attracted legions of blue-collar immigrants who worked 10 to 12 hours for a dollar or two a day, without a dime in benefits. They were understandably open to the Socialist argument that workers deserved a greater share of the wealth they created.

The “laboring classes” were particularly receptive after state militia troops leveled deadly fire against a group of strikers marching for the eight-hour day in 1886. The shootings sparked a populist revolt that swept a number of factory hands into political office. They were swept out again when Republicans and Democrats joined forces, but Milwaukee workers were ripe for a rematch.

The regular parties offered a progressively weaker alternative. Like many American cities, Milwaukee became a cesspool of political corruption during the Gilded Age. Under Mayor David Rose, who held sway between 1898 and 1910, public morals reached their historic low point. Virtually everything that was not nailed down – from public hay supplies to aldermanic votes – was for sale to the highest bidder.


Those who think the government has done too much to help African Americans are 36 more likely to support the Tea Party.  

“While it’s clear that the Tea Party in one sense about limited government, it’s also clear from the data that people who want limited government don’t want certain services for certain kinds of people. Those services include health care,” said Christopher Parker, the assistant professor of political science at the UW who directed the survey.Among his findings:

  • Southerners are 12 percent more likely to support the Tea Party than whites in other parts of the U.S.
  • Conservatives are 28 percent more likely than liberals to support the Tea Party.
  • Strong support for the Tea Party resulted in a 45 percent decline in support for health-care reform compared with people who opposed the Tea Party.
  • 30 percent of the 1,015 had never heard of the Tea Party. But among those who had, 32 percent strongly supported it.
  • 56 percent of Republicans who had heard of it strongly approved. So did 31 percent of independents and 5 percent of Democrats.
  • Whites who disapprove of President Obama are 55 percent more likely to support the Tea Party.
  • Among whites who approve of the Tea Party, 35 percent say they believe blacks are hardworking, 45 percent said they believe blacks are intelligent and 41 percent believe them to be trustworthy.


Approximately 45% of Whites either strongly or somewhat approve of the movement. Of those, only 35% believe Blacks to be hardworking, only 45 % believe Blacks are intelligent, and only 41% think that Blacks are trustworthy. Perceptions of Latinos aren’t much different. While 54% of White Tea Party supporters believe Latinos to be hardworking, only 44% think them intelligent, and even fewer, 42% of Tea Party supporters believe Latinos to be trustworthy. When it comes to gays and lesbians, White Tea Party supporters also hold negative attitudes. Only 36% think gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to adopt children, and just 17% are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Preliminary analysis also reveals race affects the ways in which Blacks and Whites perceive the president, his policies, and how he’s handling his job. To illustrate, 75% of Blacks have confidence in the president; 58% of Whites share this appraisal. Likewise, where 90% of Blacks think the president is doing a good job on the economy, only 55% of Whites agree with this appraisal. And the most recent hot-button issue, health care reform, received support from 86% of Blacks versus only 36% among Whites.   

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