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January 20, 2009

A Dark Chapter in Minnesota’s Political History

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Pat Coleman @ 10:35 am

The last time the economy sucked this bad and left wing of the political spectrum was in the ascendency, the right wing used every possible trick to bring them down. In the 1938 gubernatorial race a book was published that was so repugnant that it makes our list of 150 best books.

Ray P. Chase. Are They Communists or Catspaws: A Red Baiting Article. Anoka: N. p., 1938.

Chase was an Anoka publisher who had run for governor in 1930 and served one term in Congress from 1933 -1935. In the heated Governor’s race between Farmer-Labor incumbent Elmer Benson and “boy wonder” Harold Stassen, Chase wrote and published a small book trying to prove a link between the current administration and the Communist Party. The five examples he used, however, were all Jewish. This was a blatant introduction of anti-Semitism into Minnesota politics. Some of Chase’s examples were not even that close to Gov. Benson and seem to have been chosen simply because they looked so Jewish. In response the Farmer-Labor party produced a leaflet saying that this “expensively gotten up book” “smack[ed] of the tactics of the fascists of Europe” They demonstrated that Chase’s book altered photos to smear the Governor.

Chase embraced the pejorative term “red baiting” saying “radicals bait America and everything American”. The term “catspaws” refer to people who are manipulated by Communists. Chase disingenuously writes that “Communists are entitled to respect for their courage. Catspaws who accept their support and deny their acquaintance are entitled to somewhat less respect”.

Epilogue: Catspaws helped defeat Benson but the “silver lining” was that it prompted the organization, Jewish Community Relations Council, to combat local anti-Semitism like this. They have been doing good work for the last 80 years.

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5 Responses to “A Dark Chapter in Minnesota’s Political History”

  1. Phil Freshman Says:

    Good to know about this sleazy volume, Pat. I hadn’t heard about that election or even about Chase. Reminds me of the 1934 gubernatorial contest in California, which Upton Sinclair, running an an EPIC (End Poverty in California) candidate would have won if he hadn’t been relentlessly slimed by the then-right wing noise machine, which got up a PR campaign to make him out a rabid drooling socialist. The present book sounds like a worthy curiosity, but how does it qualify as one of the “150 greatest”?

    Patrick Coleman reply on January 30th, 2009:

    Thanks for the comment, Phil. I believe it is worthy of being one of the 150 best books because of the roll it played in bring about an end to the dominance of the Farmer-Labor party in Minnesota. In other words, it may not a great book but its influence was great. Plus – I like to occasionally throw things out that might not be familiar to those of us interested in all things Minnesota.

  2. Bruce White Says:

    In my family this book was kind of legendary. I remember hearing about it when I was a kid. My mom was an anti-communist herself, but she thought this book played a terrible role in Minnesota history.

    I agree with Phil, you’re really pushing the “great” category. How about putting it in the 100 Sleaziest Minnesota Books, along with ……. (I will hold back for the moment!)

    However it is good to finally see what this piece of c–p actually looked like.

    Patrick Coleman reply on February 16th, 2009:

    Let’s wait until we identify book numbers 149 and 150 and see what is left? Then we might need to move “Catspaws” off the best books and onto a sleaziest Minnesota books list. By the way I think it would be a wonderful idea to start a sleaziest or worst minnesota books list. Sounds like you might have another nomination, yes? Maybe we should call our current list the 150 most “important” books instead of the “best” to avoid confusion.

  3. Keith Ellison Says He Isn’t A Communist… Ain’t That What Commies Always Say? | NICK COLEMAN Says:

    [...] Are They Communists or Catspaws?” was the title of a notorious anti-Semitic pamphlet  published in Minnesota in [...]

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