In the 1943 movie Tender Comrade, Ginger Rogers utters the words "Share and share alike--that's democracy." Nobody objected at the time, but four years later, Rogers' mother complained to the House Un-American Activities Committee that her daughter had been forced to express a communist sentiment. The scriptwriter, Dalton Trumbo (who actually was a communist), went to jail for refusing to testify and then spent years on the Hollywood blacklist, unable to get work. But "share and share alike" has been rehabilitated and restored to its place of honor as one of America's finest bromides.
So what future awaits "spread the wealth," a similar bromide uttered by Barack Obama to Joe the Plumber at a rally in Ohio? The history of this expression can also be traced to a movie: Hello, Dolly, released in 1969 and never before now regarded as subversive. But perhaps it deserves a closer look. It starred Barbra Streisand, a notorious Hollywood lefty who also starred in The Way We Were, the 1973 weepie that glamorized frizzy-haired communists and left-wing agitators from New York City and derogated real Americans like handsome blond Robert Redford. In Hello, Dolly, Streisand plays a professional matchmaker who has her eye on Walter Matthau, playing a "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire." At a key moment, she declares, "Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around." Where was Streisand's mother while this outrage was being perpetrated?
Wait. It gets worse. Hello, Dolly is one of many versions of The Matchmaker, a play by Thornton Wilder, author of Our Town and other treacly warhorses of the American theater. Over the years, millions of American children have had to sit through what once was viewed as sentimental propaganda and therefore good for them. Many impressionable young people have even been forced to say the line about spreading money around in student productions of The Matchmaker, taking innocent pleasure in the joke about manure while their little minds were being polluted with redistributionist propaganda. While I remember Wilder's plays as being flag-draped, I read in Wikipedia that his major theme was "the universality of the simple yet meaningful lives of all people in the world." Also, he was gay. So much for him.
John McCain thinks Obama's "spread the wealth" comment is a major gotcha. He has locked his chops around this remark like a terrier around Obama's ankle and keeps repeating it. He regards it as self-evidently self-damning. On Meet the Press, McCain ducked Tom Brokaw's invitation to agree or disagree with Sarah Palin that Obama is a "socialist." But a day later McCain brandished a radio interview from seven years ago in which Obama had used the term redistributive change.