A lesson in Progressivism

In my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, there was always a guy who knew a guy who was selling watches or cameras or suits – whatever happened to fall off a truck. The cops from the 68th Precinct would pinch the guy. Given that he was caught with the swag, the boys in blue hauled him off. Simple. You get caught with the swag, you go.

Here in Steuben County, Republican campaign signs have been disappearing for ten years. Fed up with the situation, the Tom Reed campaign put a tracking device on one, and Reed’s campaign manager, Nick Weinstein, followed the tracker to the home of a local activist, retired reverend Gary “Lightfingers” McCaslin, who was subsequently charged with petit larceny.

The whole dustup is a lesson in progressive political thought and tactics.

First, progressives disregard the idea that someone else’s private property is their own. They’re always telling us what to do with our money, our labor, our land, you name it, so why not campaign signs? Coercion, regulations, prosecutions and intimidation through pubic shaming are all tools of the progressive left.

Second, they never admit they’re wrong. The attorney for Lightfingers blamed “the inappropriate political climate” for the alleged theft, which is amusing since most of the hysteria these days comes from the left. Progressives never accept responsibility for their numerous screw-ups; it’s always someone else’s fault.

Third, when the owner of the lifted property complains, progressives blame the victim. The name-calling begins – petty, paranoid, stupid – in an effort to cast the victims as evildoers. By implication, of course, progressives are good guys and innocent victims themselves.

Fourth, they say they did it for the community, the common good. Lightfingers’ attorney told us that he was just trying to clean up – and isn’t it just like a conservative like Reed to litter? To save the environment, Lightfingers was gathering campaign signs, even if they didn’t belong to him. This is the technique of claiming the moral high ground. Not only are progressives good people, they’re better than you.

The method is always the same, no matter the issue. You could substitute tax cuts, health care or natural gas development for campaign signs, and the progression (pun intended) would be exactly the same.

Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph. D.



Campaign signs are a candidate’s private property. They are expensive. Retired Baptist minister Gary McCaslin has been charged with petit larceny for stealing Congressman Tom Reed’s signs decrying “Extreme Ithaca Liberals”, Reed’s shorthand for those with far-left views that are common in Ithaca and less common everywhere else.

McCaslin leads a group called Citizens for a Better Southern Tier (CBST). They bill themselves as “bipartisan” and “peaceful” and don’t endorse candidates, but they don’t like Tom Reed, because he’s not liberal enough. The CBST is home to the “Indivisible Guide,” a blueprint for disrupting Congressional town halls or any event to which an elected official they don’t like (read: conservative) shows up.

They claim they are using Tea Party tactics. This denigrates the Tea Party while giving CBST an excuse for their behavior, which is to shout, boo and hiss like rabid cats at any comments they don’t like. In stark contrast, Tea Party members read the Obamacare bill and then went to Congressional town halls and asked questions, sometimes reading directly from the bill. When congressmen (mostly Democrats) could not or would not answer their questions, the Tea Partiers challenged them in civil fashion. The Southern Tier Tea Party never had a manual for disrupting town hall meetings; I know because I was there.

CBST supports illegal immigration, sanctuary cities, repeal of the Trump tax cuts and Obamacare. In other words, they are, as described, extreme Ithaca liberals. So if you hold these views, why steal the signs? Why not be proud of it, and put “Extreme Ithaca Liberal” signs in your front yard or on the bumper of your Prius.

McCaslin claims he was being “bipartisan” and “peaceful” by gathering all campaign signs after the recent Democrat primary. Right. He is represented by Elmira attorney Christina Sonsire, who said McCaslin’s behavior “…shines a light into just how inappropriate the political climate has become.” Stealing the signs was certainly inappropriate; apparently McCaslin’s defense will be that he isn’t responsible – the prevailing political climate made him do it.

It appears the Reverend violated the 8th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”

But he may also have damaged the democratic process. Stealing campaign signs is a political dirty trick but it’s more. It damages our republic by forcing lawlessness into a process that is by definition lawful and at the very heart of our system of government. Such is the bitter harvest of fanaticism.

Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph. D.