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As one communist country after another has fallen in Eastern Europe, Americans have cheered gleefully - except for a few like Tim Wheeler.

He's the Washington correspondent for the People's Daily World, the newspaper of the Communist Party USA. He admits that the democratization of Eastern Europe is often downright depressing to him and his fellow party members."It's caused a lot of soul searching and debate among us," he said. They are paddling upstream against the current of world trends and opinion but haven't yet lost their faith and hope in communism.

I met Wheeler in the House Press Gallery in the U.S. Capitol when I first came to Washington. He was one of the few old-timers who seemed willing to talk to newcomers or regional reporters - and I was both.

Reporters for the national press often turn up their noses at reporters for smaller regional media, especially those with names they cannot spell or understand - like the Deseret News. And old-timers generally stay among themselves to talk about the good old days.

So it was welcome as a new regional reporter to hear any friendly words - even if they came from a card-carrying Communist, who probably could use a few kind words himself.

Wheeler usually sits alone in a corner with rolled-up sleeves banging away at a portable computer, often pushing up his wire-frame glasses or brushing back his curly, graying hair as he talks on the phone. He is usually cheerful and rarely misses an opportunity for greeting - although he quickly becomes somber when talking about the crumbling world of communism.

After all, it has always been a cornerstone of his life. He was raised on a dairy farm in the state of Washington by parents who were also Communists, followers of Eugene Debs.

Wheeler made his way east in 1966 to begin working for the party's newspaper and became its first and only Washington correspondent in 1968. He is also a local party official and a member of a national advisory group to it.

He hasn't led a life typical of most correspondents here. For example, he often spends the weekends passing out free copies of his newspaper in his current hometown of Baltimore - often among the working class where his party hopes for success.

Also, many correspondents don't often pay much attention to the seemingly constant protests of one sort or another on Capitol Hill. But chanting from them automatically draws Wheeler. "It's usually something right up our alley," he said once.

He has also found himself taking the brunt of such jokes as, "Wheeler has become a man without a country, except maybe Albania."

But Wheeler has become almost a one-man crusade in Washington trying to put a good spin on what has been happening to communism. It started when the Washington Post wrote a column about his upstream paddling. That created an instant demand for interviews with him by newspapers along the Atlantic coast and even on National Public Radio.

That prompted party officials to even ask him to write a column about those experiences - to show that the changes in the world of communism have brought some bright spots.

"It's allowed people to focus on our beliefs without being afraid of the big, bad Russian bear," he said. "People are also less afraid now to be seen talking to a Communist. They don't worry about who's watching or who may be listening."

But it is causing the party faithful to question whether their belief in communism was well-founded. "Even my wife has had deep concerns.

He said the Communist Party USA is debating about what went wrong in Europe, as that Communist Party members - who, surprisingly, are a minority in most Eastern bloc nations - did not share enough power with other groups. But the party is mainly trying to stay focused on issues at home, such as the treatment of workers and mistreatment among classes.

"For example, we pass out papers in Utah at the Geneva Steel," he said. "We feel that the decline of the Cold War will make it more easy to seek who the real enemy is: the (Eastern Airlines owner) Frank Lorenzos of the world and the big corporations of Donald Trump."