Sense of Decency
By Matt Zimmer
It was June 9, 1954 when Joseph Nye Welch, the Army's chief
counsel, spoke the now famous words that helped bring an end
to the megalomaniacal inquisitions of Wisconsin's rogue Senator
Joseph McCarthy: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long
In an almost mythic fall from grace, the troubled Sen. McCarthy
died a few years later of acute hepatitis; due in no small
part to a lifetime of manifest alcohol abuse. He was a broken
A half-century later it would please McCarthy to know that
bestselling conservative author Ann Coulter has rushed to
the defense of his actions; stating essentially that his blighted
status in American history is nothing more than the result
of a "liberal noise machine."
Furthermore, as suggested in her latest book, Treason,
the Democrats of the early 1950s were complicit in their cooperation
with a communist regime that was "as evil as the Nazis," and
were thus operating in the constant fear of discovery.
Periodically in our nation's history we allow the zeitgeist
of intolerance to raise its ugly head up from the ashes as
the result of traumatic world events. Whether it be the fear
of the new European immigrants during the era of the Know-Nothings,
to the first Red Scare following WWI, to McCarthyism itself
there is the feeling that we are now living under yet another
great climate of intolerance.
Coulter's views attest to a prevailing ethic that those in
the upper levels of power should be granted the unconditional
authority to ferret out "traitors"—however loosely that may
be defined, as even the definition itself is now malleable.
That philosophy becomes all the more ominous when it is
suggested that such power be bestowed on a single individual,
as it was briefly to McCarthy. The parallels between McCarthy's
Senate hearings and current Attorney General Ashcroft's latitudes
under the Patriot Act cannot be understated.
While the tenuous popularity of President Bush and the "War
on Terror" may make the government's current infractions
on Constitutional rights seem acceptable, it should be noted
that 50 percent of Americans supported McCarthy's actions
at that time. Such is usually the case with tyrants, until
someone is finally brave enough to stand up to them.
For McCarthy, however, the issue of evidence proved to be
a perennial stumbling block. It mattered little to him, since
the "communists" inevitably left the hearings with their personal
and professional reputations mauled. McCarthy preyed upon
the widespread fear of the Soviet Union to set the stage for
his own personal ambitions. Fast forwarding to the present,
it has become increasingly evident that the current Administration
is using "terrorism" in much the same way that McCarthy
used "communism" back in the '50s.
For Coulter, though, the aftermath of McCarthy set the stage
for her own warped and hateful assessment of today's Democratic
Party. To her, the modern left stagnates with the same kind
of homogeniety that defines Republican dogma in 2003. Somewhere
between McCarthy’s fall and the election of George W. Bush,
Coulter believes that early-'70s liberals—read, communists—on
the order of George McGovern took hold of the Democratic Party
and have never let go. One only needs to point to the relative
success of the ultra-progressive Ralph Nader in the 2000 election
to undermine this notion; far-left liberals are likely the
most displeased with the current Democratic Party.
Placing the political frauds of decades past on pedestals
will do nothing to help bridge the ideological rifts that
will only deepen in this country in the coming year. In spite
of the tireless spin put out of the right wing camp and its
trendy media outlets, we are still a divided nation; divided
in our priorities, divided in our methods of solution.
Throwing about the term "traitor" as carelessly
as Coulter does will do nothing to mend this rift, though
it will admittedly help her sell more books. There must be
a better way. At long last, Ann, have you no sense of decency?