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No Sense of Decency
July 18, 2003
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 last?"

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 man.

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?

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