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Welch-McCarthy: Summing Up the Hearings | The Nation

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Welch-McCarthy: Summing Up the Hearings

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Before a nationally televised audience, attorney Joseph Welch utters the seven words that stick a pin in McCarthy's balloon: "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

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McCarthy maxim: "One should start kicking at the other person as fast as possible below the belt until the other person is rendered helpless."

Prosecution Jenkins: "If I became a candidate for the Senate in Tennessee and Senator McCarthy magnanimously tendered his services . . . I would say frankly as of this moment I would accept his offer."

No one could have expected the McCarthy subcommittee to conduct hearings that could, or would, seriously attempt to resolve the questions of fact involved in the dispute between the Senator and the army. Apart from the inherent weaknesses of a Congressional committee attempting to perform a judicial function, the personnel of the subcommittee hardly compounded confidence in the probable outcome. The acting chairman, Senator Karl Mundt, and the other Republicans, Dirksen, Potter, and Dworshak, had rather clearly identified themselves as McCarthy disciples. McClellan, Symington, and Jackson, the Democrats on the subcommittee, constituted a moderately effective challenge to a complete whitewash, but they had no position of principled opposition to the, witch hunt. This meant that they were constantly on the defensive and could only protest their equal devotion to "anti-communism."

As counsel the subcommittee selected an unbelievable Tennessee trial lawyer, a self-declared "Taft-Republican". who lived up to what one would expect of a politically ambitious individual who had no public record of support or opposition to the Wisconsin Senator and whose personal qualities made him Senatorial material in the eyes of the discerning Everett Dirksen. Once rebuked by McCarthy for being too strenuous with C. David Schine, Jenkins subsequently toadied to Joe in the most obvious fashion. Throughout the hearings from the very first day, he served as straight man and sounding board for the peculiar McCarthy-Cohn interpretation of history.

Despite such inauspicious circumstances the hearings probably served to convince several million Americans that Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens and John G. Adams, army counsellor, reflecting Eisenhower policy, had gone to inordinate lengths to appease McCarthy and Cohn. Similarly there can be no doubt that McCarthy-Cohn used every conceivable pressure to win special consideration for their psychological-warfare expert, C. David Schine. Many, will feel that Senator Charles E. Potters suggestion for perjury prosecutions and the dismissal of employees on both sides of the dispute is too limited, but that it is at least a necessary beginning. Beyond this the hearings revealed, as Senator McClellan underscored in his summary, a weak, fumbling, ineffectual Executive which had tolerated or encouraged the most abject behavior on the part of the Secretary of the Army. Apparently advised that McCarthy could be useful in gaining votes for Republicans, President Eisenhower refused to display any leadership when it might have prevented this whole fiasco.

It appears that Senator McCarthy has suffered a temporary setback in his drive for personal power. His arrogance, patent contempt for Administration leaders, fellow Senators, the law, and the Constitution seem at last to have registered even with members of the Eisenhower inner circle. He has succeeded in warning the most wilfully obtuse of his long-range intentions. He has antagonized those who for years tolerated his attacks on powerless individuals. It is indicative of the state of American democracy that official indignation was not sparked until he attacked a brigadier general. Now even those who thought to use him to disrupt the Democratic Party and to destroy popular attachment to the New Deal are fearful that they may not be able to check the Senator to their own purposes.

It is certainly a positive gain that in recent days a number of Republicans have finally, however temporary their virtue, found courage to attack McCarthy directly. In addition to Potter's proposal, Senator Flanders is sponsoring a resolution to deprive him of chairmanships. Allen Dulles condemned McCarthy charges against the C. I. A. as completely "false"; Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., attacked the McCarthy network of personal spies in government agencies; and President Eisenhower warned the United States against nameless "demagogues greedy for power."

While retaining a certain amount of skepticism regarding the meaning of the public-opinion polls, it is probably valid to conclude that a large number of those who once held "no opinion" have shifted over to the anti-McCarthy side. No one with an ounce of sensitivity could have failed to be revolted by the bully-boy tactics of the Senator.

Without minimizing the positive gains which have been made in crystallizing opposition to the ineffable Wisconsin Senator, these hearings can in no sense be interpreted as weakening the hold of McCarthyism, or anti-democracy, in the United States. In fact this phenomenon, characterized by irrationality, anti-intellectualism, contempt for law, and denial of the integrity of the human personality, has been revealed as the prevailing doctrine even among those nominally opposed to the Senator. Throughout the hearings it was apparent that all participants, including the counsel for both sides, had accepted McCarthy's premises and permitted him to define the meaning of communism, treason, subversion, and corruption. In this regard nothing more clearly reveals the pervasiveness of McCarthyism than the statement to Senator McCarthy by army counsel Joseph N. Welch: "You do good work. I admire the work you do when it succeeds." Not a voice was raised to protest the repeated attacks on individuals or organizations until counsel Welch countered McCarthy's gratuitous attack on his young law associate. It is a measure of our degradation that a man could become a national hero by condemning such "cruelty" while remaining silent about the maligning of loyal citizens who continue as members of the same legitimate professional group. Never has it been more apparent that one should diagnose the sickness of a sick society, not by taking the pulse of the political delinquents who attract the headlines, but by examining the condition of its "healthy" members.

Walter Lippmann has pertinently observed that McCarthy's "power will cease to grow and will diminish as and when, but only as and when, he is resisted, and it has been shown to our people that those to whom we look for leadership and to preserve our institutions are not afraid of him." The fact is, of course, that leaders of this society, in government and out, have long accepted the essence of McCarthyism. College presidents and heads of professional organizations have permitted the primitives to define the qualifications for membership in professional bodies. The army, presumably the immediate victim of McCarthy wrecking tactics, has itself taken over his standards and practices. If more evidence were needed to establish the acceptance of irrationality as a standard of conduct it has been provided by the Oppenheimer case.

It is unreasonable to criticize the American people for revealing confusion and doubt when so-called "good" leaders, anti-McCarthy spokesmen, concede the validity of his premises. Thus Senator Stuart Symington, aggressively hostile to Wisconsin's junior Senator, boasted that when he was Secretary of Air and when he was a private employer, the mere receipt of an F. B. I. report containing "unevaluated" derogatory information was sufficient to justify the immediate dismissal of an employee without benefit of hearing. No one protested the constant reiteration of the false McCarthy-Cohn-Carr charges of "espionage at Port Monmouth." One waited in vain for a protest by "learned lawyers" at the use of the insidious phrase "Fifth Amendment Communists," or the implication of guilt to Owen Lattimore, though great care was taken not to impugn the integrity and patriotic devotion of McCarthy's bunkomen.

Whatever their spokesmen may conclude as a result of the investigation of the Army-McCarthy dispute, the American people have not only been warned, they have for weeks looked at the faces and observed the behavior of those who seek to destroy the institutions and undermine the philosophy of a free society. From this day on, no one of the millions of witnesses can plead ignorance if they persist in supporting fascism in this country.

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