Wednesday, August 4, 2010

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

When I was a kid I watched the McCarthy hearings with my parents on our old black and white TV. Almost no one had color in those days. During the course of the hearings my father told me that if his father had known such crap would go on in the U.S. he would never have left Italy.

Joseph McCarthy was a Republican ideology, elected to the Senate by the people of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. In my estimation he was a liar, a fraud, a narcissist, and a grandstanding political opportunist. In league with malignant power brokers like J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn, McCarthy used the formidable authority of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Congressional subpoena power to ruin countless lives and careers with the stain of Communism.

Out of the work of this malevolent trinity evolved the infamous Hollywood Blacklist. The link at the end of this piece takes you to an article about the Blacklist followed by the names of those who made the list from 1947 to 1950. It is stunning. These men and women were actors, writers, producers, directors, and they were punished for refusing to name their friends as communists, refusing to confess to being part of a conspiracy that didn’t exist and/or refusing to admit to being members of the Communist Party. It is not an accident that people like McCarthy, political thugs and tyrants, burn books and go after the creative soul of a people. A society that can’t dream loses the ability to see the future and is trapped in the past.

McCarthy couldn’t prove a damn thing and never demonstrated the existence of a Communist cell or a plot. He never proved that anyone was a Communist. Still in all, the accusation was enough - as it seems to be today - and a goodly number of these people never worked again. No one would hire them in this country. Certainly not that bunch of sniveling limp dicks in Hollywood.

Proof notwithstanding some of the blacklisted artists eventually went to jail for Contempt of Congress, as if that Congress was not beneath contempt. One of these was my favorite writer - Samuel Dashiell Hammett. The nearly Shakespearean irony of this is that Hammett created a purely American detective genera that owed nothing to the British or the European. He was the father of the Hardboiled Detective and had one of those American voices that won the world over with its outspoken clarity and truth. There isn’t a fictional detective of stage, screen or television that doesn’t owe something to Hammett’s Sam Spade and the Continental Op. Nonetheless, the sub-literate Senator from Wisconsin tossed him in jail because he refused to name his colleagues in the Civil Rights Congress as Communists. He was released prematurely after the subcutaneous emphysema he contracted in the trenches of WWI flared sending him home near death.

When McCarthy decided that he had put enough hurt on Hollywood he turned his attention to the Department of the Army. That was a mistake. First, because it brought Eisenhower off the golf course and out of coma. Secondly, because it put him into direct conflict with a little man who had a cherub’s face and a will of iron. His name was Joseph N. Welch, the attorney for the Department of the Army who on June 9, 1954 ripped McCarthy’s legs out from under him with two questions: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Welch then refused to speak further to McCarthy or to call anymore witnesses. The gallery erupted in applause. My father tapped me on the shoulder and said, “He’s done.”

He was done, and HUAC began a slow and painful decline into oblivion. In 1969 its name was changed to “House Committee on Internal Security.” In 1975 the Committee was abolished, all functions handed over to Judiciary.

Since the McCarthy impersonators are legion today we must ask ourselves, in a country that is forever ranting about Liberty, Freedom, and the Rights of the Individual how does a McCarthy - or a Glen Beck or Andrew Breitbart for that matter -crawl up out of the primordial slime of depravity and become so empowered as to damage or destroy everything he sees? We need only look around us for the answer. To begin with we have a profound cowardice in our Federal Government from the Capitol to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave as they did at the height of McCarthy’s red baiting. Just as then no one is willing to stand up and fight back against the Palins, Bachmanns, Hannitys, and all the other modern day McCarthys who level unfounded accusations of racism, communism, socialism and anything else they can wrap their small minds around. Like their predecessor they don’t need proof or even facts. They just need a microphone. That is where the corporate media comes in - following them around like hungry dogs, tail between their legs yapping for the first bite of the next morsel. Finally there are all the people in this country who, as Chris Carter had a character in the "X-Files" say, have an almost insatiable appetite for bogus revelation. It would seem that if they are told something salacious enough and told over and over again they believe it.

The liars and frauds copying McCarthy’s crimes revere him. Perhaps it is because he showed them an easy path to power. Clearly they share his disrespect, distrust, and loathing for the American people. Like McCarthy they pander to bigotry and greed. They use fear and cruelty to redefine realty in their own image. They seem to consider free thinking and anyone who talks back un-American. Maybe that is why when they insist that their antigovernment, antihuman, anti-compassion Christian movement is organic no one counters, “So is bullshit.”


  1. you and i remember this time....i was twenty, a housewife with a two year old son, and watched the hearings on our ten inch tv,,,I remember also that Nixon was a member of the McCarthy team..and then Eisenhower chose him to be his Vice President. In 1947 Truman was President and allowed this to happen. There was a popular program on TV "I led 3 Lives" about a double agent for the CIA, an agency created by Truman.

  2. I remember "I Led 3 Lives." That is the one thing that I hold against Truman. My Papa loved him, but he could not understand why he tolerated McCarthy. William F. Buckley was also a compatriot of McCarthy. I don't think much of Ike, do you?