“One’s love, grief and religion” should always be private. Thus, spoke my father, a fount of wisdom.
And, I believe, thus speak most Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Christian Scientists, Baptists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc. In short, all Americans.
The last time this country was so afraid, so paralyzed and so ineffective in stopping public cruelty that masqueraded as “politics” was in the 1950s, during the communist scare.
The most vociferous anti-communist “Red hunter” was Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Many lives were scarred, careers ruined. And in the name of finding the “Reds,” the nation exhibited more fear than fortitude.
Then, one man, and then another, finally stood up to the “momentum” of the character assassination that so defined McCarthyism.
That man was Army Counsel Joseph Welch.
In the midst of the Army-McCarthy hearings, while McCarthy was in full tilt terrorizing the country with “guilt by association” and lists of “communists” working in the State Department, he accused the U.S. Army of harboring communists.
In the famous Army-McCarthy hearings, the senator continued his trademark accusations against a young staffer when, Welch, finally indignant, rebuked the senator with two short, pithy lines:
“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The television audience turned on McCarthy. And those two lines effectively ended his political career. The shame was palpable.
That question needs to be asked again.
Have we no sense of decency? Have we left no sense of decency?
With a nation on its knees, economically speaking, the contemporary political headlines scream about Satan, aspirin as birth control, moon colonies, singing with the stars, religious authenticity and patriotism.
Surely, Americans deserve more. Surely, someone, somehow needs to elevate the debate with a question like Welch’s.
Where is America’s decency?
In an earlier presidential election cycle, with big questions unanswered, the sex life of a candidate generated non-stop headlines.
At that time, a French friend of mine offered a withering critique of America’s obsession with the private lives of their presidents. “Why do Americans care so much? You are not voting for him to be your husband.” Nor your pastor.
True. But, we have increasingly been voting for candidates to be our entertainment.
Sing. Dance. Be cool. Be passionate. Make reckless but quotable statements. Accuse others of being not Christian. Not patriotic. Not genuine.
Accuse the press of being lame. Accuse the voters of being stupid. Accuse the process of being rigged.
All sensational accusations but rarely instructive ideas.
Twenty or so debates into the Republican nominating process, the reality-TV aspect of the race is obvious.
So, too, is the talking-point nonsense of the biased bloggers and talking heads who pose as objective.
And the Wizard of Oz quality of candidates backed by billionaires and Super PACs has made a mockery of anything close to direct democracy.
Someone, somewhere might rise to the occasion—of a nation in need of a leader. One with ideas, not pejoratives. One with character, not shameless pandering.
Still unknown is if, and when, the “decent” candidate will, à la Joseph Welch, vanquish those currently exploiting their love, their grief and their religion—for an understandably diminishing base of voters.
Surely someone will be asked the 21st century equivalent of:
Have we no decency? Have we no decency at all?