PAUL DUNN: Have You No Sense of Decency, Madam?
I'd hoped that John McCain would run the "high road campaign" he promised and avoid personal attacks.
He of all people should understand the importance of a clean campaign, since he and his family were cruelly attacked by George W. Bush in the 2000 primaries. But eight years later, he condones highly obnoxious personal attacks by his demagogue running mate as perfectly acceptable behavior.
In 1972, Sen. George McGovern hastily selected Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate and was soon forced to drop him when it was learned Eagleton had been treated for unrevealed mental illnesses. McGovern lost to Richard Nixon despite faint rumblings that the Watergate burglary was possibly tied to a corrupt White House.
Thirty-six years later, thoughtful conservative pundits George Will, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer and David Frum have declared McCain's choice, Sarah Palin, "unqualified to be president." Unlike McGovern who vacillated in removing Eagleton but finally did so in favor of Sargent Shriver, John McCain has stuck by Palin, ignoring the columnists' opprobrium.
The Palin decision was a failed, cynical move to lure disenchanted Hillary Clinton supporters. But love for Hillary hasn't computed to love for Palin. Enthusiasm for the Alaskan evaporated when offended feminists realized how reactionary Sarah Palin is on key women's issues.
Palin does "maverick" McCain's dirty work with obvious relish, just as the felonious Spiro Agnew did Nixon's. She gleefully spouts that Obama is "palling around with terrorists," a charge The Associated Press has labeled "unsubstantiated and racially tinged." She repeatedly spouts, "This is not a man who sees America as you see it and I see America."
Ironically, Palin's husband was for seven years a card-carrying member of the Alaska Independence Party, which advocates secession, not unlike disloyal Southerners in Lincoln's day. Honest Abe would find it shocking that a current-day candidate of his party is married to a radical secessionist.
The Grand Old Party has long engaged in sleaze. In 1950, Richard Nixon used character assassination against Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, a three-term liberal Democrat who today is deemed to be the prototypical victim of a smear campaign. Alluding to her alleged Communist or "Red" sympathies, Nixon said she was a "fellow traveler," citing her supposed "Communist-leaning" votes in Congress, and argued she was "pink right down to her underwear."
Nixon's close ally and fellow "anti-Communist," Sen. Joseph McCarthy, gave true meaning to political sleaze, calling Truman's distinguished secretary of state, George C. Marshall, a Communist sympathizer and more.
Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, who delivered sleaze for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, took slander to a higher level, with personal attacks their stock in trade. Atwater died supposedly repentant for the evil he'd done for the Republican cause. An unrepentant Rove is currently under subpoena by Congress for his role in the firing of federal prosecutors.
When Joe McCarthy attacked the U.S. Army (never a wise move for a politician), he encountered a quiet, cerebral lawyer from Boston by the name of Joseph Welch. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, McCarthy attempted to put into the record gratuitous information about a young lawyer, Fred Fisher -- who, though he was a Republican, had once (in law school and a few months thereafter) belonged to a chapter of a leftist organization, the Lawyer's Guild.
Fisher wasn't even on the team representing the Army in the case at hand, but his career could well be over if he was publicly smeared as a Communist, and that was a blow McCarthy could strike against Welch's law firm.
As McCarthy launched into a speech that would put Fisher's record as a member of the Lawyer's Guild into the record, Welch argued against him fiercely, castigating him personally ("Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness"), begging him not to go on.
"Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you've done enough," Welch said.
When McCarthy showed he was going to continue, Welch added the famous lines: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" From that moment on, McCarthy's days were numbered. He died a drunk three years later after being censured by the Senate. His sorry legacy: the term "McCarthyism."
Sarah Palin, abetted by John McCain and guided by her GOP handlers, has behaved no less miserably than Joe McCarthy. She, too, has no sense of decency.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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