I finally got around to renting and watching the movie Good Night and Good Luck, the Story of Edward R. Murrow and the "McCarthy" era. I found it particularly pertinent because I lived and worked in Wisconsin for 25 years as the political cartoonist for the Milwaukee Journal. One could not be involved with Wisconsin politics and ignore the infamous career of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
At the peak of the McCarthy tyranny, however, I was, more or less, a typical student at Western Kentucky University. My interests did not extend beyond, playing football, girls, partying and staying in ROTC to avoid being drafted and sent to Korea. In 1953, if someone had asked me who was Joseph McCarthy—I would not have had a clue.
In 1955 I was married. By the end of that year I found myself in the Army in Korea, rather than trying out for the Cleveland Browns. It was there that I discovered two things that changed my life: The real world and a book by Herblock, the great Washington Post political cartoonist.
Herblock, early on, saw Joseph McCarthy for what he really was, a dangerous, arrogant demagogue. On March 29, 1950, he drew a cartoon of the Republicans pushing the elephant (their party symbol) to the top of a stack of tar buckets labeled "McCarthyism." It became a standard term in the American lexicon of political discourse as a euphemism for smear tactics.
Watching the movie on Murrow—and contemplating my retrospective knowledge of the McCarthy era—I was struck by a sort of deja vu as regards the Bush administration.
In 1949 the Soviet Union exploded an Atomic Bomb and Mao Zedong took power in China, sharply increasing the sense of threat from Communism in the United States. While the expansionist ambitions and brutal tactics of communism were a legitimate concern, McCarthy shamelessly exploited people’s fears at the expense of basic American values. He nourished the ultraconservative view that equated Franklin Roosevelt’s programs with communism.
Those who opposed him were publicly branded as un-American communist sympathizers. He ruined lives and was Godfather to court and corporate decisions that shredded constitutional rights. His tactics included lies, deceptions and distortions. His success depended on the acquiescence of a public indoctrinated by propaganda and paralyzed by fear—and by a Congress with no political backbone.
Today, we have a legitimate concern over the ambition and brutal tactics of terrorist religious fanatics. Today, we have a leader who has shamelessly exploited 9/11 with lies, deceptions and distortions and used them to abandon the real pursuit of terrorists and start a phony "war on terrorists" in Iraq.
Today, we have a leader who panders to the fear of those terrorists by repeatedly accusing his critics of, at best, being terrorist sympathizers---or, at worst, being terrorist facilitators. "You are either for us---or for the terrorists!"
Worst of all, we have a leader who declares himself to be the soul "decider"of when our constitution protects us ----and what laws he feels obliged to obey. Sadly we have a substantial population willing to trade their civil liberties for dubious "security."
In 1953, Edward R. Murrow eloquently spoke these words--- which should apply to this day and to this President--George Bush:
" We must remember always that accusation is not truth and that conviction depends on evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak and to defend the causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who opposed McCarthy’s methods to keep silent–or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history but we cannot escape responsibility for the results. We can proclaim ourselves-- indeed as we are--the defenders of freedoms wherever it continues to exist in the world but we cannot continue to defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay among our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And who’s fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear-- he merely exploited it—and rather successfully.
Caesius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars–but in ourselves.'
Good night and good luck."