We get to a certain age when we know that we’ve earned the right to, as my Grandmother Adams said, “speak our mind.”
With the behavior of some in presidential primaries bringing shame to the office of president and making us the butt of jokes and sarcastic comments around the world, I am smart enough to know that I want both the person on the Republicans’ ticket and on the Democrats’ to be someone with intellect, ethics, communication skills, and the ability to realize that compromise is essential in a country as diverse as ours in terms of social and economic issues as well as in their view of the role of government.
I also want someone who will not attempt to turn the clock back to the days of laws that allowed for the overt and covert oppression of females, minorities, the disabled, military veterans, and persons whose sexual orientation differs from the mainstream.
I realize that politics is a blood sport as so many commentators frequently tell us. Weakness almost always follows a loss of blood, and as much as I love debate, I am appalled by the behavior of many of the candidates. The attacks are so violent and so dishonest that I wonder where this country is headed.
I’ve always been interested in American history/government and have taken graduate and undergraduate courses in the discipline; therefore, I am familiar with the McCarthy Era where a U.S. Senator who had serious personal and professional problems was able to get many people on his team by claiming that Communists were infiltrating important governmental offices. If anyone questioned him or the source of his information, that person became the subject of attack.
With mass communication today, we know almost immediately about these current strategies of threats, of bullying, and we see them play out in living color on our giant television screens. Threats against spouses of candidates, threats that violence will occur if a particular candidate is not selected, cries of foul play when the selection processes we are now following (complex as they might be) have been in place and are a matter of states’ right.
Who had the courage to stand up against Joseph McCarthy and the Democrats? A U.S. senator, Margaret Chase Smith. And she paid dearly for her words spoken on June 1, 1950, words which seem so applicable to today’s situation with the presidential primaries.
Harry Truman was president then, and Sen. Smith lambasted him for his lack of leadership (Later she would attack President Dwight Eisenhower, enrage Richard Nixon and attack President John F. Kennedy. In other words, when she saw an issue that needed her attention, she was an outspoken, equal-opportunity critic).
In 1950 she felt the country needed to replace the Democratic Administration in the White House with, as she worded it, its “mania for loose spending and loose programs.”
She did not, however, want to replace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that “lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty” which would ”prove equally disastrous to this nation.”
The key sentence which she delivered in her speech to Congress on June 1 was the following: “But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”
(Calumny means the act of deliberately lying to slander persons, damage them.)
These four words seem to define the current race for the White House, and I feel shame, embarrassment, as I listen to some of the candidates.
According to the U.S. House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, “Senator Smith bravely denounced McCarthyism at a time when others feared speaking out would ruin their careers.” We have some speaking out now after months of silence in which commentators now have found the courage to say, “No, this is not my party.”
Sen. Chase’s “speaking out” as well as her reputation for being a moderate, “more of an Independent,” and voting across party lines did ultimately damage – and finish- her career.
But that’s not all for you who are a bit lax when it comes to American history – and aren’t we all? In 1964, Sen. Smith announced that she was running for president: “I have few illusions and no money, but I’m staying for the finish.”
She was the first woman to have her name put in contention for president by a major political party. She was defeated by Barry Goldwater, and we all know how that Republican nomination turned out.
In 1972, her opponent for her fifth consecutive term to represent Maine as senator charged that she at age 74 was too old to serve — along with some other issues. Democrat William D. Hathaway defeated her, but it was not a runaway: 53 to 47 percent. Hathaway’s tenure was short as he was defeated for reelection in 1978, when he lost to William Cohen by 22 percentage points.
I am a single voice, but I’m writing to say that it’s a challenge to talk to my college students about the disregard among some current presidential candidates for ethics and logic when insanity is the prevailing mode.
In conclusion, President George H.W. Bush awarded Sen. Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989. Yes to you, President Bush, for endorsing values that some of us as Americans endorse.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or [email protected]