Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Words about the "Tea Party" (1)

American history is replete with what we call “Populist” movements.   These are movements of the “people” in the face of the government, and of changes in society.
Perhaps the revolution itself was a populist movement directed against King George III and his governing of the 13 colonies without them being represented in the House of Commons.
Some populism has been of the left, e.g. William Jennings Bryan and Franklin D Roosevelt.

Some populism has been of the right, e.g. the “nativist” and “know- nothing” movements of the 19th Century, or the 20th Century anti-Semitic sentiments of Henry Ford or the depression era anti-Semitic Roman Catholic Priest,  Father Charles E. Coughlin.

Within the living memory of some of the readers of this blog there was the right-wing anti-communist movement spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  He was unrelenting in his crusade against those he said were communists: in Hollywood, in the State Department; in the Army; and in the Legal profession. He destroyed many lives.
McCarthy was eventually brought down by an Army attorney, Joseph Welch.
In one famous interchange, McCarthy responded to aggressive questioning from the Army's attorney, Joseph Welch. On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the hearings, Welch challenged Roy Cohn to give the Attorney General McCarthy's list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants "before the sun goes down." McCarthy responded, sounding noticeably intoxicated, by saying that if Welch was so concerned about persons aiding the Communist Party, he should check on a man in his Boston law office named Fred Fisher, who had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. had called "the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party."[10] At the time Brownell was seeking to designate the NLG as a Communist front organization. This was a violation of a pre-hearing agreement not to raise the issue because the designation was being litigated. Welch responded:
"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness...."
When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch cut him short:
"Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator.... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"  ( italicised via Wikepedia)


  1. Well said, Michael.
    Did you ever see my post: “Birthers? the Part of Lincoln Should be Ashamed of Itself,” which strikes some similar notes.

    If you've never seen the clip of Welch confronting Joe McCarthy with the “have you no shame” speech, you really need to. I don't know where it is to be found, maybe You Tube, but it is one of the most incandescent moments in American history, and it for all practical purposes ended the witch hunt. I had a friend whose father, an Army dentist, whose life was badly damaged by McCarthy.

    Who will be the Welch today to speak the truth about this new very dangerous movement in our national life?

  2. Be careful with the all encompassing "very dangerous movement" statements. They border on witch hunt level themselves. The 'tea party' movement in and of itself has a solidifying foundation for a reason - it is not a movement that should simply be dismissed as a "very dangerous movement". There are people in every demographic, political party, organization, etc. that lean V8'ishly too far in their views, but I don't believe the main body of this movement is one of those. I will stay tuned to both sides - just as I did during the "witch hunt" of former president George W Bush.