Monday, May 28, 2018

Declaration of Conscience

Senator Margaret Chase Smith (seated, right front) with other women members of Congress, 1960. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
Margaret Chase Smith's "Declaration of Conscience" — More than Half a Century Later, Still Potent
by Denis Ferrara

MONDAY, May 28th 2018. Memorial Day in America.

68 years ago, On June 1, 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, of Maine, delivered these words to the U.S. Senate in response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s ever-widening, life-destroying “witch hunt” for Communists.

Mr. President:

I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch of our Government.

I speak as briefly as possible because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism. I speak as simply as possible because the issue is too great to be obscured by eloquence. I speak simply and briefly in the hope that my words will be taken to heart.

Margaret Chase Smith.
I speak as a Republican, I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American:

The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

It is strange that we can verbally attack anyone else without restraint and with full protection and yet we hold ourselves above the same type of criticism here on the Senate Floor. Surely the United States Senate is big enough to take self-criticism and self-appraisal. Surely we should be able to take the same kind of character attacks that we dish out to outsiders.

I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul searching — for us to weigh our consciences — on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America — on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism –
The right to criticize;
The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
The right to protest;
The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single
American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs.

Who of us doesn't? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred
in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes.

As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.

Margaret Chase Smith referred to her remarks as a “Declaration of Conscience.” Unfortunately, it would take Chase’s fellow members of the Senate and Congress, not to mention a rapt and terrified public, years to come to its senses. 

But it did.

America, founded on “ideals” of freedom and equality,
has had to be schooled over and over; minds and hearts had to be changed.  More vitally, because some minds and hearts can never be changed, amendments to our great Constitution have been made, and must be adhered to.

Even in amending, America’s heart — alive  with hope and pride in the “all men are created equal” credo — has failed, or been painfully diluted, time and again.  But time and again, we rose up and met the challenges of good men who wrote good words, but who had no idea how man — and woman! — would progress over over two centuries.

Today, Memorial Day, we remember and honor all those who died in service to our country.  They died in wars some considered noble, ignoble or pointless. They died in a terrible war that is still being fought in so many ways; can we honestly say the Civil War truly ended? They died in wars that made us the world’s greatest superpower.   And they died in wars we lost because we just didn’t realize what we were doing.

The truest way to honor our fallen — and the too-often shrugged off “collateral damage” of civilian war casualties — is to make certain that America continues on its unwieldy, sometimes schizophrenic, often hypocritical, always too slow, march toward “a more perfect union.”  A union that all of us can be proud of; benefit from and be willing to sacrifice for if need be.
ENDQUOTE:  “The growth of the mass media of communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved.  Thus it has become, more than ever before, an arena into which private emotions and personal problems can be readily projected. 

Richard Hofstadter.
“Mass communication has made it possible to keep the mass man in an almost constant state of political mobilization.” — Historian Richard Hofstadter, writing in the ... early 1950’s!

I would add, however, that in times of crisis, being in a “constant state of political mobilization” is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you can’t mobilize around the concepts of democracy, equality and truth-telling, then you have simply never studied the best of what our founders and our greatest presidents worked for.  

Being in a constant state of hysteria, being unwilling to compromise, being swept up by cults of personality, whether those personalities have been elected, or elect to opine (mostly) on cable TV is where the danger lurks.

Sorry — no show biz today. But while honoring our soldiers and pondering our future, let’s hope for good weather, good food, family camaraderie.  And if we can’t speak of politics without apoplexy, then let’s talk about ... the “Deadpool” sequel ... the joys (and insomniac agonies) of binge-watching ... the marvelous Broadway season ... the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the next NBC live musical, “Hair.”

Wear sunblock.
Contact Denis here.