by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
In June of 1954, the career of Sen. Joseph McCarthy began to implode when an Army lawyer, Joseph Welch, interrupted with his now-famous, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” The anti-communist investigations soon ended, and senators voted to censure McCarthy. They charged that he “acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute … and to impair its dignity.” He died within three years.
Though history has shown there was truth in many of McCarthy’s accusations, the scandal was never really about his anti-communist crusade. It was about tactics — his contempt for witnesses, government officials, and fellow senators. They began turning their backs on him whenever he spoke, rebuking his lack of respect. Observers of today’s U.S. Senate hearings would be hard pressed to find any shred of the dignity its members once defended so fiercely.
Today congressmen and senators openly accuse each other of lying, cheating, and stealing. Confirmation hearings regularly deteriorate into spectacles that would never have been tolerated in McCarthy’s time. Nominees for responsible public offices are brazenly accused of the most outrageous crimes, based on “evidence” that would never survive the lowliest court. The treatment of judicial nominees like Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Bret Kavanaugh would have been unconscionable even to McCarthy.