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No Decency

June 9, 2008, 4:13 pm

On this day in 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy played a game of guilt by association. He attacked Joseph Welch, special counsel to the United States Army, suggesting that an associate at Welch’s white-shoe firm, Hale and Dorr, had ties to a Communist organization. McCarthy referred to Fred Fisher, who had, while in school, joined the Lawyers Guild, a group devoted to protecting civil liberties. In this case, though, unlike many other episodes during McCarthy’s reign of terror, somebody powerful pushed back. Welch replied to McCarthy:

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?

Television cameras captured the moment, reducing the jowly, sneering McCarthy in size. By refusing to back down, Welch unmasked McCarthy as a fraud and thug, a bully without any decency at all. The confrontation between the two men turned out to be the apogee of the 50s Red Scare.

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