Saturday, August 13, 2016

Donald Trump, Joseph McCarthy, and Two Girls from Maine

Some of them say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
II Corinthians 10:10

Senator Susan Collins
Maine Senator Susan Collins is not known as an orator. If you have heard her, you know that at times listening to her speak is almost painful. She seems to hesitate. Her voice cracks. It is as if she is searching for words or desperately trying not to stutter. Senator Collins has a rare speech impediment known as spasmodic dysphonia. It is characterized by involuntary movements or spasms of the muscles in her larynx when she speaks.

But earlier this week she spoke loudly and clearly. In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post and then later in the Portland Press Herald, she announced her decision not to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.

“I will not be voting for Donald Trump for president,” she wrote, “This is not a decision I make lightly, for I am a lifelong Republican. But Donald Trump does not reflect historical Republican values nor the inclusive approach to governing that is critical to healing the divisions in our country.”

Although she was impressed with Mr. Trump’s ability to connect with the concerns of voters who have felt left out of the political process, she was appalled by his attacks on Senator John McCain and Fox News Host Megyn Kelly. She understood his aversion to “political correctness,” but that did not give him license to abandon a sense of “common decency.”

“With the passage of time, I have become increasingly dismayed by his constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize. But it was his attacks directed at people who could not respond on an equal footing — either because they do not share his power or stature or because professional responsibility precluded them from engaging at such a level — that revealed Mr. Trump as unworthy of being our president.”
In an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) with Ari Shapiro she explained, 
"Temperament, judgment, self-restraint are essential qualities in a president. After all, we live in an extremely perilous world and Donald Trump's tendency to lash out at foes, whether they're real or imagined, could produce a very unsettling effect, in which an international event spins dangerously out of control."
She was particularly troubled, she told Shapiro, by his propensity to mock those who were most “vulnerable,” such as a reporter with a disability. 

Reactions to her announcement broke down along ideological lines. Liberals criticized her for not speaking out sooner and for not condemning Mr. Trump more vigorously. Conservatives who support Mr. Trump called her a liberal and said that she was not a real Republican.

Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz praised Collins for her principles and noted her overwhelming popularity in Maine.

“Collins will be a U.S. senator essentially for as long as she wants to be” He observed. “The fact that she’s a lifelong Republican is overshadowed by the bigger fact that Mainers of every stripe like who she is, what she does and how she goes about doing it.”

Nemitz was not the only one to compare her op-ed piece to one of the most important speeches ever given in the United States Senate. 

Senator Margaret Chase Smith
On June 1, 1950, having been a Senator for barely sixteen months,
Margaret Chase Smith, the woman who once occupied the seat that Senator Collins now holds, delivered the address she called, “A Declaration of Conscience.” 

The most remarkable thing about the speech is that she dared to speak up when others were silent.

In the speech she condemned the witch hunting smear tactics employed by one of the most powerful men in the Senate, Joseph McCarthy. And McCarthy retaliated by removing her from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and giving her seat to Richard Nixon. In 1997 the Republican Conference appointed Susan Collins to chair that committee.

Smith’s speech was a masterpiece of understated eloquence. “I speak as briefly as possible,” she said, “because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism.  I speak as briefly 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.”

“I speak as a Republican,” she said.  “I speak as a woman.  I speak as a United States Senator.  I speak as an American.”

She criticized the Democratic administration and the Democratic Party for a lack of leadership and she made it clear that “The nation sorely needs a Republican victory.” But victory by itself would not be enough. “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”

There were no television cameras to record her speech, but the Senate chamber was filled and Senator McCarthy was sitting at his desk just behind her as she spoke. She had expected that he might respond, but he left the chamber in silence after she sat down. Later, speaking to the press, he referred to her and to the six senators who had endorsed her declaration as, “Snow White and the six dwarfs.” A few senators thanked her for her remarks, but most were silent, fearful of finding themselves the targets of Senator McCarthy’s attacks.

Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” was remarkable on many levels. She was new to the senate, she was a member of Senator McCarthy’s party and like him she was a vigorous opponent of communism. She had initially supported his efforts, believing that if there were communists in the State Department they needed to be found out and removed from the government. It was only after she discovered that his charges had no basis in fact and that he was destroying the reputations of innocent people that she saw it as her duty to speak out.

“Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations,” she declared, “are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism.”

She listed four basic principles:
“The right to criticize;
  The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
  The right to protest;
  The right of independent thought.”
And she argued that, “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. . . . Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own.”

Without the freedom to speak out, “none of us could call our souls our own.”

When Susan Collins completes her present term she will be tied with Margaret Chase Smith as the Republican woman who has served the longest in the United States Senate. Susan Collins has earned that honor.

(*The reference to "Two Girls From Maine" is taken from Gail Collins, who used it as her name for Olympia Snow and Susan Collins.)

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