Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No decency

Last week, Congress watchers were subjected to what looked like an episode right out of the 1950s. Sadly, it was not a rerun, but was a sad and embarrassing piece of American history playing out again.

In the first decade of the Cold War, Sen. Joseph McCarthy used his position as chairman of a Senate committee to intimidate Washington, D.C., Hollywood and much of the rest of the country into paranoid silence as he "hunted" Communist enemies that only he could see. Anyone who challenged him was quickly labeled a Communist or fellow traveler. He turned objections to his tactics into proof of disloyalty to America, and used innuendo and outright lies to play on public fears in a reign of terror that ruined many lives.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann took a page from the McCarthy playbook when she said, "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?"

Bachmann claimed extremists' desire to bring Sharia law to the U.S. and that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is threatening our government. Then she got personal by charging that Huma Abedin, a State Department deputy chief of staff and longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, is "connected to the Muslim Brotherhood" through family members who live in the Middle East.

Of course, there is no evidence that any of this is true. Truth didn't matter to Sen. McCarthy and it apparently does not matter to the congresswoman either. But the truth will matter to those whose careers and personal lives Bachmann may ruin just as McCarthy once ruined those of his victims.

Sen. John McCain wasn't intimidated. McCain defended Abedin. "Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully," McCain said. "I am proud to know Huma and to call her my friend."

McCain will likely lose more than a few friends among the Republicans for his public challenge of Bachmann. He will likely suffer significant pressure to fall into line. Standing alone takes courage.

Sen. McCain deserves more than praise. He deserves emulation. Letting demagoguery like that being spewed by Bachmann go unchallenged may keep the peace, and a few more friends, but obliterates all decency.

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