‘Have you no sense of decency?’
I wish someone had spoken up, with equal eloquence, during the House hearing on the alleged drug ring in the National Penitentiary that eventually degenerated into a “shameful” “disrobing” of Sen. Lilia de Lima and her relationship with a former driver and security aide.
While De Lima was not present at the hearing, her former admitted boyfriend Ronnie Dayan was on hand to answer any and all questions—complete with salacious details—on his former liaison with the senator. What I was waiting for was any one of the “honorable” members of the chamber to step in and rein in their more prurient colleagues who wanted to know the most intimate details of the De Lima-Dayan pairing.
I wanted someone, anyone, to summon the moral courage and righteous wrath that a lawyer displayed during the infamous “McCarthy Witch Hunt” of the 1950’s in which US Sen. Joseph McCarthy used his position to ostensibly ferret out Communists who were, he said, employed in various branches of the American government.
In the course of the hearings, McCarthy zeroed in on one young lawyer, Fred Fisher, who had been interviewed by Special Counsel to the Army Joseph Welch for a possible posting as an associate to assist in the hearings. In what he probably thought was a coup de grace on the intransigent Welch, McCarthy revealed that Welch was harboring in his law firm a lawyer who had belonged to a Communist “front organization.”
At this Welch asked for “something approaching a personal privilege” and launched a broadside against the senator that, for all intents and purposes, brought the hearings, and effectively, McCarthy’s political life, to an end.
Said Welch: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us.
“Little did I dream that you could be so reckless and cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr (the law firm where Welch worked). It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I will do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.”
When McCarthy attempted to defend himself by asserting that the Lawyers Guild, to which Fisher belonged while a student, was indeed a Communist organization, Welch interrupted him.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The hearings of McCarthy’s committee on un-American activities happened to be aired live on the then still novel technological marvel called television. Before Welch’s direct rebuttal of McCarthy’s sly insinuations and red-baiting, the American public had mostly kept quiet about the witch-hunt. This, even if it had resulted in hundreds of ruined lives and careers in the State Department, the United Nations, the academe, various government agencies, the armed forces and even Hollywood.
But hearing Welch’s words and seeing McCarthy’s stupefied expression at being called out in such a direct manner, Americans I suppose finally saw the real purpose of McCarthy’s investigation. They also saw for themselves the real measure of the man, an Emperor who had just been disrobed.
I am too young to have witnessed the McCarthy hearings—which by the way gave birth to the term “McCarthyism”—but I saw the scene of Welch’s confrontation with McCarthy in a TV-movie portraying this disturbing period of American history. The excerpts of the hearing, though, are sourced from official transcripts.
By the way, the investigation was sparked by the drafting into the army of G. David Schine, a young associate of McCarthy’s counsel Roy Cohn (the TV movie hinted at a sexual relationship between the two), which Cohn wanted reversed and for which he was ignored. Everything, even the probe into De Lima’s love life, is personal.
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