“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” Joseph N. Welch to Senator Joe McCarthy, June 9th, 1954
“When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?’” Senator Jeff Flake, October 24th, 2017
Sometimes in the rosy glow of history we forget that the greatest generation gave us Senator Joe McCarthy, who catapulted himself to fame in 1950 when, in a speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, he announced that “the State Department is infested with communists,” claiming to “have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . members of the Communist Party.” Thus began the Red Scare, which went on for over four years. McCarthy had no such list, but one bully can do a lot of damage by scaring Congress and much of the country into silence.
Joseph Welch was lead counsel for the army during the McCarthy hearings, and while his questions didn’t singlehandedly bring about McCarthy’s downfall – journalist Edward R. Murrow had publicly attacked McCarthy three months earlier – they struck such a chord with the public that McCarthy never recovered. They broke the silence.
Jeff Flake, a decent, upright and thoroughly conservative man, is now being criticized for leaving the field, instead of staying to fight. Undoubtedly because of his 18% approval rating in Arizona, his speech seems to have fallen on his colleagues’ deaf ears.
His questions persist. But did they break the silence?