More than once a call for decency has put the US back on the right pathby Steven P Murphy / August 11, 2016 / Leave a comment
My grandfather believed in America. His style and deportment were formed in the early part of the last century. He had impeccable manners, wrote letters thoughtfully, wore vested suits, and he spoke in a careful cadence I later recognized as that of his hero: Franklin D Roosevelt.
After putting himself through law school, he chose a life of public service. He became a lawyer for New York City in the 1920s, loyally representing the people of New York until his retirement in the 1960s. He conveyed to his grandchildren, repeatedly, and with great seriousness, a litany of lessons to live by: the importance of integrity, the role of the rule of law and the genius of our constitution. He brought his lessons to life through stories of American heroes. He had a particular fondness for heroes with the courage to speak out and to risk something by doing so. He stressed that we were obliged to proactively choose a moral course, reminding us also that as important as it was to have a moral intention, a moral end never justified an immoral means. In what was then the recent past, the story of Joseph N Welch became his favorite example of moral obligation.
In 1954, at the height of the Army-McCarthy hearings, when Senator Joseph McCarthy, that era’s seemingly unstoppable demagogue, had succeeded in rousing great portions of the nation through stoking the fear of a communist infiltration, Welch, an attorney for the Army, spoke out against him. It was the early days of televised proceedings and the nation witnessed McCarthy going one step too far and unfairly attacking a young man. This act compelled Welch to break convention, take the microphone, and call the bully out, saying famously:
“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
That sentence resonated and provided the tipping point that began McCarthy’s tumble down the other side of his populist wave. Welch’s call for decency woke America to the dangers of a demagogue,…