Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Quote of the Day (Margaret Chase Smith, on a Party That ‘Puts Political Exploitation Above National Interest’)

“I don't believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren't that desperate for victory. I don't want to see the Republican party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people.”— Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995), Republican Senator from Maine, “Declaration of Conscience,” U.S. Senate speech, June 1, 1950

In two recent articles, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and former Presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan has highlighted the lonely courage of Senator Margaret Chase Smith. I briefly referred to that address in a post from 2½ years ago, but current circumstances make it more pertinent than even then.

Without ever naming Joseph McCarthy, Smith was unmistakably denouncing him for using the Senate as “a forum of hate and character assassination.” Fear of the demagogic conspiracist from Wisconsin—and the hope of exploiting his fraudulent, reckless charges of Communism for partisan purposes—led his GOP Senate colleagues to stay silent on McCarthy’s abuses, as well as on Smith’s rebuke.

The contemporary parallel that Noonan has in mind, of course, is the Capitol Hill GOP’s cowardly refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden as President-elect—not only more than a month after the election but after multiple courts and electoral boards in multiple states have rejected Donald Trump’s charges of massive electoral fraud that surpass McCarthy’s wild Senate harangues in their fact-free content and rank irresponsibility. (Trump has no more evidence of such trickery than McCarthy had a list of Communists in the State Department.)

Over in the House of Representatives, 125 Republicans—more than 60% of that group—signed an amicus brief backing a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn results in battleground states won by Biden.

Of course they were hypocritical in criticizing the state prerogatives they have always regarded as intrinsic in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution and opportunistic in keeping in the White House a member of their own party.

But they also acted cravenly in the face of a President who, like McCarthy, has not hesitated to provoke the party base against even mildly dissenting GOP incumbents in primaries—and shamefully in supporting an unprecedented challenge to the traditional orderly transfer of power in the Oval Office from one party to another.

For all their cavalier confidence that their support for the lawsuit was cost-free (even Republican judges have ensured that the litigation would have no chance), they may still reap the whirlwind at the hands of a President they were always too fatally sure would be stopped without any help on their part.

Trump aide Stephen Miller is now putting the GOP congressional delegation on the spot by speaking of an “alternate” slate of electors in the contested states that will be submitted to Congress in January, before Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated.

There will be nobody left to protect them from Trump’s wrath once they nervously decide to derail his clown car. Many will have to consider what they have dreaded for many of their waking hours these past few years: a life away from the privileges they enjoyed in Congress.

Relax, folks—you’ll find plenty of company in unemployment. Maybe you’ll even learn from others what it’s like to have a GOP ready to help a would-be dictator but not ordinary Americans still out of work through no fault of their own.

(By the way, if you want to see a fictional character inspired by Smith, see a very young Betty White in this YouTube clip from the 1962 film Advise and Consent, in which her Sen. Bessie Adams expertly cuts down to size McCarthy stand-in Fred Van Ackerman, played by George Grizzard.)

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