Joseph Welch during the McCarthy Hearings
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Sixty-three years ago today, Joseph Welch, the Chief Counsel for the United States Army during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist hearings uttered a phrase that shook the Senator and stopped the momentum of McCarthy’s far ranging political crusade to impinge the honor and integrity of Americans who he accused of being Communists on live television, with no chance for rebuttal, knowing that even the hint of being associated with the Communists would ruin their lives, even if it proved to be unfounded.
On the 30th day of the hearings, fed up with McCarthy’s tactics, Welch stopped McCarthy in his tracks. Welch challenged McCarthy’s Counsel, Roy Cohn to provide the Attorney General with McCarthy’s list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants “before the sun goes down.”
(Note: Cohn later became Donald Trump’s lawyer in the first series of lawsuits against the future President for racial discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act in the early 1970s before his disbarment)
McCarthy interrupted and began an ad homonym attack on one of Welch’s legal associates. Welch stopped him and said:
Until this moment, Senator, I think I have 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 you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. 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 would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
McCarthy charged ahead only to be stopped by Welch.
Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
Even so McCarthy went back on the attack and was repulsed yet again.
Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more witnesses. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.
The chamber exploded in cheering and applause as McCarthy sat silent. It was a moment that McCarthy and his hearings never recovered from. “Tail gunner Joe” would be censured by the Senate and die just three years later from acute hepatitis.
Over the past two years we have seen the President, his aides, his political hatchet-men in the pulpits and the media, and even sitting GOP Congressmen and Senators go out of their way to impugn the honor and integrity of anyone who criticizes the President or who seems to stand in his way, be they the Acting Attorney General, the FBI Director, and even members of the Federal Courts.
As the Senate hearings investigating the Russia scandal that is rapidly encompassing a large number of Trump aides continue, I wonder if in the midst of them someone will have their Joseph Welch moment and challenge those in the Senate, from the White House, or in the media impugn the integrity, motives, and honor of Comey and others during the hearings this week.