"Senator, you won't need anything in the record when I finish telling you this. Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness. . . Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad [Fred Fischer, a young lawyer at Welch's Hale & Dorr who McCarthy accused of being a communist sympathizer]. 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'm a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me. . . Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"Sound familiar? Following that exchange the heretofore untouchable Senator Joseph McCarthy, one of the greater demagogues in our political history, watched his popularity plummet. After this point, critics who had not stood up to McCarthyism for fear of being charged by McCarthy as communist fellow travelers, began to find their legs, stood up on them and called out the Wisconsin senator. Soon, the American public followed suit. And the Senate followed, censuring McCarthy, December 2, 1954, by a vote of 67 to 22. Finis. McCarthy was never again to be heard from in any meaningful way, and until his death in 1954, in the Senate and the press he was ignored and ridiculed.
Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel to the Army, addressing Senator Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy Hearing, June 5, 1954
Long before the Army-McCarthy showdown between McCarthy and Joseph Welch, however, the senator's demagoguery and nastiness had long surpassed Welch's query, "have you no sense of decency?". Nonetheless, such was the sway he held over the nation that, as one of the braver of the brave reporters Richard Rovere, observed in his journalistic obituary for McCarthy in 1957:
"He held two Presidents captive--or as nearly captive as any Presidents of the United States have ever been held; in their conduct of the nation's affairs, Harry S Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, from early 1950 through late 1954, could never act without weighing the effect of their plans upon McCarthy and the forces he led, and in consequence there were times when, because of this man, they could not act at all.
Now [McCarthyism] is evocative of an almost undifferentiated evil to a large number of Americans and of a positive good to a somewhat smaller number. To the one, whatever is illiberal, repressive, reactionary, obscurantist, anti-intellectual, totalitarian, or merely swinish will for some time to come be McCarthyism, while to the other it means nothing more or less than a militant patriotism."
Richard H. Rovere's Senator Joe McCarthy
Fast forward to Sandra Fluke, 2012, February 23rd, and her testimony before a hastily convened unofficial House Oversight Committee meeting arranged by Democratic Senate members after Republicans had denied women an opportunity to testify before a House Government Operations Committee hearing dealing with women's health and contraception. Ms. Fluke closed her comments with this:
"[W]hen you let university administrators or other employers, rather than women and their doctors, dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose aren’t, a woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body."That day, as we know, she fired a shot that was heard around the world, especially the right wing world. The archly conservative CNS.NEWS.com ran a headline a few days later: "Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate."
That headline, though, seemed tame until Rush Limbaugh weighed in:
"What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex -- what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."We know the hornets nest of uproar that comment stirred up, as it should have. We've heard his non-apology apology. We've watched advertisers run lest they be stung as well.
As was true for McCarthy in 1952 at the time of the Army-McCarthy hearings, misogyny is really nothing new for Rush Limbaugh. Both were, to put it mildly, unrestrained in their choice of words. Both criticized others for engaging in the very same behavior they themselves made the coin of the realm among their McCarthyites and Ditto Heads. Both frightened even those who they appealed to. Limbaugh, like McCarthy, still seems to hold the Republican party hostage. So muscular is his ability to adversely affect careers, elections, candidates, and causes that few Republicans have dared criticize his comments about Fluke. Josephy McCarthy, though, was undone, eventually, by those who feared him. Today, Limbaugh's remarks appear to have rung a similar bell of reminiscence in the nation, if not among GOP congressional leaders, governors, and presidential candidates; is this controversy the end of a round in a long fight, or is it the end of the fight itself? If so, who won is still up for grabs.
We don't sympathize with the strong brutally attacking the average person. Joseph McCarthy attacked a young, largely unknown lawyer in Welch's firm, Fred Fisher, for a highly dubious "transgression" that occurred many years before. With that, the Senator's hatefulness reached critical mass, thereby permanently disabling his political momentum. Did Limbaugh alter his momentum by attacking Sandra Fluke, a citizen expressing her opinion before a congressional audience?
In 49 B.C.E., General Julius Caesar and a single legion crossed the Rubicon River, leaving Gaul into Italy and thus threatening Rome. He'd been accused of treason and thereby was pushing the spear into the corpus of the Roman Senate and consul Pompey. Caesar eventually won his war against the Senate, Pompey, and Pompey's sons. In 1954, Senator McCarthy crossed his own figurative Rubicon. He was pushed back, and drowned in it. Likewise, on February 29th this year, Rush Limbaugh made his own crossing. Once across, however, he met an aroused public and fleeing advertisers. Then, when challenged, he turned back into his Rubicon, and proffered an "apology" as cynical as it was unhelpful. He's now treading water.
Like Senator McCarthy and others before him, he may have already lost the war, despite his loyal base. Americans are roused to action by depravity visited on unpresuming fellow citizens like Ms. Fluke, regardless of whether Americans support her beliefs or policy positions. If Limbaugh survives at all, he'll never be the same again, he'll forever live on the opposite shore of the Rubicon, never able to frighten as before, a diminished crank caught in his own personality.
As yet his fate remains undecided. The pertinent question remaining then becomes only this one: