Sam Smith – The other day I found myself wondering who among the famous and powerful I still admired and discovered my list painfully short. Instead, I began thinking of liars and con artists or, at best, popular figures much better at appearing to be what they were meant to be than actually being it.
While the Trumpians of course led the pack, even well-meaning media voices have unconsciously redefined objectivity by treating the political right fraud as if it was merely another alternative. And presumably wise academics join by regarding our status as within the range of normal.
In my lifetime, however, I would rank this as the worst for America, partially matched only by the horrors of the McCarthy era. In both cases, lies turned into accepted reality.
The McCarthy period came back to mind thanks to a book I’ve been reading, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, by Fredrik Logevall. I was never a big fan of Kennedy, in part because I had learned to judge politicians by what they did rather than whom they seemed to be. Kennedy was the first president to benefit from show business, particularly the new technology of television. In fact, while JFK won the post television debate poll against Nixon, he lost among radio listeners. During the 1960 campaign, Norman Mailer wrote that Kennedy was “going to be seen as a great box-office actor.”
But what I never knew about this actor was his friendly relationship with Joseph McCarthy, described in part by Logevall:
“Kennedy knew Joe McCarthy and got on well with him. He was a fellow Irish Catholic who, like Jack, had served in the South Pacific during the war …. and who had come around for dinners at the Georgetown home in 1947, when both men were new on Capitol Hill. Jack got a kick out of McCarthy’s affability and energy on these evenings, and Eunice, too, welcomed his presence. McCarthy’s penchant for profanity didn’t bother Jack; he himself could curse like the sailor he had once been. In due course McCarthy would squire both Eunice and on occasion her sister Patricia to evening events in Washington and Boston, and would visit the Kennedys in Hyannis Port. He attended Robert Kennedy’s wedding to Ethel Skakel”
A 1954 poll found that 50% approved of McCarthy and only 29% disapproved. It is interesting that, given the current role of Rep. Liz Cheney, that the rare voice to speak out again McCarthy in the Senate was a Republican woman, Margaret Chase Smith.
Today we’re in a similar period in which the purportedly constitutional and democratic establishment is painfully weak, in which lies are given normalcy, fiction treated as a rational version of truth, and the despicable are judged by rank and notoriety, not reality. The obvious cure is for those supposed homelands for the moral – academia, media and churches for example – to dump their fear and caution and rise up for democracy and decency. If Liz Cheney and Margaret Chase Smith can do it, they can too.