[Originally published May 12, 2021]
A Republican woman spoke up against the malignant infection she saw spreading through her party and her country. She called out the big lie and spoke unwaveringly about how the propagation of that lie was turning Americans against their neighbors, colleagues, and friends.
She stood alone, her love of country the only levee between her and the flood of retribution pushing against her resolve. Her reward for speaking the truth was to be stripped of her positions of influence within Congress, belittled and ridiculed by lesser men with louder bullhorns.
Still, she stood firm as she declared, “Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:
“The right to criticize;
“The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
“The right to protest;
“The right of independent thought.”
That woman was not Liz Cheney; that woman was Margaret Chase Smith. The big lie of her time was McCarthyism, and history has shown that she was right to speak up.
Today McCarthyism is synonymous with baseless fear-mongering, an overreach of power, and delusional hysteria; it is a stain on our history and the man who led the charge is held up not as a hero but as a warning. Yet in 1950, when Smith spoke against McCarthy on the Senate floor, the eyes of America were blindfolded by the red fear of Communism, and those who tugged at the edges to let in the light risked not only their careers, but in some cases, their freedom.
The eyes of the Republican Party have replaced their tattered red blindfold with one that is emblazoned with “MAGA” on the front and a Made in China tag in the back. They have forgotten the lessons taught by Smith and Joseph McCarthy, how a slingshot holding the truth can slay a pernicious lying giant.
After making her Declaration of Conscience in 1950, Margaret Chase Smith went on to serve for 23 additional years in the Senate, ran for President in 1960, and lived to the impressive age of 97.
McCarthy, on the other hand, faced a recall vote in 1954, endured the embarrassment of being censured by the Senate that same year, and was described by his colleague, Sen. William Jenner, as “the kid who came to the party and peed in the lemonade.” The once fearsome McCarthy spent his final years soaked in alcohol and bitterness, dying of cirrhosis of the liver in 1957 at the age of 48.
In the special election following his death, the now maligned Republican was replaced by Democrat William Proxmire who called his predecessor, “a disgrace to Wisconsin, to the Senate, and to America.” Proxmire would go on to serve for 32 years in the Senate, and Democrats still hold that Senate seat today.
“To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.” Ronald Reagan’s warning should ring like a siren in the ears of every Republican capitulating to the delusional conspiracies of a certain septuagenarian from Florida. The crocodile may look like he is smiling at you, but really, he’s just smiling at his next meal. His appetite is insatiable and his pallet indiscriminate.
Like Margaret Chase Smith before her, members of her own party have stripped Liz Cheney of her power within her chamber of Congress. Like Smith, they hope this will keep her quiet. Like Smith, they will fail.
“The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.
“I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because 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.”
“This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The first of the two previous quotations is from 1950 and the second is from 2021.
“I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.” (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)