01 December 2006
December 2 In History
Those who watch Keith Olbermann take on President Bush have heard him say, "Have you no decency, sir? Below is the context for that remark and why today following yesterday is a very odd conjunction of historical dates.
Yesterday, December 1, was AIDs Day around the world to encourage support, awareness and understanding for all those with this disease.
If you have not seen it yet, get a copy of Angels in America. One of the major themes is the death of Roy Cohn from AIDs. So what does that have to do with today?
December 2, 1954: McCarthy condemned by Senate
The U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for conduct unbecoming of a senator. The condemnation, which was equivalent to a censure, related to McCarthy's controversial investigation of suspected communists in the U.S. government, military, and civilian society.
What is known as "McCarthyism" began on February 9, 1950, when McCarthy, a relatively obscure Republican senator from Wisconsin, announced during a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, that he had in his possession a list of 205 communists who had infiltrated the U.S. State Department.
Towards the end of the hearings wherein McCarthy was unable to produce names from the lists he so famously waved there was a memorable exchange as follows:
On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the hearings, McCarthy accused Fred Fisher, one of the junior attorneys at Welch's firm, of association (while in college) with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which the U.S. Attorney General at the time was seeking to designate as a Communist front organization (see Army-McCarthy hearings). Welch wrote off Fisher's association with the NLG as a youthful indiscretion and famously rebuked: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch cut him off and demanded the chairman "call the next witness." At that point the gallery erupted in applause.
In 1952 Joseph McCarthy appointed Roy Cohn as the chief counsel to the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate. Cohn had been recommended by Edgar Hoover, who had been impressed by his involvement in the prosecution of the Rosenburgs. Soon after Cohn was appointed, he recruited his best friend, David Schine, to become his chief consultant.
For some time opponents of McCarthy had been accumulating evidence concerning his homosexual relationships. Rumours began to circulate that Cohn and David Schine were having a sexual relationship. Although well-known by political journalists, it did not become public until Hank Greenspun published an article in the Las Vagas Sun in 25th October, 1952.
Joseph McCarthy considered a libel suit against Greenspun but decided against it when he was told by his lawyers that if the case went ahead he would have to take the witness stand and answer questions about his sexuality. In an attempt to stop the rumours circulating, McCarthy married his secretary, Jeannie Kerr. Later the couple adopted a five-week old girl from the New York Foundling Home.
In October, 1953, McCarthy began investigating communist infiltration into the military. Attempts were made by McCarthy to discredit Robert Stevens, the Secretary of the Army. The president, Dwight Eisenhower, was furious and now realised that it was time to bring an end to McCarthy's activities.
The United States Army retaliated by passing information about Joseph McCarthy to journalists known to be opposed to him. This included the news that Cohn had abused congressional privilege by trying to prevent David Schine from being drafted. When that failed, it was claimed that Cohn tried to pressure the Army to grant Schine special privileges. The well-known newspaper columnist, Drew Pearson, published the story on 15th December, 1953.
The televised hearings of the Senate hearings exposed the tactics of Cohn and Joseph McCarthy. Leading politicians in both parties, had been embarrassed by McCarthy's performance and on 2nd December, 1954, a censure motion condemned his conduct by 67 votes to 22. Cohn was forced to resign but he managed to join a New York law firm and over the years represented an impressive list of high-profile clients.
In the 1980s Cohn's luck ran out. Disbarred from practicing law in New York State on grounds of unethical and unprofessional conduct, he contracted AIDs. Roy Cohn died on 2nd August, 1986.