Thursday, January 12, 2006

The New McCarthyism

During the 1950's an obscure Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy launched a campaign to seek and destroy Communist sympathizers in the U.S. Government and various other parts of the culture including the entertainment industry. McCarthy, operating on the widely accepted "Domino Theory" sought to destroy any vestiges of Communist connections lest the U.S. be taken over. The culmination of this campaign resulted in committee hearings where he attacked people, movies, and books, anything which had the potential to influence people in favor of Communism. McCarthy's downfall came when he went after the military. Former World War II general and sitting President Dwight Eisenhower put a stop to what had become a witch-hunt. McCarthy was later censured in 1954 and by 1957 he was dead.[Source: CNN] While I hesitate to place anyone or anything on the same level as those dark days in the early 1950's, what was witnessed this week during the Senate Judiciary Committee, in my opinion, comes as close to the activities of McCarthy as we have seen in a very long time.

The confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice, especially one as qualified as Samuel Alito, should be focused almost solely on his ability as a judge and his knowledge of the law and U.S. Constitution. However, since Alito's confirmation was a foregone conclusion considering the 55 seat majority enjoyed by Republicans, the Democrats on the committee launched desperate attacks on the nominee in an effort to paint him as being "out of the mainstream" In the case of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, the attacks went even further. Kennedy spent most of his questioning grilling Alito on his association with a conservative alumni group at Princeton called Concerned Alumni for Princeton (CAP). Based on all the media accounts, CAP, which ceased to exist in 1988, protested the use of affirmative action, protested the entrance of women at the formerly all men's Ivy League School, and even went to bat for the ROTC amid the anti-war rants of the Vietnam Era. According to Alito it was his concern for the ROTC that led to his initial association. The sticking point came from his 1985 job application with the Reagan Administration when he noted it as evidence of his philosophical commitment to conservative values. People for the American Way listed CAP's transgressions in details and they are, in some cases standard conservative issues. Opposition to women admissions into Princeton is obviously a wrong stance to take. However, opposing affirmative action for minorities is common among conservatives. Based on their summary it seems that CAP was advocating maintain Princeton's "traditions" and that meant no women, only qualified minorities, and ensuring the sons of alumni were granted admissions. Were they out of the mainstream? I would think so because in some instances they were flat wrong. Now, fast forward to the present where Alito, who based on his testimony, can recall very little about his membership in the organization. Yes, he did put it on an application to serve in a conservative Justice Department and needed very much to show his conservative bona fides to get hired. Some call that beefing up the resume and most people do it. Senator Kennedy and others have decided that Alito's connection to the group, albeit extremely tenuous, illustrates how Samuel Alito really feels about minorities and women. So Kennedy, instead of using the better part of his time to ask relevant questions about Alito's judicial belief, practically interrogates Alito on the issue. In all fairness, I think a few clarifications of his association were probably in order given some of CAP's undesirable writings. However, Kennedy is not interested in a clarification; he is interested in smearing the judge.

From his opening statement, Kennedy had one goal and that was to label Samuel Alito as a racist. In his opening remarks, Kennedy stated:

In an era when America is still too divided by race and riches, Judge "Alioto" has not written one single opinion on the merits in favor of a person of color alleging race discrimination on the job. In fifteen years on the bench, not one. [Washington Post transcript]

Which would be fine, if it is was not a blatant lie. According to the Committee for Justice Alito has ruled on numerous cases involving minority complainants and on more than one occasion has ruled in favor of the minority person. Kennedy does not care to be bothered with the facts. Why? Because according to Kennedy, Samuel Alito is a racist! As Kennedy raised the CAP issue, he launched into a lengthy exchange with Alito where he read whole sections of old CAP publications and asked Alito if he had ever read that or if he agree with it. Why? Because according to Kennedy, Alito is a racist. Kennedy repeatedly brought up issues, CAP writings, and various events involving CAP to try and ascertain if Alito had some connection with CAP. Alito denied any connection other than the very basic one found on his 1985 job application and through each and every question concerning some of the more radical elements of CAP, Alito categorically denied them, even at one point saying they could not even be identified as conservative views. Of course in Kennedy's mind, Alito is a racist, so there must be something there and even after the blanket denials and full clarification by Alito, Kennedy offered this gem:

But I have to say that Judge Alito -- that his explanations about the membership in this, sort of, radical group, and why you listed it on your job application, are extremely troubling. And, in fact, I don't think that they add up. [Washington Post transcript]

Kennedy is troubled. Why? Because he thinks Alito is a racist. He also thinks that if he can get that label to stick, the game is over; everyone goes home because being labeled a racist is almost the same as being called a Communist in the 1950's. I will be the first to say that racism on any level should not be tolerated. However in this case Kennedy is not concerned about racism or what might happen if someone with racist views gets a seat on the Supreme Court. Kennedy is interested in destroying a qualified candidate to the Court because racism is a hot button issue and because the way the political picture has been painted, it is easy to believe that a conservative can be a racist because according to many elements of the Democratic party, including DNC Chairman Howard Dean, the whole Republican party is racist. This was a smear in same tradition as Joseph McCarthy. It was "guilt by association" where based on one relationship a person gets lumped into a certain ideological group. It was cheap shot and a desperate tactic because a case could not be made based on the merits, so Kennedy and his party decided the best way to deal with it would be to ignore the truth and attack the man with nothing. And how do we know it was nothing? The CAP records were made available following a testy exchange between Kennedy and Senator Arlen Specter and they did not include Alito's name anywhere in them. Why? Because regardless of what Kennedy thinks, Samuel Alito is not a racist.

It was shameless display coming from someone who was raised in a rich New England family who by default it elitist in every way. It is shameless considering that a member of Kennedy's own party, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, was a card carrying member of the KKK in its hey day and whose involvement with the group far exceeded any connection Alito had to CAP. It is shameless when one considers that there is honest-to-God racism in the world and racists who spout virulent hatred and light of that Kennedy chooses to trivialize it by making it a political weapon aimed at an honest man. When the end finally came, the facts exposed Kennedy to be the spiteful and bitter man that he is and his story was "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"(MacBeth, Shakespeare).

What we witnessed during these confirmation hearings was not much different than what McCarthy did by bullying witnesses on the slightest connection to some great evil and based on that lives were destroyed, people lost their livelihood, and nothing was accomplished. Confirming Justices is serious business and effects the next 30 years of judicial decisions in this country. The time of the nominee and the American people should not be wasted on bush league political tactics in place of actual debate on the issues. Such is the state of modern American politics. And thanks to Ted Kennedy, McCarthyism found new life again and as a nation we are all harmed because of it.

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