Tuesday, June 9, 2009


This day in 1954 saw the beginning of the end of the witch-hunting era named after Senator Joe McCarthy. On June 9th, it was Joseph Welch, a mild-mannered Army lawyer, whose famous rebuke seemed to waken America from a bad dream. "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Joe McCarthy, the failed chicken farmer and upstate Wisconsin judge, had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1946, where he served in obscurity. Then in February 1950 he held up a sheet of paper and said it held a list of State Department employees who were working for the Soviets. He had no such list, but his reputation was made. He was 41. Joe McCarthy appears three times in A Book of Ages. Today fewer people remember the man than remember the era named for him, and many confuse him with the wry, poetic, anti-war Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, who ran against LBJ in 1968, beating him in the New Hampshire primary and convincing him not to seek re-election, but it would be hard to imagine two less similar people.

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