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One of the greatest Senators in American history has died. Not everyone agreed with him. But except for the most ideological crazies, everyone who knew him respected his humanity, his energy, his longevity, and his love of country. A few decades ago, critics would have the basic decency to shut up while the flags flew at half mast. Today, they simply have no sense of shame.

There has always been a private ethical code which people have obeyed because of personal beliefs or community pressure or the disadvantage to not complying. Self-regulation has always been essential in politics, business, and private behavior, because it’s impossible to legislate everything that is desirable in society.

Culture constantly changes, and the private ethical code inevitably allows behavior that used to be taboo—like disrespect toward schoolteachers, douche ads on television, and undisguised greed in corporate boardrooms.

In politics, the big change in culture occurred with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Something snapped. Self-regulation fell. To the new brand of conservatives, prior social norms—ideas of honor—were for suckers.

But the worst political thugs of the Reagan administration seem like refined gentlemen and ladies compared to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and their ilk. The vulgar leaders of the current right wing have, quite naturally, brought out the worst in the conservative fringe—gun waving, physical threats and violence, shouting down democratic debate, and cold-blooded lies about politicians and policies.

All that is just prelude to my point. Can the leaders of the right wing noise machine suspend their uncouth, loutish, boorish, childish behavior for just a few days? Have they no conception of respect for anyone who disagrees with their politics? Have they no shame?

This is not our nation’s darkest hour, but the fanatic fringe reminds me of it.

Fifty years ago there was a movement led by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthyism was a brutal, calculated, personal attack on individuals who disagreed with McCarthy’s politics. Truth became irrelevant. The bigger the lie, the more effective it seemed to be. And the media—by and large—played along.

It was a great moment in American history when McCarthy was challenged on nationwide television by the Special Counsel for the United States Army, Joseph Nye Welch. On June 9, 1954, McCarthy attacked a young lawyer in Welch’s firm because he had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild. (Personal note—my mother was a member at that time.) Welch responded:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

This televised exchange helped finally bring down McCarthy and end that black era in our nation’s history.

Right now, America needs a few brave, articulate people in the mold of Joseph Welch to shame the purveyors of hate. To work, democracy needs a level of decency. Congress, which was designed to compromise, requires a measure of good faith. Partisans, if they are to have any beneficial effect, must at least understand propriety.

More like this at

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the book, "Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People".

Originally posted to Bernie Horn on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:40 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  They have no sense of anything. (4+ / 0-)

    Evil is ultimately unconscious.

    I can haz rashunality?

    by Troubadour on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:41:59 AM PDT

  •  All I see (6+ / 0-)

    Is hate, the kind of mindless, unreasoning, scattershot hate that causes innocent people to die.  I see spittle flecked mouths and badly worded signs that make no logical sense.  I see unfounded rumours and outright lies.  

    This is the U.S.A. wrought by the demagogues and set loose upon the masses.

    No one ever expects that Spanish Inquisition.

    Repubs - the people in power are not secretly plotting against you. They don't need to. They already beat you in public. (Bill Maher)

    by Sychotic1 on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:44:37 AM PDT

  •  The usual GOoPer response, (4+ / 0-)

    is that Dems are just as disrespectful or worse.  They point to Paul Wellstone's memorial and to the booing that occurred when certain Republicans were shown on the big screen.  Let's call it like it is.  Trent Lott had no love for Paul Wellstone, and that was no secret.  His mere presence at the event was out of a sense of obligation, not respect.  Of course people booed.  It would be like Rush Limbaugh showing up at Ted Kennedy's memorial.

    "Stop making stuff up." - Sarah Palin

    by mojave mike on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:52:36 AM PDT

  •  The Detroit Free Press... (4+ / 0-)

    ...Letters to the Editor section today had about eight submissions. Half were positive acknowledgments of everything that Sen. Kennedy has done for the people of this country and the other half were rightist screeds about him being a murderer and an immoral menace to society.


  •  I find it amazing... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    QuestionAuthority, grannycarol

    ..that liberals think all the hate, rage, ignorance, chaos & fury these people bring to the town hall meetings is suddenly going to be turned off because Ted Kennedy died.

    You think these people possess enough class & self-restraint to cool it upon learning the Liberal Lion has passed away?

    If you really think that, then you need to join Obama in his quixotic quest for bipartisanship.

    It's amazing how millions of Americans carry out 100% of their lives within the strict confines of their undisciplined imagination.

    by wyvern on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:57:00 AM PDT

  •  Grab your megaphone (2+ / 0-)

    And hold onto your hat!

    We're entering a New Age in which argument and discourse will proceed via megaphones, and whoever has the greatest volume and can drown out everyone else will win the exchange. Riding on elevators is going to be so much fun.

    Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

    by The Raven on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:58:46 AM PDT

  •  they have no moral core anymore (7+ / 0-)

    Right-wingers are really hard to figure out, and the modern state of the Republican party is a perfect example of why there's a separation of church and state.  The GOP intertwined the two and it corrupted both.

    They've tried to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with extreme forms of Capitalism, and the two just don't go together.  Which is why we have such absurdist things as Bible-thumping Republicans now becoming devotees of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy was used as the main basis for Satanism.

    Really, they don't know what they believe anymore, and they're working so hard to reconcile conflicting desires that there's just no focus.

    A party so steeped in Christianity shouldn't be behaving so hatefully and spitefully in regards to Sen. Kennedy's death... but they're doing it, and seem to be revelling in it.

    None of it makes any sense.

    "Glenn Beck ends up looking like a fat, stupid child. His face should be wearing a chef's hat on the side of a box of eclairs. " - Doug Stanhope

    by Front Toward Enemy on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 10:00:53 AM PDT

    •  Bad wiring? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Front Toward Enemy

      Couldn't agree with your assessment more.

      Almost everything they claim to believe in appears to contradict something else they claim to believe in.

      There must be some critical synapse damage or deeper neurological malfunction occuring that explains the anger, fear, rage and hate. It can reach near sub-human levels sometimes which is extremely worrisome.

      "Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why." - Kurt Vonnegut

      by Wayneman on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 10:49:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd like to hear it from one Republican. (4+ / 0-)

    One.  Charles Grassley thought it was fine to threaten the President in his presence, to have the loon incite others to "follow him" with guns to Washington.  

    Where is Dick Lugar?  Where is John Warner?  Where is Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins?  

    Let's be clear, wingnuts:  Obama is not Hitler.  You are.  You are every German who kept his mouth shut.  You are the Nazis.  You are the cowards.  

    People have already been killed in the name of the "freedom" of these people, and that narrative had a days' worth of coverage while we obsessed weeks over Michael Jackson.  

    By staying silent, Sens. Grassley, John McCain, you armed these people.  If someone else is hurt because of your tacit approval of this neandethalism, then you might as well have held the guns yourselves.  

    Shame on the entire Republican party.  They are not the "fringe".  They are helping to legitimize the fringe.  

    •  What happened to Chuck Hagel? (0+ / 0-)

      Bible Death Scorecard: God 2,390,000 Satan: 10

      by A Runner on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 10:40:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've long thought.... (0+ / 0-)

      that if you listened to enough Republican rhetoric you would eventually begin to hear the true depths of everything they are or aspire to become. That book whats-his-face came out with a couple years ago about how Hitler was a liberal socialist - mind-boggling! And vote tampering (Acorn) and election theft - how could they dare even bring up the subject!?

      As a group, Republicans raise "projection" to an art form...

  •  Isn't it obvious yet (0+ / 0-)

    that we should never expect any decency or civility from wingnuts?  When it does happen it's a surprise.

    Your political compass Economic Left/Right: -6.50 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.67

    by bythesea on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 10:26:32 AM PDT

  •  If I could get on TV, I would!! (0+ / 0-)

    That's the problem, there's plenty of us out there who are disgusted, and more than willing to call a duck a duck...but those who have the ability refuse to do so. Our side seems sorely lacking in courageous people, courageous deeds.

  •  Shame? Not this bunch. (0+ / 0-)

    The T-baggers at last night's Town Hall by Rep.Tim Bishop (NY-1) booed and yelled "murderer" and "Chappaquidick" during a moment of silence in honor or Sen. Kennedy before the meeting began.

    Decency? Honor? Civility?  They are the soul-less refuse of the fetid cesspool that is the Republican party.

    "Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why." - Kurt Vonnegut

    by Wayneman on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 10:42:36 AM PDT

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