Sunday, June 8, 2008

For Freedom, Against Fear

A surprise speaker at a recent historians' conference at Columbia University recovered a speech by Senator Herbert H. Lehman titled "The Strait Jacket of Fear." The senator's words bear repeating as a prophetic verdict on the Bush Administration's assaults on American liberties.

The speaker was John D. Gordan III, Lehman's great great nephew; the conference was "The World of Governor Lehman: New York City and State in Depression and War," held June 5 and 6 and sponsored by the Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History at Columbia and The New York Academy of History.

Lehman's speech, delivered at a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1953, excoriated McCarthy and McCarthyism. (It also criticized Soviet communism.)

Gordan spoke and distributed a copy of the speech. The senator's address, and Gordan's remarks, included this "Decalogue of McCarthyism."

1. They use and abuse the constitutional protections for the free exchange of ideas, but seek to deny these protections to all others.

2. They insist that they and they alone possess the power to determine what is right for everybody.

3. They appeal to fear and passion, never to reason; they do not persuade, they threaten.

4. They understand only dictation and domination, never cooperation and deliberation.

5. They are completely intolerant of opposition or deviation, identifying all opposition as heresy, which they would stamp out by threat and terror.

6. They use and justify the use of any means to achieve their particular ends...ends which they consider absolute and unchallengeable. Without scruple or compunction they ride roughshod over truth, honor, dignity and integrity.

7. They fear and distrust new or foreign people and new or foreign ideas; they believe in iron curtains and isolation.

8. They drape themselves in the cloak of patriotism, but cynically destroy the soul and spirit of the nation whose name they invoke.

9. They avow respect for religion, but stamp ruthlessly underfoot all standards of morality; they threaten to subject to their inquisitions even the clergy and the ministry.

10. They are, in short, the arrogant and the absolute, who sit in solemn judgment on the loyalty and morality of their follow citizens, all unhumbled by the sheer effrontery of such a usurpation of conscience and of God.

It has been a long time since New York State was an industrial powerhouse that inspired and invigorated the New Deal, but these words from that era are well worth recalling.

Thank you, Senator Lehman. And thank you, John Gordan III, for retrieving this speech.