One Quality That the People of This Country Have Always Respected

Published: December 23, 2019

By Jim Lichtman
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We’re all looking for positive stories. This editorial — from The New York Times, Sunday March 7, 1954, under the title, “The ‘Positive’ Story” — is more a warning to President Eisenhower, and offers many parallels to today’s headlines.

What many were unaware at the time, Eisenhower had already begun a stealth campaign against the demagogic Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Nonetheless, The Times editor makes clear the urgency to publicly stand up and be counted.

Dwight D. Eisenhower steps before the microphones while (from left) U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), Gov. Walter Kohler and Sen Alexander Wiley (R-Wis.) look on during a campaign stop in Appleton on Oct. 3, 1952. (Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“James Bassett, new publicity director for the Republican National Committee, came out of a White House meeting on Friday saying that he had discussed with the Cabinet and with Republican leaders how to ‘tell the Administration’s positive story during the coming year.’ The conferees told reporters that they had not talked about the controversy stirred up by Senator McCarthy’s methods of conducting investigations. Perhaps they didn’t have to talk about this subject. It must have been in everyone’s mind.

“The McCarthy issue has begun to change its shape. It is no longer a question as to whether the Wisconsin investigator has been fair, judicial or intelligent. Few responsible Republicans would argue that he has been all those things. Liberal Republicans would argue that he has been none of them. The question the White House conferees have to answer is whether it is politically better, as it certainly is morally better, to take a ‘positive’ attitude toward Mr. McCarthy during the months that intervene between now and the November election.

“There has never been much doubt that President Eisenhower has found the McCarthy methods distasteful. Even during the Presidential campaign of 1952 the future President was deeply and wrathfully stirred by Mr. McCarthy’s attacks on General Marshall. In his statement and press conference of last Wednesday the President refrained from mentioning names, but he did say that he regarded it as ‘unfortunate when we are diverted’ from the present grave problems ‘through disregard of standards of fair play recognized by the American people.’ …

“But Mr. Eisenhower has found it difficult to be ‘positive’ in his relationship with Mr. McCarthy. He entered Wisconsin during the 1952 campaign and entertained Mr. McCarthy, though not warmly, as a guest on his train. He has studiously refrained from denouncing Mr. McCarthy by name. He has repeatedly argued that the unity of a political party is of first importance. This reasoning has some compelling features. If there were not room inside each of the major parties for me of widely varying opinions, we would not have two major parties; we would have a variety of splinter parties such as confuse and sometimes paralyze political life in France and Italy.

“Yet it may be that unity is sometimes bought at too high a price if it requires party leadership to be silent when traditional principles of justice are forgotten, when the rules of evidence are abused, when good men are driven out or kept out of Government employment and when terror paralyzes such great agencies as the State Department and the Department of Defense.

“It seems to many of us obvious beyond question that Senator McCarthy is capitalizing for personal and political advantage a sentiment 99 percent of Americans hold – that is, opposition to the Communist type of totalitarian government and repugnance toward domestic treason. On this he builds his circus and menagerie. It seems to thoughtful persons all over the country that domestic communism might better be fought by good police work and by calm and intelligent investigation.

“We believe that President Eisenhower and his advisers will be mistaken if they proceed on the theory that there can be unity between fairness and unfairness, between the judicial approach and the demagogue’s ranting, between an effective drive against communism and a reckless bid for personal publicity. We believe President Eisenhower will lose more, in popular approval, in the integrity of his Administration and in his own peace of mind, if he tolerates Mr. McCarthy than if he separates himself from Mr. McCarthy now, unequivocally and by name.

“If there is one quality that the people of this country have always respected, and do respect now, it is moral courage.”

Be sure to tune-in on Christmas Day for a special commentary.


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