I have been reading the new biography of George H.W. Bush, Destiny and Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham, and I came across a story about President Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, when he was running for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut in 1952. I thought the story had some relevance for today:
“During the ’52 campaign, Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy, the Republican red-baiter, who had won national celebrity by raising fears about Communist infiltration in America, was the featured speaker at a rally at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Beginning with a speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950, McCarthy had capitalized on Cold War tensions by claiming, at first, that he had a list of 205 ‘members of the Communist Party who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.’ The numbers would change – downward – and McCarthy frequently hurled reckless charges. He had, however, tapped into widespread anxieties about the Soviets, and droves showed up to hear him in Bridgeport. Arriving at the venue on Fairfield Avenue, Prescott was stunned by the si8ze and ardor of the crowd. It was standing room only. Seated onstage with McCarthy, Bush listened as the state’s national committeeman, party chairman, and finally Senator William Purtell all bid McCarthy welcome. When Bush’s turn came, he remembered that his knees where ‘shaking considerably.’
‘I said that I was very glad to welcome a Republican senator to our state, and that we had many reasons to admire Joe McCarthy,’ Bush recalled. ‘In some ways he was a very unusual man. At least … he had done one very unusual thing – he had created a new word in the English language, which is “McCarthyism.”’ The audience loved the point; ‘everybody,’ Bush recalled, ‘screamed with delight.’
Bush was not yet done. A master of publicly using innuendo and sometimes even pure invention to smear government officials, military personnel, and academics as Communists, McCarthy was widely seen as a bully, and Bush called him on it. ‘But, I must say in all candor,’ Bush went on, ‘that some of us, while we admire his objectives in his fight against Communism, we have very considerable reservations concerning the methods he sometimes employs.’ For a Republican seeking office in that time and that place, Prescott Bush’s words were brave.
The crowd turned on Bush. But he had said what he had come to say.” (pp. 95-96)1
I understand that Donald Trump has tapped into some valid concerns of real people, just like Joe McCarthy did. But while Donald Trump is not making up charges about Communists in the State Department, he is making other things up - and worse. Also, just like Joe McCarthy, he is a bully, a mean-spirited, nasty bully. He is not the kind of person I want as my president or representing my country.
In 1952, Prescott Bush called Joe McCarthy on it. Republican candidates today need to do the same with Donald Trump.
1 Prescott Bush won the election. While Dwight Eisenhower was beating Adlai Stevenson by 130,000 votes in Connecticut, Prescott Bush beat Abraham Ribicoff by 30,000 votes. (Here and here.)