Yesterday’s news regarding Senator Joe Lieberman’s latest bit of legislation that would strip citizenship away from anyone who is suspected of involvement with foreign terrorist organizations ran chills down every bone in my body. I immediately thought of the two to three decades after World War II when the Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, was given a political platform to root out communists from every walk of life, including government, especially the State Department, the military, universities, creative artists in every medium, and amongst religious leaders. In the 1950’s, Americans almost had to prove they were more American than their neighbors with no connections to anything communist. Ideas were summarily denounced as communist. Travel was not only restricted but voluntarily set aside for fear of contact with foreigners who might be in the sway of international communism. Americans became isolated from each other and from the world. Constitutional protections were often ignored, and those who cited the constitution as the basic law were often labeled “un-American.”
At one time, more than 85,000 Americans were on a communist “watch list” published by the Congress and the US Printing Office and distributed far and wide to employers, civic groups, academics, unions, and military recruiters. Most of those on the list were placed there because of an association with a named organization or someone thought to be a higher up in those organizations. Plain and simple, it was guilt by association. The results were anything but plain and simple as people lost their jobs, their friends, their research funding, their standing in their church, and sometimes their lives through stress and suicide. Not one “communist” was unearthed, prosecuted, and jailed as a result of McCarthy’s efforts. Some hearing witnesses went to jail when they refused to answer McCarthy’s questions on first amendment grounds. Those witnesses, ironically, who refused on their fifth amendment rights never went to jail, although they were labeled in the mainstream press as “Fifth Amendment Reds.”
I googled “Joe Lieberman and Joe McCarthy” in the search box. To my amazement, writers have been putting the two Senators together quite a bit over a variety of political issues during the first decade of the twenty-first century. So, I wasn’t the first to compare and contrast these two US Senators together.
Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent in name only and closely aligned with today’s Republican Part, has introduced legislation that if made the law will strip any American citizen, natural born or naturalized, of their citizenship if the Secretary of State believes an individual is associating with “known terrorist” organizations. Who determines which organizations qualify to be on the list of “known terrorists?” The State Department! Judge, jury, and executioner.
Should this law pass, it will make for great political theatre and create a wedge issue for a long time to come. The country will probably be able to see televised proceedings against American citizens accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer” or “terrorist dupe.” Questions will be thrown at innocent Americans such as, “are you now or have you ever been a member of a terrorist organization?” and “did you participate in any specific activities to overthrow the government of the United States?” These and other odious questions will be, once again, common place in the daily news cycles in the media as they were when Joseph McCarthy sent chills of fear down the spine of tens of thousands of Americans suspected of communist activities. Guilt by association will again rear its ugly head on the body of American politics.
McCarthyism lasted for more than two decades with Joseph McCarthy leading the charge in the name of anti-communism. How many decades of fear and stifling of ideas will Joe Lieberman cause in the name of anti-terrorism?