The Washington Post picked up my piece on Khizr Khan as the Joseph Welch of 2016. There wasn’t room to include much about who Joseph Welch really was, or the context of his famous rebuke delivered to Senator McCarthy. Among other sources, William Manchester’s addictive phone-book-sized history The Glory and the Dream, has a nice little section telling this story.
Below is what didn’t fit in the Post piece.
To make a long story short, the 1954 hearings concerned the Army’s treatment of David Schine, a McCarthy staffer who had recently been drafted. There were allegations that McCarthy’s assistant Roy Cohn had sought special treatment for his close friend–and, as it happens, his rumored lover–Mr. Schine. As the dispute escalated, McCarthy accused the Army of trying to shield Communists. Welch, the Army’s special counsel in these hearings, was a 63-year-old lifelong Republican, senior partner in the venerable firm, Hale and Dorr.
Under Welch’s questioning, Cohn blustered that he knew of roughly 130 subversives in U.S. defense plants. Welch responded that Cohn should immediately provide these names to the FBI, which Cohn declined to do.
In an effort to rescue Cohn and to derail these damaging questions, McCarthy interceded on live national television to state that Fred Fischer, a young Hale and Dore associate, had belonged to a “Communist front organization,” the National Lawyers Guild.
Welch responded with
spontaneous[See JeffeyK622’s comment comment below] anger. “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” Welch drew blood with his famous statement: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
That question answered itself, emboldening McCarthy’s enemies, encouraging McCarthy’s defenders to turn away. Welch cut through a national debate powered by fears of secret enemies in our midst by calling attention to McCarthy’s cruelty towards a single sympathetic person, someone Welch cared about and was ready to defend. In these early days of television, millions Americans watched it live, and had never seen anything quite like it.
John McCain’s statement this morning provides further confirmation of the political damage this case has inflicted on Donald Trump.