It’s perplexing to me that for all the expert counsel and strategic direction that Vice president Jejomar Binay is allegedly getting from foreign and local strategists and advisers, the Binay camp up to now has evidently not bothered to do one iota of research on the demagoguery of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the US Senate and on the menace called “McCarthyism” and on how they were effectively stopped?
It’s even more mystifying to me that despite the black eye that the three senator-stooges—Antonio Trillanes, Alan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel—have given the Senate and the nosedive of the chamber to the bottom as the least trusted government institution in the country today, not a single one of our 23 senators—whether male or female—has complained that what Trillanes and company are doing in the subcommittee hearings is a derangement of the Senate’s powers and responsibilities.
A woman’s declaration of conscience
Men may be centuries ahead of women in seizing the bullhorn and levers of politics, but it was the only woman in the US Senate – Sen. Margaret Chase Smith – who dared to start the truck rolling toward burying Joe McCarthy and his malign witch hunt for communists in government, and set the stage for his eventual rejection and censure.
In February1950, Senator McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin, publicly charged that 205 communists had infiltrated the US State department. This set off a wide-ranging Congress inquiry and an official FBI hunt for card-carrying communists in every government department. The campaign went as far as Hollywood where writers, actors and directors were black-listed as probable communists.
On June 1, 1950, Senator Smith wrote and delivered on the Senate floor what she called “A Declaration of Conscience,” which six other senators endorsed and co-signed. The speech is remembered and anthologized as one of the greatest speeches in history.
In her speech, which lasted no more than 15 minutes, Smith criticized the US national leadership (Harry Truman was president at the time) and called for the country, the United States Senate, and the Republican Party to re-examine the tactics used by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and (without naming him) Senator McCarthy.
Smith denounced “the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled [in the chamber].”
She said McCarthyism had “debased” the Senate to “the level of a forum of hate and character assassination.”
She defended every American’s “right to criticize…right to hold unpopular beliefs…right to protest; the right of independent thought.”
While acknowledging her desire for Republicans’ political success, she said, “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear.”
In response to the speech, McCarthy referred to Smith and the six other Senators as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs.” He removed her as a member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, giving her seat to Senator Richard Nixon of California.
Smith’s speech did not immediately turn the tide against McCarthy. It took another four years before McCarthy was censured by the Senate. But it set the stage for his downfall.
In 1954, as a result of the sensational, nationally televised, 36-day hearings on McCarthy’s charges of subversion against US Army officers and civilian officials, the senator was publicly discredited. Television showed starkly his brutal and truculent interrogative tactics, Public opinion turned against him.
The Senate censured McCarthy on a vote of 67 to 22. Senator Margaret Chase-Smith was among the senators who voted to censure him.
McCarthy died not long afterwards. But McCarthyism became part of the English language, perhaps rivaled only by Machiavellianism.
Who will rise up from the pack?
Turning back to the title of this column, we must really wonder whether there is enough moral and ethical backbone in the Senate that will cause the pack to stir to life and notice finally how their institution is slowly curling back into a fetal state.
In the past, when things got rough, we could always count on someone with dignity and confidence enough to take up the cudgels of sanity and call for doing the right thing in the chamber.
Today, it’s not easy to find such a champion, because the quality of our senators has appreciably deteriorated . Still, I dare to believe that by a process of sheer attrition, our senators will weary of the subcommittee inquisition, which resumes again today.
They will see that the public and the media do not care for what the inquiry has become.
I dare to speculate that there may be at least one soul in the bowels of the Senate who will no longer countenance this travesty of power and privileges.
In the past, when Sen. Joker Arroyo was still around, we could always count on him to shout “enough” and call for sanity in what was being said or done in the name of the Senate. And he would in his inimitable way deliver a one-liner that would make everyone pause and think. But he is now retired.
Will Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who joined Arroyo and Bongbong Marcos in dissenting from the Palace-orchestrated lynching of former chief Justice Renato Corona, rise up and serve as the Senate’s conscience at this hour? Perhaps not. She has her own fantasy about running for president in 2016, and she can hardly be displeased by the ordeal that Binay is living through.
Will Bongbong rise up to be recognized? To Senate observers, he still looks a little gun-shy, even after nearly five years in the Senate. And he’s not in the running for president at this point in his still budding political career
It’s tempting to think that a woman senator, given the Margaret Chase-Smith precedent, will take up the cudgels for decency and good sense in the Senate.
But when we run through the list, one by one they slip away into irrelevance.
Sen. Pia Cayetano has to be scratched, because her brother is one of the three stooges. This inquisition is a family agenda with them.
Sen. Loren Legarda is the most senior among our women senators, but the lady has not taken a strong position on anything throughout her political life. She has spent most of her time running for office in every election she has had no time to grow a backbone of convictions and principles.
Nancy Binay, we have to scratch from contention, because it’s her father who is in the frying pan. This is one of those times when dynastic connections is a drawback, not an asset.
Cynthia Villar is too new and business-minded for the role of Senate conscience. Just as she and her husband calculated that coalescing the Nacionalista Party with the administration party for the 2013 election would be good for their politics and their business interests, so they will not disrupt their alliance.
This leaves us with Sen. Grace Poe, but she has to be discounted because she is too raw and too young. She has shown her mettle in a couple of hearings, and one speech. But she is still learning the ropes, and cannot credibly speak to the nation about tradition and rule of law.
The only senator remotely close to being an iconoclast and maverick is Sen. Serge Osmena, who has on several occasions in the past criticized openly President Aquino and his poor leadership. We don’t know whether he has it in him to criticize the Senate leadership and his colleagues. The horse-trading between senators that is a key part of senatorial life can be a strait-jacket for many.
What remains of the opposition – after the detention and hauling away of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, and Sen. Bong Revilla – is no more than a shadow and a shell.
This role, paradoxically, is tailor-made for JPE, if he were at liberty to address the chamber today. I remember back in the ‘80s, during the presidency of another Aquino, when JPE stood up on the Senate floor, and called on President Cory Aquino to “Stop playing God.”
This is a time for that kind of public speaking – when the stakes are high, when the reputation of institutions are on the line, and when calculating everything on the basis of personal profit or advantage seems base.