Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Carl Pope Former executive director and chairman, Sierra Club

With those immortal words, Joseph Welch, the Chief Counsel for the US Army, shone a spotlight on Senator Joe McCarthy's bullying tactics before a national television audience in 1954, and began the end of McCarthy's reign of terror. Listening to my parents talking about that moment is my first political memory -- but I'm chagrined to say that a sense of decency, which was still expected when I was nine, has apparently been consigned to the dust bin of history by the reactionary right.

I offer you several recent examples: First, the coal industry, upset that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius had opposed its proposed Sunflower Coal Plant, ran an ad comparing Sebelius to Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The ad claimed that "the decision by the Sebelius Administration means Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran." In fact, Kansas exports natural gas to other states, rather than importing, because it cannot consume even what it produces. None of the 50 states imports a single cubic foot of natural gas from Venezuela, Russia, or Iran. So the entire ad is a fabrication.

What's striking about this ad, though, is that it's almost identical to other ads used by the reactionary right on other issues. Here, for example, is an ad run by a group called the Center for Union Facts. The ad shows photos of Idi Amin, Ahmadinejad, and UNITE-HERE! labor union president Bruce Raynor, asking which one was quoted as saying "There's no reason to subject workers to an election." The answer, of course, is Raynor, but the whole point of the ad is the comparison to Amin and Ahmedinejad -- just as the point of the Kansas City Star ad is to smear Governor Sebelius by implying that she is allied with people like Putin and Chavez. (Her actual public approval rating, however, is up since her decision. Kansans are not so easily fooled.)

If putting mug shots of your opponents up against those of corrupt dictators doesn't work, the reactionaries do have a second arrow in their quiver -- pick on kids.

A few weeks ago, Senator Mitch McConnell tried to cover up his complicity in slandering a young boy, Graeme Frost, whose family lacked health insurance. McConnell denied he had anything to do with the smear, but his staff had already told the press the truth.

And then yesterday, when Congressman Ed Markey had a hearing on global warming, one of his witnesses was a 13-year-old Inuit girl, Cheryl Lockwood, from St. Michael, Alaska. During her testimony, while describing how global warming was causing her family's house to fall into the ocean, she broke into tears. Rush Limbaugh promptly started running the teary part of her testimony for the amusement of his audience, saying it was all "just a scam," and derisively commenting that Cheryl should "go to New Orleans." (One would have thought that Limbaugh might not want to remind his viewers that Inuits aren't the only people losing their homes to flooding.)

So shame won't work on these people. The only thing they will understand is when the public turns its back on politics and business as usual and truly and irrevocably commits this country to a new energy future based on hope.