Declaration of Conscience

Posted May 31, 2010, at 6:29 p.m.

Sixty years ago today, Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith rose on the Senate floor to speak out against her colleague, Joseph McCarthy, and his anti-communism campaign. Today, at a time when people are divided into “true patriots” and those who are not, when socialism is an epithet hurled at the president and his ideas and when political rhetoric is sinking to the low levels of the McCarthy era, revisiting Sen. Smith’s words is appropriate.

To read the full speech, go to http://www.mcslibrary.org/program/library/declaration.htm.

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“I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the Legis-lative Branch or the Executive Branch of our Government. …

“I speak as briefly as possible because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism. I speak as simply as possible because the issue is too great to be obscured by eloquence. I speak simply and briefly in the hope that my words will be taken to heart.

“I speak as a Republican, I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American.

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“As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican Party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge that it faced back in Lincoln’s day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation — in addition to being a Party that unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs.

“Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes. Today we have a Democratic Administration that has developed a mania for loose spending and loose programs. History is repeating itself — and the Republican Party again has the opportunity to emerge as the champion of unity and prudence.

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“The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

“I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.

I don’t want to see the Republican Party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people. Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican Party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one party system.

“As members of the Minority Party, we do not have the primary authority to formulate the policy of our Government. But we do have the responsibility of rendering constructive criticism, of clarifying issues, of allaying fears by acting as responsible citizens.

“As a woman, I wonder how the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters feel about the way in which members of their families have been politically mangled in Senate debate — and I use the word ‘debate’ advisedly.

“As a United States Senator, I am not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism. I am not proud of the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle. I am not proud of the obviously staged, undignified countercharges that have been attempted in retaliation from the other side of the aisle.

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“As an American, I am shocked at the way Republicans and Democrats alike are playing directly into the Communist design of ‘confuse, divide and conquer.’ As an American, I don’t want a Democratic Administration ‘white wash’ or ‘cover up’ any more than I want a Republican smear or witch hunt.

“As an American, I condemn a Republican ‘Fascist’ just as much as I condemn a Democrat ‘Communist.’ I condemn a Democrat ‘Fascist’ just as much as I condemn a Republican ‘Communist.’ They are equally dangerous to you and me and to our country. As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.

“It is with these thoughts I have drafted what I call a ‘Declaration of Conscience.’ …”

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