Joe McCarthy to Donald Trump….my personal travel. Already saw this rodeo.

In 1952 I was a junior at Northwestern University.  I would be in the army in two years, but at that time I was too young to vote (not yet 21).

It was an election year.  Truman had decided he had enough, so he was going to pack up Bess and Margaret and go back to Independence, Missouri.  The wartime hero/general Dwight Eisenhower was running against Adlai Stevenson from Illinois.  And in the fall of 1952 we were holding a mock political convention.

Every fraternity, sorority and independent house on campus represented some state.  My fraternity (an all Jewish house since none of the others would take our kind) was South Carolina.  Our chairman for the convention had written to governor Strom Thurmond and he had kindly sent us a large confederate flag which had flown over the state house, so we were all ready.

The convention represented both parties, and some well-known legislators had been booked to talk to us, including Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.  He who was causing so much controversy, claiming the Democrats were the party of Communism who had sold out in Korea, and harbored so many hated communists (substitute immigrants for today) who were out to destroy America.  He claimed to have the names of subversives in government and other establishments, and his hearings would lead to the destruction of many innocent lives.

I sat close to the stage in the gymnasium; he started speaking at a very low calm level, and we pretty much got his standard speech:  America was on the verge of insurrection; the Democrats were either communists or shielding them;  then he waved a stack of papers shouting here are all the names, and they all will be brought out into the open.  I was very shaken by this man.

In the next several years his power and following increased; his hearings got more and more terrifying, until finally at one with the Secretary of the Army he accused an innocent lieutenant and the Secretary, almost in a fury, stood and froze the monster with his famous “Have you no shame, Senator McCarthy” tirade……Edward R. Murrow devoted one of his “See it Now” programs to expose McCarthy.  In 1954 Joe was finally censured by the Senate.  He died a broken alcoholic in 1957.

Have you no shame, Donald Trump?

Now for the wayback machine

I just watched the last program of the Prohibition series on PBS.  No I don’t remember Prohibition, but I was born around that era.

And when prohibition ended in December 5, 1932, I had just turned 6 months old and was fighting for my life.  I had come down with what appeared to be a severe case of dysentery, but ordinary treatment was not working.  And then the doctor (Dr. Bilderback) analyzed my system and determined that I had cholera, the only case reported in Portland, Oregon, in over 20 years, according to the report in the Oregonian (newspaper).

The only effective remedy was blood transfusion, and it had to be directly from a donor at that time.  My father’s partner in Portland had a son named Buster who gave me transfusions, and apparently I bounced back from death’s door.  I don’t ever recall meeting Buster, but I certainly owe him a lot.

So I grew up in Portland during the depression.  We lived a comfortable middle-class life and honestly I was never aware of the terrible effect it had on America.  Leo Seltzer was on the road with first walkathons and then the Roller Derby, both kind of traveling road shows, with very low prices and high appeal at this time when there just wasn’t much money.

Almost from my very first memories, I was aware of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our president, who was pretty much revered and reviled at the same time.

You have to remember that Roosevelt declared a bank holiday – closing them all and then re-opening them with guarantees for the depositors –  and started a whole series of programs to help create jobs, including the conservation corps which put thousands to work rebuilding our infrastructure.  The bankers, big business and extremely wealthy hated him.

Yet, he was our only four-term president, although he died shortly after winning his fourth term, throwing an entirely unprepared Harry Truman into that high office.

Roosevelt had suffered severe polio as an adult, but he managed to keep the fact that he could not use his legs from the public.  There were never any pictures of him in a wheel chair or him struggling to walk.  The press fully cooperated; could you imagine that today.

But what I remember of Roosevelt was his marvelous speaking voice, his sense of humor, and his ability to reach all Americans without television, jet airplanes and certainly without social media.

I remember my third grade teacher asking our class who was the finest orator (I am not certain she used that word) in the country and we all knew it was our President.

Fireside Chat. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York.

He held “fireside chats” in which he talked to all Americans by radio to let us know what the state of the country was, and what he was doing to make it and our lives better, as well as why it was necessary for us to go to war and why we all must sacrifice (which we did).

When I hear his voice today I know it doesn’t have the majesty or resonance I heard; certainly recordings weren’t capable of capturing the full essence.

Obviously, he was a man for the times, and his wife Eleanor, who I did get to hear speak in person, was the woman; the first first Lady who really expressed herself to America.  Quite a duo.

You should have been there.

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