Hearing Fervor Blinds Debate

By: Stephen Edwards, 2L

Staff Writer

One of the most embarrassing episodes of American history is the abuse of the House Un-American Activities Committee by Senator McCarthy and his followers during the 1950s. The men in charge of this committee used the congressional investigatory power to conduct a hysterical witch hunt for Communists in many sectors of American life, from government officials to movie stars. McCarthyism is universally ridiculed today, in terms of both motive and method. It is taken for granted that American society will never reprise the folly of McCarthyism, for we assume we learned our lesson half a century ago.


Sessions takes an oath

Sessions gives an oath for his Attorney General confirmation hearing. | Source: http://s.yimg.com

Unfortunately, many actors in contemporary political discourse believe this assumption. In its zeal to eradicate racism, the left has forgotten the lessons of the McCarthy era. This was on prominent display in the controversy surrounding the nomination of Jeff Sessions as President Trump’s attorney general.
HUAC hearings during the McCarthy era were haunted by the single question, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?” This question signaled the committee’s conviction that any association with Communism, no matter how slight and no matter how far removed from the present, tainted a person forever and rendered him un-American. Though their power is not consolidated in a single congressional committee, modern-day Democrats employ similar tactics when they vet the record of a candidate for public office: they scrutinize every inch of these candidates’ lives in search of the faintest trace of anything that could possibly be construed as racist.
Jeff Sessions fell prey to this unfortunate tendency from the moment it was announced he would be Trump’s pick for AG. Two days after Trump’s announcement, headlines like this one from the Huffington Post started to bubble up: “Jeff Sessions Was Deemed Too Racist to Be a Federal Judge. Now He’ll Be Trump’s Attorney General.” This chorus was duly taken up by CNN, the Atlantic, and Slate News, among others.
Some conservative news outlets acquiesced in this distorted discourse with articles asserting Sessions’ bona fide anti-racist sentiments. On the day of Trump’s announcement, The Weekly Standard published an article titled: “In Alabama, Jeff Sessions Desegregated Schools and Got the Death Penalty for KKK Murderer.”
Lost in this swirl of hoopla is something this country desperately needs: substantive policy discussion. By making a person’s eligibility for public office depend on whether he or she may have chuckled at an off-hand racist remark made by a colleague thirty years ago, we divert attention from factors that are more relevant to how the person would actually govern. National Review has stayed above this trend with a number of articles, not all of them supportive, discussing Sessions’ Senate record on criminal justice reform, enforcement of federal drug laws, and privacy issues involving the NSA. These are the conversations we should be having: how will Jeff Sessions use DOJ resources to combat this or that problem? What will be his priorities as the chief enforcement officer for the federal government? Etc., etc.
Granted, there is one law enforcement issue to which a person’s racial outlook is centrally relevant: enforcement of civil rights laws. Whether a prospective AG can be relied on to enforce Voting Rights laws, for example, will be heavily influenced by whether that person is prejudice-free. But when one observes the character of Democrats’ inquiry into Jeff Sessions’ racial history, one does not see an even-handed search for views inconsistent with a commitment to enforcement of civil rights laws. Instead, one is confronted with a witch hunt not unlike the hated McCarthy inquisition, in which a hysterical atmosphere of group-think transforms innuendos and half-truths into bases for condemnation in the public square.
Until the left abandons its single-minded obsession with racism, actual policy discussion will be difficult to accomplish. There is a reason “single-issue voter” is a pejorative term: in every conversation, these people always revert to their pet cause, shutting out discussion of other issues that ought to be considered in the political balance. Informed Americans should ask themselves whether an impossibly stringent racism litmus-test adds anything to this balance. As the old adage goes, “If you look hard enough for something, you are bound to find it.”

Categories: Opinions & Editorials