On day 30 of the 36-day Army-McCarthy Hearings in June, 1954, attorney Joseph Nye Welch finally had enough. “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness...Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
I look at the cultural landscape of this great country during this very difficult period of deep recession, high unemployment, massive state and federal deficits, religious and ethnic mistrust, global warming, and polarizing media, and have to ask—“Have we left no sense of decency?”
Decency means many things in this context. It means possessing a concern for others, a balanced sense of morality, a basic understanding of fairness, an ability to accept blame when it is deserved and offer forgiveness where it is warranted. Above all else, it means doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.
It feels as if our nation has lost its collective sense of decency. We still fight two wars on the opposite side of the globe. Our Supreme Court considers corporations to be individual people. We bail out incomprehensibly wealthy “people” who work in the financial industries (whose primary purpose is to collect transaction fees from the buying and selling of shares as opposed to producing anything of tangible value) and yet slam our working class union members including our public servants and school teachers. Even worse, we elect political leaders whose best idea for solving our problems is to reduce Government’s capacity for serving the public so much that it fails completely.
Almost every day I read an article or have a conversation in the State House about the latest "indecent" proposal to cut programs and services from those most in need. I see well-intentioned people try to make decisions about what to spend public money on based only on how much those services cost, not also on what benefit they offer. I see teachers required to teach larger and larger groups of students; to serve as social service agents or as parental proxies to the point where I have to believe that we’re not actually teaching our children, we are simply stabling them until they’re old enough to make decisions for themselves. And what kind of decisions can we expect from them? I don’t think anyone contemplating this question needs a high school diploma to come up with the answer.
My wonderful niece, one of the most “decent” people I know, is a junior in college, majoring in local food production and management. She recently told her mother (my sister) that she doesn’t expect to have children. It’s not that she doesn’t like children or can’t have them. She just can’t, in good conscience, bring them into the world that she will, in less than two years, have to face herself. How depressing is that from a young woman who just turned 21?
So who is going to be first?
Who is going to challenge corporate America and tell it that the real social contract lies in the old French concept of noblesse oblige: that those who have the means must take care of those less fortunate?
Who is going to point out the folly of fighting two foreign wars and paying for them by borrowing money from Asia, in effect saddling our grand-children and great-grand-children with crippling debt or worse, the humiliation of defaulting?
Who is going to explain to elected officials that their job is to lead and to govern, not follow the dictates of the latest opinion poll?
Who is going to explain to the public that too little government results not in less regulation but actual anarchy?
Who is going to explain that the “poverty line” is actually two or three times higher than policy-makers and economists say it is.
Who is going to remind our elected officials that their professional and moral obligation is to maximize revenues just as much as it is to reduce expenses?
Who is going to convince the electorate that returning to the tax structure of the 1990s is going to have virtually no impact on 98% of them, and that the remaining 2% can certainly afford the marginal increase?
Speaking of the wealthy, who is going to ask them what it's like, really, living in a gated community?
Who is going to tell the media that Sarah and Christine and Paul and Rush and their ilk are suitable for Entertainment Tonight, E!, or Comedy Central but, frankly, not so much for CNN, MSNBC, FN or any of the broadcast news programs?
Who is going to be the first one to stand up and tell the proverbial emperor (is it Rush or Glenn?) that he has no clothes; that he is lying to himself and to us?
Who is going to say enough already?
Vermont, it seems.
Are we ready?