National Commentary

‘Have You No Sense Of Decency, Sir?’

The headline stories of the week, the president’s new initiatives on gun control, the NRA’s staunch opposition to them, and discredited cyclist Lance Armstrong’s confessions, are interconnected in disturbing ways that should give any decent person pause.

They can be subsumed under attorney for the U.S. Army’s Joseph N. Welch’s historic rebuke of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the infamous McCarthy’s witch hunt hearings of June 1954. McCarthy was stretching the truth to character-assassinate another victim of his venom as national television cameras rolled when Welch famously interrupted him, saying, “ 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?”

McCarthy tried to continue, but Welch cut him off and said he would answer no more questions. “If there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further,” Welch said, and the gallery burst out in applause.

It was the moment that ended the McCarthy witch hunt by emboldening others for the first time, including elected officials and those in media, to break free of the climate of fear and intimidation that McCarthy had created, and to begin coming out with damning information that quickly discredited McCarthy and brought him down.

Clearly the NRA and its allies today have had their way by reverting to the same tactics of intimidation and fear that McCarthy used to make a sad mockery of the U.S. Senate for so long 60 years ago. The NRA’s new TV ad bringing the children of the president into their argument is only its latest escalation of that tactic.

What does Lance Armstrong have to do with this? As more comes out about the shameless bullying and wanton disregard for the consequences of his efforts to slander and destroy the lives of those around him, one can see in him the same “lack of decency” that Welch exposed in McCarthy and is true of the NRA.

“At long last, have you no sense of decency?”

Beyond a certain point, beyond all the dissembling and lying and bullying, all the smoke and mirrors rhetoric and evasive arguments is revealed something more fundamental, something that is eroding and decaying in our culture which can be summed up by that word, “decency.”

I never liked Lance Armstrong. I sensed something awry in his personality, which was misidentified by his fans and the media as a focused intensity and determination to prevail. There was a uneasing hardness in his gaze, and a distinct lack of humor and grace.

Little did anybody, except those closest to him that he’d remorselessly hurt the most, realize how far he went to cheat and lie without regard for the consequences of his behavior on anyone.

He had no intention of stopping, either, until he was caught and his titles had finally been stripped. Now, for uncertain reasons, he’s decided to “come clean” about it all. But all it’s done so far has been to embolden his many victims to speak out about his monstrous actions over many years.

In the cases of the NRA and Lance Armstrong, it is our culture’s willingness to subordinate “decency” to “entitlement” that is exposed.

There’s a history to how this shift in the national ethos occurred in the last half-century, what took place such that Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 was replaced as culturally normative by Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech in the movie, “Wall Street,” by 1987.

Most guilty of exploiting this “entitlement” culture are Wall Street and the “too big to fail” banks today.

But they get away with it because their ruthless and immoral behaviors are now sanctioned by our culture from top to bottom.

NRA supporters insist they are “entitled” to their guns (the Second Amendment being only a prop for this). Lance Armstrong felt “entitled” to do anything necessary to be a champion.

Just like the bullies who think they are “entitled” to your child’s lunch, or life.