Reflecting upon Cruz's rip-snorting, crowd-pleasing, media-bashing outburst during the GOP debate on Wednesday, I was reminded of the old lawyer joke about what to do when both the evidence and the law are against you. A version of the anecdote was told by Carl Sandburg in a 1936 book-length poem, The People, Yes! Sam Ervin (yes, that Sam Ervin) also told a version in his November 1954 speech on the Senate resolution of censure against McCarthy for disorderly behavior:
The following story is told in North Carolina: A young lawyer went to an old lawyer for advice as to how to try a lawsuit. The old lawyer said, "If the evidence is against you, talk about the law. If the law is against you, talk about the evidence." The young lawyer said. "But what do you do when both the evidence and the law are against you?" "In that event," said the old lawyer, "give somebody hell. That will distract the attention of the judge and the jury from the weakness of your case."
That is precisely what Senator McCarthy is doing in his response to the report of the select committee. He does not attempt to meet that report on the merits. He insists that the Senate shall try everybody and everything except the junior Senator from Wisconsin and the issues which the Senate was called into special session to try.
He asserts primarily that the Senate must try Senator Watkins, Senator Johnson of Colorado, and myself, on the ground that we were disqualified to serve on the select committee because we entertained a bias against him.
He declares secondarily that the Senate must then try the select committee as a whole upon his charge that all of its members are unwitting handmaidens, involuntary agents, and attorneys in fact for the Communist Party.Sound familiar? If you can't back up your political posturing with facts and coherent arguments, pound the table and give the liberal-biased media hell for asking the damned, impertinent questions. Finish off by accusing your adversaries of being Commies -- or, at best, unwitting dupes of the evil Communist conspiracy. Cruz has the drill down to a "tea."
Sam Ervin's speech contained a treasury of these homespun gems, each of them -- not surprisingly -- as applicable to the junior Senator from Texas and his foxy-truthy acolytes as they were to that old hack, Joe.
On lifting words out of context
I now know that the lifting of statements out of context is a typical McCarthy technique. The writer of Ecclesiastes assures us that "there is no new thing under the sun." The McCarthy technique of lifting statements out, of context was practiced by a preacher in North Carolina about 75 years ago. At that lime the women had a habit of wearing their hair in top-knots This preacher deplored the habit. As a consequence, he preached a rip-snorting sermon one Sunday on the text, "Top Knot Come Down." At the conclusion of his sermon an irate woman, wearing a very prominent top-knot, told the preacher that no such text could be found In the Bible. The preacher thereupon opened the Scriptures to the 17th verse of the 24th chapter of Matthew and pointed to the words:Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of this house.[Laughter]
Any practitioner of the McCarthy technique of lifting things out of context can readily find the text, "top not come down" in this verse.
On the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality:
I wish to say that one thing I noticed about Senator McCarthy is very puzzling to me. It is reflected in all has examinations. He seems to have an incapacity to distinguish between what he thinks in his head and external facts. I do not say this in unkindness. But this characteristic makes it very difficult for one to meet him on the same mental plane.On McCarthy's technique for examining witnesses:
Senators can claim that was legitimate cross-examination if they wish to do so; but I call it baiting and badgering and brow-beating a witness.On the making of "fantastic and foul accusations":
I do not propose to urge Senator McCarthy's expulsion from the Senate, but I shall make three observations upon the fantastic and foul accusations made by him against the six Senators who served on the select committee:
First, if Senator McCarthy made these fantastic and foul accusations against the members of the select committee without believing them to be true, he attempted to assassinate the character of these Senators and ought to be expelled from membership in the Senate for moral incapacity to perform the duties of a Senator.
Second, it Senator McCarthy made these fantastic and foul accusations against the six Senators who served on the select committee in the honest belief that they were true, then Senator McCarthy was suffering from mental delusions of gigantic proportions, and ought to be expelled from the Senate for mental incapacity to perform the duties of a Senator.
I do not propose to permit Senator McCarthy to try Senator Watkins, Senator Johnson of Colorado, or me on the charge of partiality. I do not propose to permit Senator McCarthy to try the entire membership of the select committee upon his charge that they are the unwitting hand maidens or involuntary agents or attorneys in fact of the Communist Party.
Senator Ervin concluded his speech with yet another homespun tale from North Carolina:
Mr. President, many years ago there was a custom in a section of my country, known as the South Mountains, to hold religious meetings at which the oldest members of the congregation were called upon to stand up and publicly testify to their religious experiences. On one occasion they were holding such a meeting in one of the churches; and old Uncle Ephriam Swink, a South Mountaineer whose body was all bent and distorted with arthritis, was present. All the older members of the congregation except Uncle Ephriam arose and gave testimony to their religious experiences. Uncle Ephriam kept his seat. Thereupon, the moderator said. "Brother Ephriam, suppose you tell us what God has done for you."
Uncle Ephriam arose, with his bent and distorted body, and said, "Brother, he has mighty nigh ruint me."
Mr. President, that is about what Senator McCarthy has done to this Senate. As a result of Senator McCarthy's activities and the failure of the Senate to do anything positive about them, the monstrous Idea has found lodgment in the minds of millions of loyal and thoughtful Americans, that Senators are intimidated by Senator McCarthy's threats of libel and slander, and for that reason the will of the Senate to visit upon Senator McCarthy the senatorial discipline he so justly merits is paralyzed.
Where, oh where is Senator Sam Ervin now when we need him?