I confess to being a history buff. Every time something happens in the political world, it reminds me of something similar that happened in yesterday’s political world. Back in 1954, the nation was focused on the actions of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy was busy looking for people who he insisted were known associates of communist front organizations.
After harassing prominent people in the literary and entertainment worlds, he turned his attention to the U.S. Army. McCarthy alleged that the Army was weak in protecting the government from infiltration of subversive elements. To insulate itself from McCarthy’s wrath, the Army hired a well-known Boston attorney, Joseph Welch. When interrogating Army officials, McCarthy alleged that an attorney on Welch’s staff had Communist Party connections.
Welch, directing his fire at the firebrand senator, uttered the now famous words, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” It was only a short time later that the nation caught on to the fact that McCarthy was a demagogue, and his career went down in flames. But Welch’s put-down of McCarthy connected me to the reactions of some people associated with President Trump and how they related to the plight of the 800,000 federal employees who were out of work because of the president’s senseless campaign for a border wall with Mexico.
While the furlough is temporarily over, I can’t forget that from the president on down, there wasn’t the slightest drop of compassion for people who were caught in the middle of a campaign pledge that had nothing to do with their ability to work for the government. The president issued lots of tweets and made lots of speeches — including an Oval Office fiasco — during which he largely ignored the plight of the innocent federal workers. Last Friday, announcing that the government would reopen until Feb. 15, Trump made only passing reference to the workers who would soon be able to collect their paychecks.
The fact that the shutdown is on temporary hold in no way wipes away some of the stupid and heartless remarks of a handful of Trump people. Let’s start with Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He compared the shutdown to a vacation, saying it could leave workers “better off” because they didn’t have to use vacation days. Hit with a barrage of criticism, Hassett claimed his words were taken out of context.
My next candidate for an award for mean-spiritedness goes to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. I’ve known Ross for more than 40 years, and have found him to be a man who carefully measures his words. We traveled the country together in the 1990s, trying to find a utility company that would take the place of the Long Island Lighting Company. So I was shocked when Ross jumped off a verbal cliff with his reaction to the shutdown.
Ross was told that some federal employees were reported to have gone to homeless shelters or sought food assistance for their families. “I don’t really understand why,” Ross replied, adding that they could instead borrow from a bank or a credit union. I don’t know when Ross, a billionaire, last applied for a short-term loan, but there aren’t many lenders who will process one in 48 hours for a needy family without a great credit rating.
Last, and by far not least, is Lara Trump. The president’s daughter-in-law was asked what her message would be to the furloughed workers, and she responded, “Listen, this is — it’s not fair to you, and we all get that. But this is so much bigger than any one person.” About the only thing bigger than the agony of people without a paycheck is her father-in-law’s ego and his failed effort to get Mexico to pay for a wall on the Southern border.
Maybe decency isn’t the right word, but a bunch of people who were born on third base and think they hit a triple could try some compassion.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.