The key irony in this McCarthy-era loyalty oath is it would eliminate all of our nation's founders from holding office. Instead of being honored, our founders would be vilified if this oath held unalienable truths.
Candidates for public office in Pennsylvania no longer have to sign a McCarthy-era loyalty oath pledging that they are not "subversive." The requirement was unconstitutional, Attorney General Tom Corbett has told election officials.
The 1951 law describes as subversive anyone who advocates or takes part in "any act intended to overthrow, destroy (or) alter" the government. The U.S. Supreme Court declared an Indiana loyalty oath unconstitutional in 1974, finding that the oath violated free-speech rights by equating an abstract belief in radical change with inciting "imminent" violence.
George Washington, Subversive in Chief?
We don't call him that for an important reason. These loyalty oaths have nothing to do with truth and everything to do with paranoia and a grab for unquestioned power. Fortunately, critical thinking prevailed over that paranoia and the persecution that was done under the cover of patriotism.
It prevailed, but it wasn't a full victory.
The damage done by McCarthyism was more than damage to the individuals identified as subversive. By cleansing our government of analysts who could sympathize with communists, they cleansed our government of analysts who could understand communist countries and who could balance the voices that said our presence in Vietnam would go well from start to finish.
I heard it said that Vietnam was the first major conflict where we didn't have a clue what we were getting ourselves into. I believe we can thank McCarthy and his supporters for that. How many of the 50,000+ Americans who died in Vietnam lost their lives because of the cluelessness of those who fit McCarthy's ideology and the silencing of those who knew better? We may never know and we can't go back.
But that lesson is forgotten at our own peril.
In effect, the loyalty oath attempts to maintain and strengthen the status quo as interpreted by those who don't want anyone to question their position, their beliefs or their plans. Not only are subversives the enemy so is transparency of government.
Fifty years after McCarthyism ruled, many politicians, under the cover of a post 9/11 world, introduced McCarthyism 2.0 by labeling their opponents as treasoneous and Godless.
Power can afford to be questioned when it's working for the good of everyone. It's corruption that says it is above inspection and above correction.
Oaths of this sort put paranoia above reason and critical thinking. Make no mistake, there are politicians who want to bring dangerous changes to our government, but more often than not we have money, personal power and short-sightedness as the motivation.
For those who feel a pledge is needed, try this one on for size:
"I pledge to always put the interests of all of the citizens I represent above my own personal interests and above the interests of those who contribute to the success and comfort of my political career and above the interests of those who promise me great things when I re-enter the private sector. "
Now that would be subversive.
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