May 31, 2016

1959. Walt Kelly on McCarthyism

"A Pied Piper for Know-Nothingism"
Walt Kelly's character "Simple J. Malarkey," a caricature of Senator Joseph McCarthy created during the Second Red Scare, as featured in Pogo in 1953 and 1955 (source)
Cartoonist Walt Kelly, the creator of the seminal comic strip Pogo, was known for his vocal criticism of Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism in the 1950s. He satirized the era in Pogo with the wildcat "Simple J. Malarkey," a clear caricature of McCarthy. In the excerpt below, Kelly reflects on the McCarthy years.

From "Ten Ever-Lovin' Blue Eyed Years With Pogo" by Walt Kelly (1959)
There was a time in the proud days between 1948 and 1956 when a great many of us in this land of the free and home of the brave were anything but either. In these latter (1959) more or less golden days of happy preoccupation with other greeds and other envies we should remember this. We confounded our friends abroad and dumbfounded our enemies at home. None of them expected that we were so soft in the head or hard in the heart.

Those years were our own fault, not the fault of any one individual or group, and years like them will be our fault again. As I stand here on this platform I hold between thumb and forefinger a nose that remembers a list of many, many more than 205 belly-whopping heroes who sledded out of sight in the yellow gloom of that gathering wintry dark. Properly pressed, we can all remember individual contributors to the shame of the years. We blame several advertisers for withdrawing their support of TV shows that protested against our un-American activities; we blame certain dismal desert stretches of the Press. And we can forget much of our Sweet Alice Congress and Administration who were with delight when Joe gave them a smile and trembled with fear at his frown. Who can forget, Ben Bolt? Most of us, Ben.

A few of us gave out bitter cries to prove through the night that our flag was still there and that the reasons you went to jail did not include deriding a demagogue. But most took tongue in teeth and ran.*

"You were skating on thin ice when you had that guilt-by-assumption trial of Albert for eating the Pup-dog. But now, with this Malarkey stuff, you've broken through."

It didn't seem to me then, nor does it now, that a comic version of Senatorial low-jinks was dangerous. Of my then three hundred and fifty editors, not one objected. They'd be the last to think they'd been courageous in running the material. In short, the whole situation might be termed "over-evaluated."

At about this time a student in an audience at the department of journalism at the University of Michigan leaped to his feet with a question which implied that the Senator from Wisconsin was doing great good for his country and Kelly was not aware of it. I rallied a counterthrust in which I agreed with the young man inasmuch as the Senator was making the country newly aware of its rights; rights are for everybody, including privileged Senators, but liberty was not to be construed as license; and one of our rights still included freedom of speech, even against Senators. It was a surprise to learn later from members of the faculty that this mild piece of horse sense was a bold statement.

Returning to New York, somewhat saddened by this, I was immensely cheered when I visited Mr. Tim Costello's establishment for the Arts on Third Avenue. As I came to the door, he spied me and hurried forward.

"You'll have to speak to the little woman," he said. "She's remembered some damn thing thing that plagues her and she's breaking glasses. Our glasses."

I asked if this meant that she had had a drink. "Devil a drink she's had," he said. "She orders a Manhattan and waves it a bit. Then she says, 'That damn CBS loyalty oath!' Then she slams the glass down on the bar, spilling the drink, which is bad enough, mind you, but she snaps off the stem every time. She's not missed once." Tim sighed and looked admiringly at my wife. "CBS has done much for temperance tonight."

Those of us who had reason to question the loyalty oath could not help but be cheered by a reverse side of the coin. Bill Downs made a blistering radio attack over CBS on the cloak-and-dagger activities on Capitol Hill. "Things were just going too far," he said to me. "I couldn't take it anymore." Ed Murrow followed him over CBS-TV with a public dissection of the Pied Piper.

The Piper dealt himself a sort of coup de grĂ¢ce when he took advantage of "equal time" on CBS-TV to put on such an incredible performance, complete with toupee, that Jo Coppola in the Long Island Newsday ran two pictures of Joe. One was before make-up, one after. The caption read: "Which Twin Has the Phony?" That CBS free time was the beginning of the end. With such a display of integrity, I wonder why private enterprise ever got into the gumshoe business.

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* There has been a lot of talk about who compromised the fifty per cent of the people who professed themselves in favor of amateur demagoguery in the polls of the period. People want to be liked, and when they answer poll questions they tend to give answers they hope are popular. One of the noisiest and most militant groups we ever had in this country was the large bunch of us which, envious of others all the time anyway, found this in the early Fifties a Pied Piper for Know-Nothingism. These self-pitying few, when on the march, made a lot of flash, and many of the rest of us, having hit the dirt and crawled into the bushes, had difficulty counting the enemy as they went by. This last craven crowd, by adding up the bugle calls and the firecrackers, decided to join what seemed to be a majority. That's where the heavy poll count came from. And that, in my opinion, is exactly where to put the blame, Mame.