My grandfather, Wallace F. Bennett, retired from the United States Senate in 1974, four years before my personal chronology reached into double digits. Thus I have no memory of him serving in Congress, but as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate his legacy, particularly in two areas — his strong support for the 1964 landmark Civil Rights Act and his 1954 introduction of a formal resolution of censure against Sen. Joe McCarthy for acting in a manner “contrary to good morals and senatorial ethics.”
McCarthy’s surname, you may notice, forms the root of the word “McCarthyism,” a label used to describe a period in the middle of the last century where actors and writers were “blacklisted” and denied the right to work because of their political sympathies. This phenomenon has been the subject of a legion of books, movies, plays and television shows decrying the injustice of banning creative output from people simply because you don’t agree with their personal point of view.
Hollywood features a wide spectrum of ideological diversity, from ultra-left-wing to ultra-ultra-ultra left-wing, but if there’s one idea that unites all of the people who make mass entertainment, it is the bedrock truth that McCarthyism was a terrible, terrible thing.
At least, that was true in the 1950s, when the targets of McCarthyism were Hollywood liberals. Here in 2013, however, the same thing is happening all over again, only this time it’s the conservatives who are showing up on blacklists — and it’s the very people who still vilify McCarthy who are doing the blacklisting.
Today, the writer being pilloried by the modern McCarthyites is Orson Scott Card, who has come under fire after the announcement of his work on an upcoming Superman comic book.
The renowned science fiction author has been an outspoken critic of redefining traditional marriage. His position on this issue is codified into law in 32 states and by the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act, and it was, until just a few months ago, shared by President Obama. But, according to the consensus of would-be 21st century blacklisters, Card’s opinion is so beyond the pale of reasonable discourse that he ought to be forcibly expelled from the public arena.
They’re wasting no time. As the Deseret News reported, The Atlantic magazine has already labeled Mr. Card as a “fascist.” Thousands of activists have signed petitions to have him removed from his Superman assignment, and some comic book stores are refusing to carry his work when it is published. The protests have been successful in persuading the artist slated to draw the comic book to withdraw, and now the future of the project is in doubt.
It would seem, therefore, that, for the left, McCarthyism is only a terrible, terrible thing when it applies to people who agree with you.
That’s one of the reasons I applaud what my grandfather did back in the '50s. Ideologically, Joe McCarthy and Wallace Bennett had quite a lot in common. They belonged to the same party, and they were both adamantly opposed to communism. But unlike McCarthy, my grandfather was also opposed to intolerance and vitriol aimed at those who think differently. He didn’t have to agree with someone to recognize their right to their point of view.
So where are his equals today?
I keep waiting for someone prominent on the left to stand up and say, “I passionately oppose Mr. Card’s politics. I think he’s absolutely wrong on gay marriage. But I won’t stand idly by and watch him be blacklisted just because we disagree.”
I’m still waiting. I’m not holding my breath.
Card’s critics call him hateful and intolerant, and then they hatefully and intolerantly demand that he be silenced, banished and utterly destroyed.
McCarthy may be gone, but those who despise him the most have ironically become his intellectual heirs. They would do well to remember the words of Walt Kelly, another comic book writer and a contemporary of Wallace Bennett, who wisely observed that “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.