In 1954, after years of successfully smearing innocent people, ruining lives and careers, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a new attack against an unlikely target – the United States Army. Unlike his other victims, the Army had the power and influence to fight back.
McCarthy accused the Army of having weak security at one of its top-secret facilities. In response, the Army hired a well-known lawyer, Joseph Welch, to defend the country’s oldest service branch against the allegations. During a public hearing at which Welch testified, McCarthy accused one of Welch’s junior attorneys of having ties to the Communist Party with no evidence to back up his charge.
Welch responded with words that have gone down in history as the ultimate put down for bullies like McCarthy. “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”
McCarthy tried to fight back, but Welch stopped him. “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no decency?”
Have you no decency?
With those four immortal words McCarthy’s popularity in the country disappeared overnight, he was censured by his fellow senators, rebuffed by the media that helped create him, and died three years later in disgrace. His brand of character assassination has now become known as McCarthyism.
Now, in the beautiful North Idaho community of Coeur d’Alene, Welch’s indictment “have you no decency” applies to Brent Regan, the chair of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee. After years of smearing his political opponents, Regan hit a new low in the recent local non-partisan library board election.
Two incumbents, Judy Meyer, and Regina McCrea were running for re-election. I don’t know McCrea, but I have worked with Judy Meyer for a decade as chair of Idaho Business for Education’s Panhandle region.
Judy is an institution and community treasure in Coeur d’Alene. She has served on the North Idaho College board of trustees, served as president of the State Board of Education, still serves on the board of Idaho Public Television, has donated millions of dollars to make her community a better place to live, and has served on the library board for 30 years.
At the age of 81, when most people retire from public service, Judy ran for re-election to the library board because she is concerned about those who want to ban books in the library. She wanted to prevent Regan and his book-banning minions from taking over the library board just as they took over the North Idaho College board and drove it to the brink of oblivion.
On Tuesday, Judy lost her race for re-election to the board after Regan’s Kootenai County GOP committee sent out a letter accusing Judy and McCrea of allowing “graphic books with text and pictures describing every imaginable sex act to be purchased and displayed to children.”
The letter went on to say, “These books are so explicit that if you were to give them to a child, you would be committing a crime.”
Regan’s group also paid for a video in which they accused the library board of failing to protect children from “harmful media and reading material.”
In the video, a young girl comes home from school and tells her mother, who is washing dishes, that at the library a woman read a book to the children. The girl tells her mother that the book had “moms and dads and there were kids” and they were “doing things like kissing each other and some of ‘em didn’t have any clothes on.”
The video goes on to show the shocked mother turning to her daughter.
“Mommy,” the child asks. “What’s anal sex?”
At that, the shocked mother drops a plate, and it shatters on the floor.
The video ends by urging people to vote for the candidates running against Judy and McCrea.
Let’s be clear, Judy Meyer is no groomer. Judy Meyer would never allow children to be exposed to sexually explicit books. She is a mother and a grandmother and a pillar of decency and virtue. She has dedicated her life to serving her community. She and her husband of more than 57 years were just honored in the Spokane business newspaper as “icons” of the Coeur d’Alene community.
This time Regan and his minions jumped the shark. To paraphrase Joseph Welch’s immortal words, his cruelty and recklessness hit a new low. He has demonstrated in a most public way that he, indeed, has no decency.
Coeur d’Alene is one of the most beautiful towns in the United States, nestled along the banks of Lake Coeur d’Alene. It is populated by many good people who love their community. It has known good times and bad times like when it had to fight and defeat a group of neo-Nazis that plagued the area. Thousands of outsiders have flocked to the community because of its lakeside beauty and thriving economy.
But in the last few years a heavy darkness has descended over Coeur d’Alene, thanks largely to people like Brent Regan. They have infected the community with a poison that has spread like wildfire. Coeur d’Alene is now a place where truth, love, respect, civility, and goodwill go to die.
Coeur d’Alene is at risk of losing its wonderful community college, the oldest in Idaho, because Brent Regan backed far-right candidates who took over the board of trustees. It has already lost many good public servants who, like Judy Meyer, were smeared. Now it is about to lose its community library to book censorship. One has the haunting feeling that the recent library election is proof positive that the community is close to losing its soul.
One wonders when a majority of people in that blessed lakeside community will collectively tell Brent Regan and his minions that enough is enough. One wonders when they will tell Brent Regan and his minions that their cruelty knows no bounds. One wonders when they will tell Brent Regan in no uncertain terms that he has no decency. That his brand of character assassination has no place in their community.
The scary truth is, if they can character assassinate a community icon and an 81-year-old grandmother like Judy Meyer, no one’s reputation is safe. They can tarnish anyone, no matter how innocent they are.
When the good citizens of Coeur d’Alene finally decide to send Brent Regan and his acolytes packing, then, and only then, can they start rebuilding their town into the beautiful, welcoming, and loving community that once was the jewel of North Idaho.