Have you no sense of decency, madam?

Have you no sense of decency, madam?

A North Carolina congresswoman strikes a blow for ignorance and hatred

More than half century ago, in one of the great moments in American political history, a lawyer by the name of Joseph Welch helped put an end to the mad ravings and witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy in a brief exchange on national television.

The subject matter was an attempt by McCarthy and his evil toady, Roy Cohn, to smear a young lawyer who worked for Welch and who had at one time had been a member of liberal National Lawyers Guild. The famous climax of the exchange featured these words from Welch:

"Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild…Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Modern day indecency

Oh, that someone of Welch's dignity and eloquence had been able to confront North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in such a way this week.

The subject of Foxx's asininity was not some crazy conspiracy theory about communist subversion (though there can be little doubt that the congresswoman, who has publicly called the President a "socialist," would likely be a happy participant in any efforts to revive such madness); It was a modest little bill known as the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009." It is also often referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act.

Here's what the bill does, according to the national advocacy group known as the Human Rights Campaign:

"The LLEHCPA gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes."

Pretty subversive and controversial stuff, huh?  Unfortunately, it is if you're a reactionary ideologue who's fixated on stopping any effort of any kind that might actually acknowledge the reality that there are people of different sexual orientations and gender identities in the world. In that case, not only will you vote against the proposal, you'll get up on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and attack the memory of the young man, Matthew Shepard, whom the proposed law would honor.

Matthew Shepard

For those in need of a memory refresher, Matthew Shepard was a 21 year-old Wyoming college student who was robbed and then savagely murdered in 1998 by two men who admitted that they had been motivated to commit the murder because Shepard was gay. His death helped spawn anti-hate crime advocacy efforts around the country.  

Shepard's parents have helped establish a foundation in his memory that seeks to pursue the following subversive objectives:

"To support diversity programs in education and to help youth organizations establish environments where young people can feel safe and be themselves."

"To educate and enlighten others on the importance of diversity, understanding, compassion, acceptance and respect. Everyone must participate in developing solutions to problems that are rooted in ignorance and hatred."

"To replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance."

According to Foxx, however, this is all a grand hoax – apparently perpetrated by scheming homosexuals bent on subverting the American way of life.

Here's Foxx in debate as reported on the Washington Post blog, The Sleuth:

"It's really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing [hate crimes] bills," Foxx said on the House floor during debate on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Foxx opposes a bill being considered that would extend federal hate crimes protections to cover crimes committed because of a person's gender, sexual orientation or disability.

She called Shepard's murder a "very unfortunate incident" but said "we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn't because he was gay."

And guess who was in the House gallery to hear Foxx say this? Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy, according to Democratic sources."

If you'd like to get your blood boiling, you can watch Foxx's embarrassing performance by clicking here.

Even if one accepted the arguments of those who claim that there were some ambiguities in the details of the Shepard case, what could possibly the point in launching such an attack on the House floor? Does Foxx believe that hate crimes against the GLBT community are a myth?   

"A poor choice of words"

According to the News & Observer, Foxx later issued a tepid apology for her inane remarks, calling them a "poor choice of words." That would be an understatement.

A better description would have been something like this: hateful, harmful, mean, stupid, pathetic, or, as Joseph Welch might well have described them, completely lacking in basic human decency.

Of course, had this been an isolated incident of "brain lock" for Foxx or one in which she'd received bad information from a staffer, it would be one thing. But, such moronic blather has long been a regular staple of Foxx's activities in Washington (and in Raleigh before that) on a whole host of issues.

In addition to repeatedly calling the President a "socialist," she's blamed the mortgage foreclosure crisis on the "welfare mentality" of home buyers, voted against the 2005 aid package for victims of Hurricane Katrina, claimed that she couldn't think of a single worthwhile spending item in the economic recovery bill of earlier this year, and even suggested that Medicare and Medicaid should be eliminated.

Last year, she practically flirted with baseball bully and accused steroid abuser Roger Clemens during a congressional dog and pony show. And less than a month ago, she made headlines for using racially insensitive language in the course of an attack on Democrats for attempting to ban big corporate bonuses in the so-called "TARP" law.  

In short, despite the fact that she's an apparently sincere woman with an education who can be personally engaging, Representative Foxx's views and policymaking are firmly rooted on the extreme fringe of the political spectrum. And while this mostly just assures that she (unlike old Tail-Gunner Joe) will be consigned to the role of irrelevant gadfly in Congress, on occasion, it also means that she will do and say terribly hurtful and destructive things – like this week.

Let's hope that the next time Foxx lets loose with one of her narrow-minded broadsides, she makes the mistake of picking on someone other than the family of an innocent murder victim whose sexual orientation happens to offend her.

If there's any justice in the world, it'll be a modern day Joseph Welch.    

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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