“Senator McCarthy, have you no sense of decency?”
For those of you too young to recall, these were the words of Joseph Welch, an attorney who confronted one of America’s Bullies, Sen. Joe McCarthy.
McCarthy was a serial abuser, a man who abused the power he had as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He used that position to allegedly ferret out communists in the government, but more often than not, went after political opponents.
Joseph Welch testified at one of the hearings, defending a junior attorney in his firm, a person McCarthy tried to smear as a communist. Welch, exasperated, eventually asked that question.
Within the year, McCarthy the bully was “condemned” by the full Senate, his chairmanship by then stripped, his power over, his influence dead.
Which is always what happens to political bullies, sooner or later.
They pick on the defenseless, punching away with impunity, thinking their power makes them above fair play.
But sooner or later, someone says, “Enough is enough,” and punches back.
And then? Well, the fall is abrupt — and cheered.
In Arizona, we’ve had a recent history of these political bullies, like Russell Pearce, the first legislator to be removed by recall, stripped of his power as State Senate President, shuffled off to the far corners of talk radio.
And Joe Arpaio, who stubbornly clings to his office, still huffing and puffing away, astute enough to exploit our fears of illegal immigrants to maintain that power.
And former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was stripped of his law license this week after weeks of testimony and deliberation.
A man who — according to the Arizona Bar investigation, a document available online, one we all should read — continually abused the power of his office to attack who he perceived as political opponents, who trumped up charges against those opponents, who subjected them to public humiliation, who so abused his power that even possibly legitimate investigations were ruined by his behavior.
A man who, conspiring with Sheriff Arpaio, attempted to stop an investigation or ruling by charging the judge overseeing the case with corruption — charging him despite a clear lack of evidence. In fact, in the bar finding, we find again and again others warning Thomas that what he was doing lacked substance, but he continued the course. He even has an “enemies List of sorts, a list of judges perceived as “critical of him or his policies.”
The breadth of his abuse is astounding. Equally astounding is his initial reaction, typical of the political bully:
“Today corruption has won and justice has lost. I brought corruption cases in good faith involving powerful people, and the political and legal establishment blatantly covered up and retaliated by targeting my law license. Arizona has some of the worst corruption in America, according to a recent national survey. The political witch hunt that’s just ended makes things worse by sending a chilling message to prosecutors: Those who take on the powerful will lose their livelihood.”
In other words, “I’m the victim.” Of his own hubris, that is.
Because, as the bar report concludes, “Sadly, their own individual basic mistrust of others, when combined together, became multiplied by dishonesty, an abuse of power and a remarkable willingness to spend the public’s money for their cause celebre. The aggravating factors devastate the mitigating factors. We find they knew they had no evidence and prosecuted people anyway. There was no ‘noble cause.”’ There was only self-interest. The harm done to the public, to individuals, and to the profession was stunning on every front.”
And the bully, finally, gets his just desserts.
Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.