While Senator Eugene McCarthy and many others have continued their vociferous protests against the Vietnam War, conservatives in Congress have quietly been trying to revive the "communist" blacklist of the Joe McCarthy era. Conservative efforts have focused on giving new powers to the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB).
SACB hit the headlines several months ago when President Johnson appointed the otherwise unqualified husband of his personal secretary to the Board--a $26,000-a-year job. The uproar in the press also revealed the SACB's function had been virtually eliminated by adverse Supreme Court decisions. The Board was supposed to make "communist" organizations register with the Government. But the Court had ruled that this sort of registration violates the Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
All this publicity led to two SACB bills in Congress. Senator Brooke (R-Mass.) asked to have the SACB abolished, but the measure was defeated 58 to 17 in the Senate.
At the same time Representative Willis (D-La.) of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) introduced a bill calling on the Attorney General to initiate blacklist proceedings with the SACB against "Communist action, Communist front, or Communist infiltrated" organizations. The bill also requires that organizations listed as "communist" attach this label to all their publicity, written or oral; that dissolution of an organization after Board proceedings have begun shall not stop investigations; and that the courts are forbidden to interfere by any means while cases are pending before the Board. The bill passed the House 269 to 104.
In the Senate the Williams Bill met strong opposition led by Senator Proxmire (D-Wis.). Majority Leader Mansfield (D-Mon.) offered an acceptable compromise amendment that kills the bill on June 30, 1969 if proceedings and hearings (in plural) have not been carried out by then.
In the conference to bat out the differences between the House and Senate bills, the Senate was represented by all conservatives--Eastland (D-Miss), Ervin (D-N.C.), McClellan (D-Ark.), Dirksen (R-Ill), and Hruska (R-Neb.). The committee made proceedings and hearings singular, and added the proviso that if the Attorney General had not begun searching for "subversives" in six months he would have to justify his inaction before Congress.
Having passed both Houses the conference bill is now before President Johnson. Although the President has not made public comment, both Willis and Dirksen insist he has personally told them he supports the SACB bill. In 1950, as a member of the Senate, Johnson voted to override President Truman's veto of the Internal Security Act.
Even if Johnson signs the SACB bill, its effects will be limited. In many ways, the bill's supporters are whipping a dead horse. Present public opinion will not tolerate another full-scale McCarthy witchhunt. The Supreme Court has constantly cut down measures that impair basic freedoms under the nebulous guise of searching for "subversives." Only last month, the Court ruled in U.S. v. Eugene Robel that the Government cannot fire a man in a defense plant just because he is a member of the Communist Party; he must constitute a clear and present danger. Also Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a well-known civil libertarian, will be reluctant to start proceedings with the SACB.
However, the bill does keep the SACB alive until the day when public opinion, stirred by continued Vietnam war protests and Negro violence, might tolerate the prosecution of "subversives." Although organizations could fight the SACB in court, such legal action requires much time and money. Many groups went bankrupt fighting the strictures of the 1950 Internal Security Act. And if Ramsey Clark has to report to Congress, he may be pressured to work with the SACB. Senator Dirksen has said that he will make sure the Attorney General carries out the provisions of the act.
Probably the most deleterious effects of the Act will be informal. The Attorney General already maintains a list of "subversive groups" used in the selection of Government employees. Through the proceedings of the SACB, this list will probably be publicized and lead to informal pressures against members. The SACB could easily discredit anti-war and black militant groups just by connecting their names with communism in the public mind. In addition, the mere passage of an anti-subversive act will further alienate liberals and radicals already disenchanted with the Government because of the War.
Slightly amended, the Willis bill to resuscitate the SACB has passed both Houses. Irritated by anti-war protests and Negro violence, President Johnson will be sorely tempted to sign this bill into law. Liberals and radicals will all pressure the President to use his veto power.
If the bill becomes law, civil rights and abolish-HUAC groups advocate a virulent campaign against the SACB, while moderates feel an attitude of ridicule would be more effective. These moderates argue that a full-scale campaign might only give the SACB the publicity it needs to carry out another witchhunt.
In any case, with the prolonged, unpopular war in Vietnam and the anti-communist phobia latent in American hinterlands, legal and financial support for test cases is needed to quash this last-ditch try to bring back the good old days of Joe McCarthy.