THE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS, representing the newly elected overwhelming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, has given two indications in recent weeks that it is going to be a progressive force during the 94th Congress.
The Democrats voted not to allot any funds to the House Internal Security Committee, thus abolishing the committee. The Internal Security Committee was the direct descendant of the old House Un-American Activities Committee which was the leading force of red-baiting and repression during the intense Cold War period in the late 1940s and early '50s. It included among its victims the "Hollywood Ten," Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson, and numerous others of greater and lesser note whose only crimes were either to refuse to answer questions concerning their political affiliations, or to acknowledge past membership in the Communist Party, U.S.A. Many of the former group wound up in prison for contempt of Congress; many of the latter found their careers and livelihood destroyed.
The committee which virtually created the blacklist did, however, serve some of its own most aggressive members very well. It was as a young committee member that Congressman Richard M. Nixon first achieved a national reputation with his tenacious investigation of the Hiss case.
As the Internal Security Committee, the group's inquiries and attempts at character defamation were directed largely at anti-war protestors and leaders of radical movements. The national climate though was very different by this time, and the second witch hunt proved highly unsuccessful.
The Internal Security Committee and its predecessor lived in shame and died in shame; it is good to see it dead and buried.
Another bright sign from the caucus came when they voted to unseat F. Edward Hebert as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a post which he has held since 1971. During his tenure, he supported the bombing of Cambodia against the will of a majority of the House, and frequently endorsed and lobbied for defense projects so outlandish that even the Nixon administration opposed them.
Students at colleges throughout the country should have particularly fond memories of Hebert as the man who led a fight in Congress to keep the Reserve Officers Training Corps on the campuses. He sought to exclude colleges who did away with ROTC from government programs in order to punish them.
For one who has never served in the armed forces, Hebert has shown a surprising willingness, even anxiousness, to send Americans to die in Southeast Asia. His removal as Armed Services Chairman is a welcome sign. His successor Melvin Price doesn't appear to be much of an improvement, but has supported some positive social legislation during his terms in Congress.
These steps by the Democratic Caucus are, of course, significant mostly for symbolic reasons. Congress will have to take far more substantive measures, if social and economic conditions in America are to be at all improved. But it is good to see some Congressmen leaning in the right direction.