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Cabbages and Kings

Duplicity on Beacon Hill

By Daniel Eilsberg

"Repetition is good," Tom Dorgan explained to the Committee on Education. "You don't get it the first time, then you hear it again." His favorite refrain was: "I'll repeat that." "Until you believe it," he might have added.

Dorgan and McCarthy were having a repeat performance in the State House. A month ago they aired a joint bill to outlaw the Communist Party in Massachusetts, in hearings before the Committee on Constitutional Law. Last week they were back again, before a new committee and audience, but with much the same speeches and gestures. Their new bill required colleges to expel all communists and communist sympathizers from their faculties. Colleges not complying would lose their charters.

Details like constitutionality didn't worry the pair. Representative Hull pointed out that it would be hard to revoke Harvard's charter, which was granted in the Massachusetts Constitution. "I think you'll find the Legislature can get around that, if it see it," McCarthy answered. "But let's not quibble over technicalities. Pass this legislation, and let them take it to the courts."

Neither Dorgan nor McCarthy could call themselves political philosophers, but they know what they hate. Earnestly, almost desperately, they want to go on record against Communism. In the process, with much table-pounding and references to the "hills of Korea," they never forgot the gallery. "Let them stay," McCarthy said expansively when the chairman reprimanded the audience for laughing. "When this bill is heard on the floor of the House, I'll rinse them all out in Supersuds." He described his audience at the last hearing. "You should have seen them, pretty little teen-aged girls, hissing everyone who spoke against Communism . . . obviously mentally corrupted."

This time the committee kept strict order, and the two lawmakers got a sober hearing. They had ideas on a range of subjects.

On the United Nations: "In my book, the U.N. is a joke, anyway; they might as well fold up . . . They don't want Spain, or Portugal. No, but they want Russia."

On thought control: "If anyone is thinking of overthrowing the government, then that thought should be controlled."

On opponents of their bill: "Some confused minds will testify against this bill. Good men, some of them, have been duped and exploited."

On basic freedoms: "Let's not confuse civil liberties with silly liberties. Don't be led astray by that hackneyed phrase, academic freedom. Be realistic."

McCarthy spoke first. Dorgan began by repeating everything his colleague had said. He quoted an old ruling that: "All preceptors of the colleges, especially the university of Cambridge, gotta teach CHASTITY"--he paused, while some teen-aged girls tittered nervously--"morality, obedience--not love of Russia--and love of country."

I was watching his fist, which trembled in the air an inch or two from my face. Then he brought it down to pound the press table. "Sixty-four million American boys, casualties, in the cold hills of Korea--and the cost of living, you can't get a good ham sandwich today--the Commies are back of all of it!"

Later he shouted: "I am not here to red-bait. I'm not here to witch-hunt. I'm not here to smear innocent persons." Who, then, was he there to smear? Dorgan was evasive. M.I.T.'s Dirk Struik? "Struik, they asked him if he was a Commie and he said, 'Of course not, but I'm a good Markist' (sic). And you all know what Karl Marx was. That's like saying, 'I'm not a thief but I'm a good pickpocket'."

When Mather was mentioned, one representative lost patience. "Look here, Tom, are you saying Mather's a Communist or not?"

"Well, I don't know what he is."

"Is he or isn't he?"

Dorgan shrugged. "You know the old saying, a wink is as good as a bow to a blind horse." The representative, who was half-blind, sat back.

The committee had few questions for either speaker, but it came to life at the start of the second act, the hearings on the opposition to the bill. First was a Congregational minister. "I'm a Congregationalist myself," a committeeman told him, "so I can talk to you man to man." Three other representatives went on record that they, too, were Congregationalists.

"I hope there are some Methodists on the committee," said the next witness, smiling. A committee member interrupted him: "Wait a minute, how many Methodists do you represent?" The young man blushed. "No, no, I just said that because I'm a Methodist."

He went on to point out that the provisions of the bill were already covered by existing laws. A representative leaned forward: "Ah, then you say there is duplicity." There was a pause. The representative repeated, "Duplicity, duplication of existing legislation," and the young man nodded hesitantly.

The most significant remark of the day went unnoticed by the opposition. "Freedom," Thomas H. Dorgan had said, "is freedom to do what you ought to do." Freedom, to repeat, is what is left after Dorgan and McCarthy decide what you ought to think and do. If they keep repeating that long enough and loud enough, some day a legislative committee might start believing them.

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