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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 10:31 pm | Fair 46º


Jamie Stiehm: Bright Voices Speaking Out of the Darkness

Is there hope for “Dreamers” in the House of Representatives?

The Senate at last agreed to take up the measure next week, but House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is standing in the doorway of a deal.

Nobody knows what’s next for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill after an epic floor speech by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that clocked in at eight straight hours. Though they wanted to beat a retreat to a serene place by the Chesapeake Bay, instead, they’re staying in Washington to accommodate negotiations.

It’s hard being a House Democrat. Nothing is up to them.

In a dramatic appeal to let the House vote on the immigration status of 800,000 young people, Pelosi proved to the liberal Democratic base that she’s dead serious about protecting DACA recipients. The “gentle lady from San Francisco” may be 77, but she set a new Olympic-like record for House floor speeches.

Pelosi read letters and testimonials from “Dreamers,” quoted the Statue of Liberty poem (“I lift my lamp beside the golden door”) by Emma Lazarus and hit religious notes and chords throughout her speech, even citing the good Samaritan.

Even if Ryan changes his hard no-vote stance, President Donald Trump is the stonewall for “Dreamers.” Shameless as always, he let his venom toward immigrants fly at the State of the Union address.

We are living at a dark time we will look back on as a time that tried our American soul. The brave people who speak out to resist ugly words and actions will be remembered.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is another. On the Senate floor, he criticized the “numb acceptance” of Trump’s comment that members of Congress who didn’t clap for him (at the State of the Union) were guilty of “treason.”

Remember “the Lady from Maine,” the only woman in the Senate in 1950. An outsider, she embraced that status by wearing a rose every day. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a New England Republican, was new, and freshmen were supposed to stay mum. That was tradition in a hidebound chamber.

Still less were freshmen meant to speak out against their own party. Smith broke that rule in a speech known as one of the greatest in Senate history, a clarion call against McCarthyism.

Smith was 52 when she gave the breathtaking speech, titled “Declaration of Conscience.” Hers was the first voice in the chamber to condemn a Republican senator, Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Smith delivered her address as McCarthy listened.

He had warning from Smith, because they rode the Senate subway together to the Capitol. He remarked to “Margaret” that she looked serious and asked if she was going to give a speech. She said, “Yes, and you will not like it.”

This is what Smith had to say:

“The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as ‘Communists’ or ‘Fascists’ by their opponents. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America ... I do not like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity.”

McCarthy’s unchecked accusations of Communists in the State Department, Hollywood and the Army had not reached full peak by that fair June day in 1950. Yet he had already created the politics of fear in urging public servants, writers, directors and actors to “name names” for a blacklist, open season on all suspected Communists.

Careers and lives were ruined by accusations that replaced reason and inquiry. It reached a point of mass hysteria before McCarthy was brought down by one man on national television, an Army lawyer, Joseph Welch, who asked: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” To that McCarthy had no answer.

Smith’s eloquence on McCarthyism’s threats to American freedoms did not end McCarthy’s crusade and allegations against Communists. But she is remembered for being the first to speak out.

President Harry Truman told Smith, “your Declaration of Conscience was one of the finest things that has happened here in Washington in all my years in the Senate and the White House.”

That’s what I mean.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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