An Irrational, Fundamentalist Boob?

Kevin Hill, of Ada, Ohio wrote in about Jeff’s “Clouds, When Determined by Context”:

It is interesting to see Senator Ralph Flanders mentioned in Jeff Sharlet’s article as if he were some kind of irrational, fundamentalist boob.  In fact, Flanders was a complicated, contradictory figure.  While a conservative and a fundamentalist, Flanders is most famous for being the Senator who introduced the 1954 motion to censure Joe McCarthy.  He was also a friend of organized labor and and firmly believed in international engagement with the developing countreies as well as supporting negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.

I would prefer Ralph Flanders, despite some of his kooky beliefs, to almost any Republican Senator in today’s Senate.

A passage from Jeff’s book, The Family, pages 199-201, may be relevant here:

Nineteen fifty-four was also the year that several Fellowship brothers steered Joe McCarthy off the national stage. It was a matter of politics, not ideology; Tailgunner Joe—raw, red-nosed, thick-browed, uncouth, uncontrolled, hungering Joe—made anticommunism look low-class.


[T]he man who first wrote the resolution to censure [McCarthy] was [Senator Frank] Carlson’s predecessor as president of the Fellowship, Sena-tor Ralph E. Flanders of Vermont. Flanders was a genteel Republican, an engineer, an industrialist, a banker. His wife collected New England folk songs. Smooth-domed and whiskered, his spectacles slipping down his nose and his pipe in hand, he looked like a professor and was sometimes mistaken for a liberal. But his record was as right-wing as many of the Senate’s more outspoken firebrands. In 1954, the year he moved to censure McCarthy, he revived an old fundamentalist favorite: an amendment to the Constitution that would have rewritten the United States’ founding document to declare, “This nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ.” And yet, because of his resolution against raving McCarthy, he is remembered as a sane man in paranoid times, footnoted in histories of the Cold War as one who stood up for common sense.

Only the radical journalist I. F. Stone perceived otherwise. Flanders, he wrote in 1954, did not challenge McCarthy’s paranoia but rather his effectiveness in its promulgation. “To doubt the power of the devil, to question the existence of witches,” Stone wrote following Flanders’s ostensibly heroic gesture, is

to read oneself out of respectable society, brand oneself a heretic, to incur suspicion of being oneself in league with the powers of evil. So all the fighters against McCarthyism are impelled to adopt its premises … The country is in a bad way indeed when as feeble and hysterical a speech [as Flanders’] is hailed as an attack on McCarthyism. Flanders talked of “a crisis in the age-long warfare between God and the Devil for the souls of men.” He spoke of Italy “as ready to fall into Communist hands,” of Britain “nibbling at the drugged bait of trade profits.” There are passages of sheer fantasy, like this one: “Let us look to the South. In Latin America, there are … spreading infections of communism. Whole countries are being taken over.”

Jeff adds, also:

As to Flanders as a friend of labor, I’d like to hear more about that. It’s true that he opposed Taft-Hartley, the labor-killing legislation that changed the course of the nation, but as I understand it his opposition was rooted in animosity toward Republican leader Taft, who stood in the way of the Cold War internationalism that Flanders and the Fellowship championed. His hatred of labor was surely not as deep as that of Taft’s; but “a friend”? That seems a stretch.

We report; you decide.