Not In Our Stars

Went to see “Good Night and Good Luck” last night. Hell of a movie. Highly recommended. What I especially liked about it, though, was how focused it was, how it didn’t try to be about more than a moment, when a group of people powerful in their own right decided to stand up to a bully.

And that’s the thing, really. It’s not a David and Goliath story. There were fewer media voices back then, so the voices that did exist were more powerful. It’s one thing, and it’s inspiring, to see people stand up to the McCarthys in government, people who have been pushed until they have no choice. It’s also inspiring, though, to see those who go to the same cocktail parties challenge one another, to see one neighbor take on another. We need only think of Judith Miller and the NYT fiasco to realize how rare that is today, and how much the poorer we are for the co-opting of the powerful press.

A transcript of Murrow’s famous McCarthy program is here. This was the part that had me holding my breath in the theater:

Earlier, the Senator asked, “Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?” Had he looked three lines earlier in Shakespeare’s Caesar, he would have found this line, which is not altogether inappropriate: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

(And if David Strathairn doesn’t get nominated for a Best Actor Oscar there is truly no justice in the world. I’ve loved him for ages, but this was truly something else.)