One of the popular tropes making the rounds these days is today’s politics are mean and divisive. Meanwhile, politics was gentle and friendly back in the good old days of the 1950s and 60s.
In reality, history shows us that politics was just as mean and divisive back then as it is today. Here are a few examples of the gentle politics of the 1950s and 1960s most people today are unaware of.
1. Conservatives call Martin Luther King Jr. a Communist
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Conservatives called Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. a Communist. Yes, it’s true, during the 1950s and 1960s, conservatives and segregationists tried to lump America’s greatest pacifist MLK in with genocidal warmongers like Stalin, Lenin, and Mao.
In fact, they put up billboards claiming to show MLK at “Communist training school.” In reality, King was a Baptist minister and a champion of democracy.
However, that did not stop King’s political enemies from smearing him as a Cold War Traitor. King’s crime was to criticize segregation and racism as un-American.
2. Republicans call General C. Marshall a Communist
Sadly, King was far from the only great American smeared with the Communist charge. Incredibly, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin) and other right-wingers accused America’s greatest general George C. Marshall of being a Communist.
Marshall’s role as the architect of America’s victory in World War II did not stop McCarthy. In fact, Marshall probably did more to stop Communist than any other American as the architect of the Marshall Plan. To clarify the Marshall Plan was a package of economic aid that rebuilt Eastern Europe and stopped the advance of Communism.
However, that did not stop Senate Republicans from attacking Marshall as a Communist agent. Marshall’s real crime; he was Democrat, and part of President Harry S. Truman’s (D-Missouri) administration.
3. Conservatives call Dwight D. Eisenhower a Communist
Disturbingly, Marshall was not the only World War II hero accused of Communism by 1950s conservatives. Incredibly, some 1950s conservatives called General and Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower a Communist.
Notably, extremist groups like the John Birch Society claimed Ike was a Communist agent. In addition, the same groups spread the notion that Eisenhower’s; Republican administration, was full of Communist spies.
Ike’s crime in the Birch Society’s eyes was not dropping hydrogen bombs on the Soviet Union. Moreover, Eisenhower dared talk to Soviet leaders like Nikita Khrushchev which was a sin in anti-communists’ eyes.
Despite its lunacy, the Birch Society had members in all 50 states by the mid-1960s. Moreover, mainstream conservatives like William F. Buckley felt compelled to attack the society fearing the damage it will do to their cause.
4. Liberals call Barry Goldwater a fascist and a Nazi
U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) was a libertarian, a World War II hero, and a general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. However, in 1964, prominent liberals; like novelist Norman Mailer, called Goldwater a Nazi.
In fact, Mailer compared the Republican convention that nominated Goldwater for
Frighteningly, Mailer was far from alone; famed columnist Drew Pearson called Goldwater, a fascist and NAACP leader Roy Wilkins compared the Republican national convention to Munich beer halls. To explain, the Nazi Party began in a Munich Beer Hall.
Goldwater’s crime was apparently to hold conservative political positions, intellectuals like Mailer and Pearson disliked.
5. Unions call Robert A. Taft a Nazi.
Many observers remember U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) as one of the most principled politicians in American history.
In fact, President John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) honored Taft with a chapter in his acclaimed book Profiles in Courage. In particular, Profiles in Courage honors people who sacrificed to take ethical stands.
Yet critics called Taft; the son of a U.S. President who was so committed to the GOP they called him “Mr. Republican,” a Nazi in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In fact, unions even distributed comic books showing Taft as a Nazi during a 1950 U.S. Senate campaign. See Russell Kirk’s book The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft for full details on this disgusting interlude in American history.
Taft’s “crime” was to question the legality of the trials of Nazi and Japanese war criminals after World War II. In particular, the practice of trying defendants for criminal offenses created after the crimes disturbed Taft.
Strangely, Taft’s comments reflected beliefs held by many legal scholars. For instance, liberal U.S. Supreme Court William O. Douglas believed the war crimes trial violated the principles of the U.S Constitution.
Moreover, at least one judge at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, Radhabinod Pal, agreed with Taft. Notably, Pal refused to find any of the defendants guilty because; like Taft, he felt the trials were wrong and illegal.
Hence, Taft was about as far as far from being a Nazi as a person could get. However, in the hothouse environment of American politics no dissent no matter how principled will go unpunished.
6. “Peace protestors” call Lyndon Johnson a Baby Killer
Today, we often recall protestors against the Vietnam War as Happy Flower Children. However, the reality was far from the nostalgia.
For example, one of the peace protestors’ favorite chants was “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”
LBJ refers to President Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas) whom protestors blamed for the war. Thus, the self-proclaimed peace protestors were calling the President of the United States a war criminal and a murderer. Johnson’s “crime” was to prosecute a war, Vietnam, the protestors disagreed with.
The historical lesson here is obvious today’s politics are no meaner or more divisive than those of the mid-20th Century. Keep these anecdotes in mind next time you hear somebody complaining about how politics are “meaner and more divisive than they were back then.”
Politics has always been mean and divisive. Today’s politics are no better or no worse than those of our parents and grandparents.