50 years later, the ‘Fright-peddlers’ are still peddling fright

Before reading this post from karoli, I had never heard of Sen. Thomas Kuchel’s 1963 “Fright Peddlers” speech. (I don’t think I’d even heard of Sen. Kuchel, actually.)

Maybe this is already familiar territory for you, something you read in school. It certainly seems like something I ought to have read in school, because it’s not just a remarkable artifact of American politics 50 years ago, it’s a vibrant description of American politics now.

Kuchel is remembered as a “moderate” California Republican — he didn’t support either Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan, and he eventually lost a primary to a more conservative Republican candidate. But he was also a fierce anti-communist and, according to the Chester (Calif.) Progressive, was a supporter of Sen. Joe McCarthy and a cold warrior. Here’s a long piece by Todd Holmes, tracing the rise and fall of Kuchel’s political fortunes in the 20th century as a parallel to the Republican Party as a whole in the 21st century.

I came across both of those trying to find the full text of the speech mentioned above. I couldn’t find that, but here are some choice excerpts from newspaper accounts of the speech:

The American people are keenly aware of the grave and evil hazards to our freedom and to our way of life which international communism is eternally dedicated to destroy.

Sen. Thomas Kuchel with President Dwight Eisenhower. (Photo snitched from Boom: A Journal of California.)

I speak of another danger we confront, not as dread or as foreboding, but equally offensive and evil to all reasonable, rational, free American citizens.

It is the danger of hate and venom, of slander and abuse, generated by fear and heaped indiscriminately upon many great Americans by another relative handful of zealots, in the ranks or clutches of self-styled “I am a better American than you are” organizations.

In every day’s deluge of mail at my office, there are generally a hundred and even two hundred letters which I describe simply as “fright mail.” …

It is incredible that so many Americans have been so cruelly swindled about a U.S. Army troop exercise in Georgia called Water Moccasin III, instructing our soldiers in counter-guerrilla warfare — and witnessed by 124 foreign military officers from Canada, the Republic of China, France, Great Britain, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Liberia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.

Just listen to some sample quotes from my mail on Operation Water Mocassin:

From Sacramento:

This morning on radio I heard the most fantastic thing I have ever heard. U.N. troops coming to America for some kind of “a war to invade America.” Mr. Senator, these things are being said over the radio, and he would not say them if they were not true.

From Hollywood:

It is unconstitutional to quarter American troops in American homes, so how come these pagan, ruthless, brutal, godless savages?

… Do these people really believe, I ask myself — and now I ask them — that a gigantic and incredible and unprecedented conspiracy has occurred in America in which the President and his Cabinet, 99 percent of the Congress, 99 percent of the Nation’s journalists, and even the U.S. Army have all taken part to sell out our country? … If they do, the only reasonable reply I can give to them which they will understand is the honorable, 100 percent red, white and blue expression: ‘Nuts.’

… American has enough immediate and deadly dangerous enemies without adding hobgoblins.

It is distressing and disillusioning to find persons … falling hysterically and emotionally, without reservation, for the unadulterated venom spewed by out-and-out crackpots for paranoia and profit. … Clutching at half-truths and downright falsehoods, the fright-peddlers fabricate hoaxes which frighten Americans and divert their attention from the real menace. They sow suspicion and hatred. They attempt to undermine faith in our government, its institution and leaders. They preach resistance to the laws of our land. They degrade America and Americans and do it as well as — or better than — the Communists do.

… The curious fact is that the fright-peddlers, from the simple simpletons to the wretched racists, all claim to be conservatives.

That seems timely.

If anyone can find a link to the full text online, please share.

I also came across a letter from Arizona Rep. Morris Udall, commending Kuchel’s speech and lamenting his own “fright mail.” Udall’s description of the fearful nuttery in that mail is all too familiar today:

Nearly every week I am told that there is a Liberal-Socialist-Communist plot to turn our government into a dictatorship. Earl Warren, our nation’s Chief Justice, is a “fellow traveler” who should be impeached. President Kennedy, a usurper of power, is preparing to turn our armed forces over to the United Nations; as a first step he has removed the words “In God We Trust” from our dollar bills. In the minds of these Americans most of the men and women who serve in Congress, most Supreme Court justices, and nearly all of our executive department officials are left-leaning, Socialist, ultra-liberal, neo-Communist dupes — if not worse.

Man, 50 years later and the fright-peddlers are still getting a lot of mileage out of that “In God We Trust” lie.

 

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