So what’s traditionally served at a Lincoln Day dinner? While folks expect to chow down on turkey at Thanksgiving or Buffalo wings at a Super Bowl party, Republicans are likely to eat just about anything (including rubber chicken) at one of these annual fundraisers.
What we do know for a fact, however, is that on Feb. 12, 1950, the featured speaker, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, served up a platter full of fear.
Speaking before the Ohio County Women’s Republican Club in Wheeling, W.Va., McCarthy claimed that the long white sheet of paper he grasped in his hairy fist contained “a list of 205 (State Department employees) that were known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”
During the following months, the number of so-called communists named by McCarthy fluctuated wildly — at times as few as 10 or as many as 81. The 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate” (based on Richard Condon’s 1959 best-seller) managed to skewer McCarthy’s numerical capriciousness in the bumbling character of Sen. John Iselin (James Gregory).
When Iselin’s highly placed communist-agent wife (Angela Lansbury) refuses to settle on a specific number of communists, she explains that Iselin is missing the point — nobody is questioning whether or not there are communists, they are only quibbling over how many.
Still, Iselin begs for a simple figure he “can keep in his head.” Glancing down at a bottle of Heinz ketchup sitting on the breakfast table, she sweetly replies, “57.”
Despite McCarthy’s inconsistent numbers, his refusal to name names and his inability to produce one piece of credible evidence to back up his charges, “Tailgunner Joe’s” message seemed to resonate with the American people.
He had managed to solidify a powerful coalition of religious conservatives (especially Catholics), dispossessed military hawks, isolationists, including the powerful Joseph P. Kennedy, and the lobby that supported Chiang Kai-shek over Mao Zedong.
America has seen a number of military heroes who have served as president but not one of them ever arrived in the Oval Office via a coup d’état. The 1964 edge-of-your-seat thriller “Seven Days in May,” however, speculated on exactly how that might happen.
Still, even when U.S. President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) is confronted with incontrovertible evidence that the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is planning to oust him by any means necessary, he refuses to believe that Gen. Scott (Burt Lancaster) is “the enemy.”
“The enemy’s an age,” Lyman replies, “a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man’s faith in his ability to influence what happens to him we look for a champion in red, white and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration.”
Unfortunately, many of the men on white horses are accompanied by unwanted saddle baggage — a seemingly unquenchable thirst for power.
And, largely due to a prevailing climate of fear and paranoia — especially during time of war (declared or undeclared) — they get it.
These “too-good-to-be-true” saviors are especially to be rejected if they offer to strike what will be a lopsided bargain — asking voters to sacrifice civil liberties in exchange for the promise of security.
But that can never happen in America, you say. Think: President John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798.
McCarthyites also managed to pass two such odious pieces of legislation (the second over President Truman’s vociferous veto) with The 1950 Subversive Activities Control Act (whose control board was granted absolute power to determine which organizations would be labeled “communist”) and the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act (which invested the State Department with the absolute power to prohibit foreigners with alien political beliefs from entering the county).
But that’s not all. Don’t forget FDR’s Executive Order 9066 (Japanese-American internment camps) issued on Feb. 19, 1942, the USA Patriot Act signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 26, 2001, and President Barack Obama’s Patriot Sunsets Extension Act taking effect on May 26, 2011.
Even Abraham Lincoln, whose 205th birthday we celebrate today, violated the Constitution, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, when he suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War.
So let’s change the subject. Did you ever wonder what kind of birthday cake Mary Todd would have baked for Honest Abe? Kim O’Donnel of the Washington Post has unearthed the white cake recipe that supposedly won Lincoln’s heart here.
In addition, according to the Huffington Post, Lincoln’s second inaugural dinner — which evolved into a sidesplitting food fight — featured poultry, tarts, jellies and, most notably, an abundance of oysters. Oysters? Lincoln?
Make of it what you will.