Rep. Chester E. Holifield (D - California)
June 27, 1947
…I wish to express today my deep concern over a new and dangerous tendency in American life, which I think threatens the very existence of the United States as a free nation.
I do not refer to any growth of communism or fascism as such, but I do refer to the conduct of those who are most vocal in their efforts to-they say-“defend us against communism and fascism.”
These people, while castigating individuals and organizations as being Communist or Fascist, deny these same individuals or organizations the right of a fair trial, the right of self-defense, the right of equal opportunity, to publicize their defense, against their accusers…
…[W]e all know that the very root of our democracy is in the freedom and opportunity of each American to think for himself, to speak his thoughts to his neighbor, and that his ability to do so depends, most, importantly of all, upon the freedom of his neighbors to speak their minds, upon any subject, without fear of reprisal or oppression.
If the expression of all points of view is in any respect curtailed, or citizens are to that extent deprived of the opportunity to reach their own conclusions, they are deprived of the founding fathers’ principle of free speech, and free assembly, and therefore the play and interplay of free ideas among free men…
Let us then review some of the dangerous practices of today. During the 1946 campaign, the red-smearing technique of Hitler was used, and used successfully, to retire many progressive men from public life. Men whose patriotism was unquestioned, men who stood for the best prin-ciples of American democracy.
But they found themselves helpless against the insidious technique of character assassination… In too many instances, there was no oppor-tunity for the accused to face his accuser on an equal basis before the bar of public attention…
Candidates for public office were defeated. Their civil rights had been violated, and they paid the penalty.
But the process which the victors used, holds within it a danger of which we should all be aware-that technique of character assassination continues. It continues in the press. It continues in the radio…
As a result of this hysteria, this panic against communism, President Truman has issued a so-called loyalty order. I believe that President Tru-man is sincere in issuing such an order. I question the wisdom of the methods proposed, however,… of determining loyalty, or disloyalty, the provisions for defense against one’s accuser. I do not question the sincerity of the President, nor the desirability of his purpose. I realize that we do not want either Communists or Fascists taking part in con-fidential positions in our National Government. However, many immi-nently conservative, reputable people… think that certain terms of the order, and the loose method of determining disloyalty, are dangerously broad and lacking in safeguards for the freedom of the individual. The order bestows on the Attorney General arbitrary judicial power regard-ing civil liberties heretofore reserved to the courts…
It is only the police states that desire the growth of fear in the hearts of their abject subjects. If we continue these practices, people will fear that their jobs will be jeopardized, or that their security will be threat-ened, or that they will be publicly attacked, and have no means of an-swering that attack.
They will be afraid to express or to listen to any ideas, whether radical or conservative. The totalitarian states purposely encouraged the growth of fear to control their people. They believe in both tyranny of the body and tyranny of the mind.
We know that neither Hitler, Stalin, nor Mussolini could rise to power until they had established the pattern for suppressing dissenting ideas… They established it through the suppression of civil liberties and the persecution of the opposition. They created fear, panic, and hysteria in the minds of the people.
These are the things, therefore, that we must guard against. We must guard against the suppression of civil liberties.
We must guard against intemperance and intolerance, whether it be of ideas or of minority groups.
If we do not guard against these insidious practices and methods, our best efforts to combat communism and fascism will fail.
These are the methods which destroy democracy. And when democ-racy is destroyed, either fascism or communism rushes in to fill the vac-uum…
Let me conclude my remarks by reminding you of the oft-quoted state-ment of Voltaire. “I do not believe a word that you say, but I will defend with my life, if need be, your right to say it.”
That is the spirit of democracy, and that attitude of heart and mind must be our guide and compass in the perilous days that lie ahead.