Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Four Horsemen of Calumny

It's an interesting word: calumny. I'll admit I didn't have any idea what it meant when I read it. Here it is:

calumny: (n) a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone or something.

I came across this word when I read the text of Senator Margaret Chase Smith's (R-Maine) speech to the U.S. Senate on June 1, 1950. She was speaking on behalf of seven other senators who had written a declaration rejecting the strategies of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, that had created a frenzy of fear of "subversives" in the country. The result was a society gripped by fear and suspicion.

Think of the courage to speak out - Smith was the only woman in the Senate at the time (and the first ever elected to the prestigious body). It was June of 1950 (McCarthy gave his "communist spy ring in the State Department" speech in February) and she is speaking against a fellow Republican. Finally, Smith took her fellow senators to task for hiding behind their immunity and creating an atmosphere where there was "trial by accusation instead of trial by jury."

Smith ended her speech urging a change in leadership, but did "not want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny - fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear."

It is obvious Senator Smith had a well tuned moral compass and conscience. She had learned to speak out against wrong, even when it was hard. She was smart enough to see McCarthy for what he really was - a demagogue who bred division in the country.

At Calvert we are working with our students to develop their moral compasses, their conscience, and their courage to act. Our Honor Code, in part, states that we strive to be selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment. Margaret Chase Smith, in her speech to the Senate, WAS the Honor Code.

What more selfless act than to be a representative of your state? What better example of moral courage than speaking out against the tidal wave of derision enveloping the U.S. Senate and the country? What better example of commitment to principles than decrying the smear and fear tactics of many of her fellow senators?

May all our students strive each day to live up to Senator Smith's example.

The full text of Senator Smith's speech:

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