In Appleton, both my father and Joe were lawyers. They became good friends. They played, had fun, and yes, they were known in those early days as pranksters. Joe was the best man at my parents' wedding. In 1940 Joe ran for circuit judge and won. When he was a candidate for the Senate in 1946, my father managed his campaign.
People have asked me about Joe McCarthy, but I did not know him. Of course he was discussed often in my childhood, but he died in 1957, when I was three. I am not sure if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I think I do remember him in our house one time when I was a child. That's it, though.
I know the many stories my parents told me about McCarthy. Some of them were pretty funny, some of them sad, and some of them very disappointing, given that he was a public official. Folks in my hometown talked about how McCarthy, who my father once described as having read one book in his life, had really gone off the rails in Washington in the 1950s. All of a sudden here was a guy who had been used to shooting his mouth off, except now there was television! There are so many things McCarthy said that in any other time might have been dismissed or ignored. Today, he would be reduced to the chatter of talk shows. His views wouldn't change the direction of national policies. But the new medium of television was hungry, and McCarthy was all too willing to feed the beast. It was almost as if TV was looking for the bad politician, and they found one. McCarthy's statements resonated, and they had effect. That was the problem. McCarthy was not ignored. He did not want to be ignored. And in truth, alcohol did not help Joe McCarthy. Alcohol and television have never been a good mix.
In my house we talked politics all the time. We argued, debated, and fought over the dinner table so much, it was like sports. The topics didn't really matter. What counted was that we could argue, disagree passionately, and still love each immensely. I remember in 1974 when President Nixon's former law partner and attorney general, John Mitchell, was convicted on charges of conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. Mitchell served nineteen months in a minimum-security prison in Alabama before being released.
I argued with my father that Mitchell should have served time in a maximum-security prison, something commensurate with the criminal convictions against him, instead of a cushy minimum-security facility. My father said I was wrong. Mitchell had been the U.S. attorney general; he would have been killed by the hard-core inmates in one of those prisons. What would be the point in endangering the man's life?
Oh, I was adamant in my viewpoint, and he was calm in his delivery of his. I argued, Hypocrisy and favoritism! An easy life for white-collar criminals! Special treatment! I was unwavering.
Years later, of course, after I became a lawyer and spent time visiting clients in real prison, I came to agree with my father. I changed my mind. Mitchell was not given a death sentence by the judge, and going to a hard-core prison would have been one. A former attorney general in a hard-core prison would have been murdered. My youthful idealism conflicted with the practical reality of the situation. (Aging can do wonders for one's good judgment.) But both my father and I respected our differences of opinion. Frankly, he probably just thought I was a dumb kid, but he granted me the right to have my view.