My father taught us that even if you disagreed with someone — even if you felt he was making a mistake —that didn't mean you should question that person's integrity or the fact he believed in what he was saying, even if it was wrong. I recently reread Barry Goldwater's 1979 book, With No Apologies. Goldwater writes:
Joe McCarthy was unquestionably the most controversial man I ever served with in the Senate. The anti-anti-Communists were outraged at his claims that some of the principals in the Truman and Roosevelt administrations actively served the communist causes.
McCarthy was supported by a strong, nationwide constituency, which included among others, Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of John, Bob, and Edward. A variety of respected, credible federal employees disturbed by security risks in the national government provided McCarthy with a steady stream of inside information.
The liberals mounted a skillfully orchestrated campaign of criticism against Joe McCarthy. Under the pressure of criticism, he reacted angrily. It is probably true that McCarthy drank too much, overstated his case, and refused to compromise, but he wasn't alone in his beliefs. That's for sure. Now, I do believe that McCarthy was wrong. He hurt a great many people, and I'm not excusing that. But whatever you say about McCarthy, he was not alone in his beliefs. History is conveniently rewritten by some, and today you would think everyone was anti-McCarthy at the time! (It's kind of like the French — to listen to them discuss World War II you'd have thought every French person over the age of fifty was part of the Resistance!)
When I reflect on this difficult period of history, I also remember how adamant my father was about the business of mistakes-recognizing when you've made one, and learning from it. For him, it was not the end of the world to make a mistake. It happened to everyone. You just needed to fix the damage (and really fix it), whatever it was.
My father taught me a lot. One time when I was sixteen years old, after returning home and parking my father's car, I walked into the house and had some silly argument with my mother. I was probably having one of those I'm-mad-at-the-world teenage tantrums. My mother, choosing a really bad moment, asked me to get in her car, which was in the driveway, and go to the store to get milk or something.
I didn't want to. I had something better to do, like call my friend Amy Wallace and plan revenge on the nuns in our school. Anyway, I argued, yelled, and then stomped out of the house to go to the store.
Well, my mother's car was parked in our driveway. My father's car was in the street where I had parked it, behind my mother's car.
I got into the car, slammed the door, muttered, put the key in the ignition, threw the car into reverse, and roared out of the driveway. Crash! I plowed my mother's car directly into my father's. Needless to say, the fenders of both my mother's and father's cars were significantly reorganized. We are talking very twisted metal here.
Slowly I walked back into the house. My father was on the phone and hadn't heard the crash, and he waved at me to wait a minute till he hung up. I stood there in the den for what seemed three years. Then he hung up.
"What is it, baby?" (I was the youngest of three and always his baby.)
"Uh, I had a little accident."
"Hmmm. Which car?" he said.
"Um … kind of both of them."