Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May 2


In an e-mail the other day, my college roommate explained that "having a daughter is a joy, possibly second only to hearing about when dick cheney shot that guy in the face." So far, I have to agree. And while I can't speak for Audrey, I suspect she's smiling in this photo because two of the worst Americans ever died fifteen years apart on this date.

In 1957, a 48-year-old Joseph McCarthy felt his liver at last petrify, as it proved no longer capable of withstanding the daily toxic assaults of a man who believed "going on the wagon" meant drinking beer rather than whisky. His final hours must have been agonizing and wholly deserved.

J. Edgar Hoover's demise, by comparison, was considerably more peaceful. After enduring yet another May Day -- with all its connotations of anarchism, socialism and international subversion -- Hoover retired to bed. As he nodded off to sleep, he might have reflected briefly and fondly upon the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920, when intelligence gathered by Hoover's division of the Justice Department was used to arrest as many as 10,000 domestic radicals who were (or so Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer eventually claimed) plotting a mass communist uprising for May 1, 1920. Delirious with fatigue, Hoover perhaps wondered why the United States had never simply abolished labor unions and workers' organizations altogether, as the Nazis had done on May 2, 1933.

If May Day 1972 somehow bolstered Hoover’s resolve to throttle the Red Menace, he was never able to set his final dreams in motion; by sunrise, he had died in his sleep at the age of 77.

Upon learning of Hoover’s death, Dr. Benjamin Spock offered the following anti-eulogy:
It was a relief to have this man silenced who had no understanding of the underlying philosophy of our government or of our Bill of Rights, a man who had such enormous power, and used it to harass individuals with whom he disagreed politically and who had done so much as anyone to intimidate millions of Americans out of their right to hear and judge for themselves all political opinions.

While the Justice Department had aggressively monitored Dr. Spock since the pediatrician publicly condemned the Vietnam War and organized draft resistance actions in 1968, Hoover did not live to witness Spock’s unsuccessful drive that year to unseat Richard Nixon as President of the United States. As the candidate of the People’s Party, Spock earned 75,000 votes in the fall election.

On the day of Hoover’s death, Benjamin Spock -- whose 8th edition of Baby and Child Care my wife and I are currently reading – celebrated what must have been an especially satisfying 69th birthday.