The witch hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee once made apparent sense, but even my parents, members of the John Birch Society and lifelong Republicans, looked back at the excesses of the McCarthy era to lament, "What were we thinking?"
Some say the exigencies of today demand bold and uncomfortable actions. There's a new cadre of extremists in Congress to do our dirty work. They rationalize why some individuals have to suffer and why government programs need to be jettisoned. Shutting down the government, undermining the country's financial footing to the brink of economic collapse and imposing real hurt upon real people seem to be necessary evils. "The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Historian Richard Hoftstadter reflected in 1963, "It is possible, of course, that the avenues of choice are being closed, and the culture of the future will be dominated by single-minded men of one persuasion or another. It is possible … one lives in the belief that it is not to be so."