It is often said in politics that “what goes around comes around.” This is such a story.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s Arthur Dean was a pillar of the old East Coast Republican establishment, a leading corporate lawyer, chairman of the white shoe New York firm Sullivan & Cromwell and law partner and friend of John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State under Dwight Eisenhower.
Dulles pressed his friend into service in the early 1950’s to negotiate an end to the Korean War. Ambassador Dean, unfortunately for him, agreed to take on that assignment where he ran headlong into the McCarthy era, and particularly Joe McCarthy’s Senate acolyte, Republican Herman Welker of Idaho.
Welker was a small-town Payette, Idaho lawyer and Idaho State Senator when he won a U.S. Senate seat in 1950. Welker arrived in the Senate at the dawn of McCarthy’s national political power and he devoted his one, six-year term to carrying McCarthy’s water, including suggesting that Arthur Dean, the very respectable and very Republican Wall Street lawyer, was “a pro-Red China” apologist.
Dean’s transgression, in the view of Herman Welker, was to suggest that the United States just might consider a more enlightened policy toward Communist China at a time when right wing, virulent anti-Communists in Congress were making almost daily headlines by demanding to know why the United States “had lost” China to Mao Zedong.
During an interview with a Providence, Rhode Island newspaper reporter, Dean said this: “I think there is a possibility the Chinese Communists are more interested in developing themselves in China than they are in international Communism. If we could use that as a decisive method of putting a wedge between the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union, I think we might try…”
In essence, Ambassador Dean, a Republican serving under a Republican president, was suggesting what Richard Nixon began to accomplish nearly 20 years later – a more nuanced, mature relationship with Communist China. But such talk in 1954, with Joe McCarthy identifying a Commie under ever bed and in every office at the State Department, was not only un-American, but dangerously close to displaying Communist sympathies. Welker pounced on Arthur Dean.
Dean was channeling, in Welker’s view, the views of pro-Communist elements in the U.S. State Department. As to the contention that the Chinese might be more focused on their own internal development than imposing Communism on the rest of the world, Welker dismissed the thought out of hand. “I can’t believe anything can be farther from the truth,” the Idaho Senator said.
Welker’s assault on Dean caused some weeks of discomfort for the Ambassador. He had to repeatedly deny any Communist leanings and justify what many at the time, and most today, would simply consider smart diplomacy. In short, Dean’s loyalty was questioned at a time when your blindly anti-Communist bonafides were the only litmus test for service to the American government.
The myths about “losing China” are deeply embedded in the DNA of American politics. The tangled belief that un-American activities at the highest levels of the United States government had conspired to abandon China to the Communists was the sort of political hot air that powered much of McCarthy’s demagoguery. Idaho’s Welker sang from the same song book.
But it has been Ambassador Dean’s view that has stood the test of time. With the Chinese now threatening U.S. economic leadership worldwide, China owning a huge chunk of our debt and manufacturing ship loads of the consumer goods exported to America, its very clear that the diplomat had a much better crystal ball than the Red Baiting Senator from Idaho.
It turns out the Chinese really were “more interested in developing themselves” in order to compete with us than in advancing world-wide Communism. The proof is all around. The numbers crunchers in Beijing must be sharpening their pencils in anticipation of the failure of our dysfunctional political system to find a solution to debt, spending and revenue so that they can take another great leap forward in cornering a bigger share of the world economy.
Herman Welker, McCarthy’s Senate friend and fellow Commie hunter, is mostly forgotten now; his one Senate term distinctive for nothing more than being on the wrong side of history. Welker’s attacks in the early 1950’s on Idaho Democrats like Frank Church and Glen Taylor for their alleged “radical” and “pink” politics read now like ancient, misguided history, yet some of the old myths and fears about the Communist Chinese continue even as the descendants of Mao eat our economic lunch.
Were Senators Church and Taylor still with us – both died in 1984 – they would no doubt appreciate the irony of the Idaho Republican Central Committee recently demanding an accounting of the state’s political and economic ties with China from Idaho’s Republican Gov. Butch Otter.
The Lewiston Tribune reports that the Idaho GOP resolution reads: “the stability of our form of government is being undermined by strategies used by the Chinese state-government-controlled entities through investments, corporate takeovers, intelligence operations and rare-Earth monopolization.”
Most members of the state central committee weren’t born when Herman Welker represented the state in the Senate, put they are channeling Joe McCarthy’s buddy all the same. What goes around.
The United States has rarely had a sane and sober policy when it comes to China. For years we maintained the fiction that Chiang Kai-shek and the government he established in Taiwan after losing a civil war constituted the real government of China. We squandered years on the fiction that State Department bureaucrats had “lost” China. We fought a senseless war in Southeast Asia, in part, to head off Chinese domination of Vietnam, countries that maintain an historic rivalry and have rarely made common cause.
So, perhaps the Red Chinese Scare of Joe McCarthy’s and Herman Welker’s day really is alive and well in Idaho. The only thing different now is that Republicans are questioning other Republicans about providing aid and comfort to the Communists.
By the way, Arthur Dean’s reputation has survived in substantially better shape than those of the men who blindly questioned his motives and loyalty in the 1950’s. Dean went on to served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, helped persuade Lyndon Johnson to end the bombing of North Vietnam in 1968, and donated a ton of money to Cornell University where he and his wife financed the acquisition of a remarkable collection of papers related to Lafayette and the American Revolution.
Senator Welker’s papers consist of a few large scrapbooks housed at the Idaho Historical Society and the University of Idaho. Most of the pages are covered with newspaper clippings of Welker’s 1950’s assault on Americans who had the audacity to think differently than he did about the world and its future. Some things never change.