President Obama continues to receive much criticism for his lack of decisive action against the evil of Islamic terrorism. Total commitment to national security appears missing. The contrast between him and one female senator from the Cold War period is striking.
Born in 1897, Margaret Chase experienced difficult times as the oldest child of a poor working-class family living in small-town Maine. She learned the importance of hard work, thrift, and self-sacrifice and from her community she acquired the traits of contrariness, pragmatism, and “a stern morality” associated with hard times.
Margaret did not go to Harvard or any other university. Lacking the money for a college education, she directed her energy to working in the newspaper business. Years later she married Clyde Smith, an older man who became a U.S. Representative in 1937. After his death in early April 1940, she finished his term and campaigned for the following regular term, adopting an aggressive position of war preparation. Smith won the Republican primary by a large margin and defeated her Democrat opponent in September. While serving four terms, she built a reputation as someone who stood strong on national security issues.
In a landslide victory in September 1948, Smith became the first woman in American history elected in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Her run as senator lasted from 1949 to 1973. During these years she consistently showed leadership against the threat of communism. She embraced the notion of the grand narrative of American exceptionalism which assumed the United States was “a divinely favored nation with unique freedoms.” In the face of totalitarian foes, the protection of “the blessings of liberty” was paramount.
Smith did not hide the obvious identity and evil nature of America’s enemies. On numerous occasions, she publicly stated that communist leaders were “evil men.” Singling out the Soviet Union, she wrote that its “leaders may change but they all continue the same policy of hate and dreams of world conquest.” With communism “human life is worth nothing” and even the lives of earlier communist leaders such as Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin “meant nothing,” since “they are now merely names which their evil followers use only” to ensure enslavement of the people. As she saw it, “the very creed of communism is to ruthlessly kill anything that stands in its path toward world domination.”
In October 1961, Nikita Khrushchev described Senator Smith as “the devil in a disguise of a woman [that] has decided to beat all records of savagery.” Why such emotional rhetoric from the Soviet leader? During the Eisenhower administration, Smith regularly condemned Soviet despotism and championed massive retaliation so much so that throughout the 1960s few politicians fought harder than she for American nuclear superiority and military strength. Even throughout the Vietnam War years when liberal elites mocked her, Smith never lost her nerve, never lost her belief that communism was a sinister system that did not properly respect human life and the freedoms and values held dear by Americans.
Scholarship on the crimes of communism claims that communist regimes were “criminal enterprises in their very essence” carrying out the planned killing of at least 85 million people in the twentieth century. The argument in The Black Book of Communism (1999) goes that communism was not a benign system that took a mythical “wrong turn” under the direction of any particularly brutal leader. Its goal from start to finish was to crush all “class enemies.” Smith understood this.
Rather than let politics dominate her decisions, Margaret Chase Smith took courageous stands even when others warned that such bold action was risky. Why did she make the tough decisions? She recognized evil. She understood that standing strong was the right thing to do for America’s national security. By opposing communism forcefully, she believed she could help protect the United States for all present and future Americans. Her consistent Cold War stand against the apparent evil nature of communism, stark in its simplicity, was consistent with the ideal that great sacrifices sprung from moral duty. What if today President Obama was more like Margaret?