President Truman responds to McCarthy (1950)

In March 1950 United States president Harry Truman gave a press conference, where he responded to claims made the previous month by Senator Joseph McCarthy:

Question: “Mr President, do you think Senator McCarthy is getting anywhere in his attempt to win the case against the State Department?”

Truman: “What’s that?”

Question: “Do you think that Senator McCarthy can show any disloyalty exists in the State Department?”

Truman: “I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.”

Question: “Would you care to elaborate on that?”

Truman: “I don’t think it needs any elaboration.”

Reporter: “Brother, will that hit page one tomorrow”…

Truman: “Now let me give you a little preliminary… In 1947 I instituted a loyalty program for government employees, and that loyalty procedure program was set up in such a way that the rights of individuals were respected. In a survey of the 2.2 million employees at that time, I think there were some 205 — something like that — who left the service. I don’t know, a great many of them left of their own accord.”

Question: “How many, Mr President?”

Truman: “Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 205. Does anybody remember those figures exactly? It’s a very small figure… an infinitesimal part of 1 percent. We will get the figures for you.

And then, for political background, the Republicans have been trying vainly to find an issue on which to make a bid for the control of the Congress for next year. They tried statism. They tried welfare state. They tried “socialism.” And there are a certain number of members of the Republican Party who are trying to dig up that old malodorous dead horse called isolationism. And in order to do that, they are perfectly willing to sabotage the bipartisan foreign policy of the United States. And this fiasco which has been going on in the Senate is the very best asset that the Kremlin could have in the operation of the Cold War. And that is what I mean when I say that McCarthy’s antics are the best asset that the Kremlin can have.

Now, if anybody really felt that there were disloyal people in the employ of the government, the proper and the honourable way to handle the situation would be to come to the President of the United States and say, “This man is a disloyal person. He is in such and such a department”. We will investigate him immediately and if he were a disloyal person he would be immediately fired.

That is not what they want. They are trying to create an issue, and it is going to be just as big a fiasco as the campaign in New York and other places on these other false and fatuous issues…”

With a little bit of intelligence, they could find an issue at home without a bit of trouble!…

Question: “On that question, we were just kidding.”

Truman: “And that gave me a chance to give you an answer. To try to sabotage the foreign policy of the United States is just as bad in this cold war as it would be to shoot our soldiers in the back in a hot war. I am fed up with what is going on, and I am giving you the facts as I see them.”