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A 100 Percent American

(16 August 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 33, 16 August 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Chicago Tribune’s biography of John Parnell Thomas observes: “He seems to have been molded by life for the job he now faces.” That job is chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, first made notorious under ex-Congressman Dies and which is currently seeking to hold the spotlight in whipping, up the spy scare.

In a more critical appraisal of Thomas, White Knight or False Prophet? by Milton Lehman, published by the Aug. 1 N.Y. Times, the job for which “the stocky, florid Congressman” has been molded is as “a hunter ... he tracks down people he considers subversive, un-American and dangerous to the national welfare” – as defined by J. Parnell Thomas.

“In his hunt,” says Mr. Lehman, “he is usually flanked by a battery of photographers and reporters, and when he fires, he sometimes brings down a few of his quarry. But his buckshot has also hit a number of innocent bystanders.”

Congressman Thomas has a very simple definition of “Americanism.” He told Mr. Lehman that “Americanism is conservative. We’ve got to stop the radicals and stop them now.” You’d better not differ with his definition, either. Several who have done so in his presence are now studying his definition in jail under a conviction for “contempt.”

When Mr. Lehman asked Thomas during an interview to define such terms as “communist,” “fascist,” “subversive” and “un-American,” the man who can smear you at will and send you to jail for any of these things “buzzed for his secretary and asked her to bring in ‘that list on communism and the rest of it I always use.’ He wagged his finger. ‘Every time I define them,’ he said, ‘I do it differently.’”

This. flexibility in defining terms like “communism” and “subversive” is a wonderful aid to Thomas and his colleagues of the Un-American Committee. He can make these terms fit just about anyone he dislikes or who disagrees with him. Moreover, Congressional immunity gives him the right to question, accuse, smear or otherwise “expose” anyone, without fear of suit for libel or even cross-questioning.

The two terms Thomas seems to have most difficulty in defining are “fascism” and “democracy.” He told Mr. Lehman: “Fascism – I guess I’ve never been asked to define it. I’d say it’s just like communism, dangerous to America. And democracy – why, everybody knows what that is.”

With respect to fascism, Congressman Thomas is in the same position as a man with halitosis – even his best friend won’t tell him. His subcommittee on fascism recently reported there was “no danger of fascism in America” and declared that such organizations as the Columbians of Georgia and the Ku Klux Klan are “native-American institutions and not subject to investigation by the committee.” Which just goes to show how nature blunts people to their own smell.

We might add to this portrait of a 100% American – who looks like a Laura Gray cartoon of a Wall Street capitalist – that his zeal for hunting down “subversives” was undoubtedly nurtured in his years as a successful Wall Street bond and insurance salesman. He also managed to get through the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, where, he now modestly admits: “I was never a good student, but I could always tell a troublemaker.” And a troublemaker, for the New Jersey Republican who likes to make up definitions as he goes along, is anybody who makes trouble for J. Parnell Thomas.

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