On April 23, 1951, actor John Garfield (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body and Soul, Gentleman's Agreement, Force of Evil) spent the better part of the day being grilled by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Heartless committee members put Garfield's past memberships, political associations and financial contributions under the microscope, seeking to trip him up and get him to admit that he was a member of the Communist Party. By 1951, members of HUAC firmly believed that there were communists under every bed, and that Hollywood was doing everything in its power to inject Marxist ideology into motion pictures. Somewhat prior to Garfield's all-day testimony, members of HUAC had learned from "expert" witness Adolphe Menjou that a "communist actor" like Garfield could add subversive elements to a film through a “look, an inflection, or a change in voice.” Committee members browbeat Garfield -- a not particularly well-educated or worldly man -- to such an extent that he became unemployable. (Note: Garfield would succumb to a massive heart attack a year later at age 39. To this day, many believe his death was due in large measure to the ordeal HUAC put him through.)
When Garfield's hearing concluded and the cameras shut down, HUAC members -- the very men who had heartlessly subjected the man born Jacob Julius Garfinkle to hour upon hour of contumelious accusations -- actually stood in line seeking the actor's autograph, shaking his hand, and quarreling over who was going get the honor of taking take him out to dinner.
In other words, Garfield, a man the committee sought to portray as a dangerous subversive bent on the destruction of America when the cameras were on, was a most welcome dinner companion at day's end; too evil to be seen on the screen, but just fine for a feast. I guess all's fair in love and war . . . and political grandstanding.
Talk about heartlessness.
In doing research on Garfield -- as well as Edward G. Robinson, Danny Kaye, Judy Holliday and scores of other Hollywood icons -- for a new book tentatively entitled In the Land of Mink-Lined Pools, I can't help but shudder at the heartless hypocrisy, the affected dishonesty visited upon poor "Julie" Garfinkle by his HUAC accusers. It also brings to mind so many others in the political arena whose public posture is at stunning odds with their private predilections -- those who publicly decry a lack of morality or self-sufficiency in American society and culture while privately engaging in -- or benefiting from -- the very activities they revile.
When it comes to this degree of heartlessness, former Vice President Dick Cheney takes the cake. Cheney, a conservative's conservative, is one of our country's all-time "chicken hawks." He has long found war to be both totally correct and personally profitable. And yet, between 1959 (when he first became eligible for the draft) and 1967, he gladly accepted 5 deferments: 4 because he was a student and 1 because he was a new father. How different is this from the heartless HUAC members who, after thoroughly sliming John Garfield, then stood in line begging for his autograph and a chance to grab a bite at the Hawk 'n Dove?
In addition to lacking a heart when it comes to war, Cheney is also one of those who is fervently anti-union and hyper free market; one who believes with every fiber of his being that government is not meant to provide a social safety net -- whether it be Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare or Obamacare. In a recent interview on NBC's "Today Show," Cheney called the Tea Party and its fierce opposition to government spending a "good thing." He also noted how the Tea Party made possible the insurgent Wyoming Senate campaign of his daughter Liz because she was "partly motivated" by the same concerns about high taxes, high national debt and the cost of the Affordable Care Act.
Out of that zeal to repeal Obamacare, the Tea Party and its congressional adherents provoked this month's government shutdown and near credit default. Yet, Cheney declared, "I've got a lot of respect for what the people are doing."
Where's the heart? Dick Cheney's family would never have escaped the financial ravages of the Depression if it were not for the Federal Government, for which his father worked for more than 30 years. Indeed, the Cheney family was so indebted to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal that, according to Dick, "When I was born [on Jan. 30, 1941] my Granddad wanted to send a telegram to the president. Both sides of my family were staunch New Deal Democrats, and Granddad was sure that FDR would want to know about the 'little stranger' with whom he now had a birthday in common."
Somewhere along the way, Dick Cheney decided to stand in staunch opposition to much of that which helped make his family solidly middle-class. It would seem that as his physical heart weakened and his health became severely compromised -- he's had at least 5 heart attacks since age 37 and underwent a successful heart transplant less than 2 years ago -- that Dick Cheney's figurative heart turned to stone. How in the world can anyone who has repeatedly come back from the brink of death thanks to government provided health insurance and care, also stand foursquarely against healthcare for others? If it were not for Dick Cheney's government insurance -- or the cadillac coverage he received during his years with Halliburton -- he would likely have become a member of the celestial choir years ago. Goodness knows, were it not for government health insurance -- or the vast wealth he acquired from his brief tenure in the private sector -- Dick Cheney would have been denied coverage due to a preexisting condition. And as for paying for a heart transplant out of his own pocket, even with his vast wealth (he's worth a minimum of $50 million) the very costly procedure would likely have been denied due to his age -- 71. According to recent figures, a heart transplant costs a minimum of $1 million.
Most anti-Obamacare folks have flatly concluded that as of January 2014 (when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect), heart transplants will either become a thing of the past or will bankrupt an already bankrupt government. How so many people know so much about what a program-yet-to-begin will be is beyond comprehension. Suffice it to say, many of those most fervently against government programs like Obamacare (which is in no way "socialized medicine" as Dick Cheney as his friends constantly claim) they are denying to millions the benefits they have gladly received for oh so many years.
It is reminiscent of those HUAC members who, once having destroyed the "evil" John Garfield, wanted nothing more than to shake his hand, get his autograph and take him to dinner.
Heartless is as heartless does.
How much the more so when you have to get a new one . . .
©2013 Kurt F. Stone
Many thanks to my lifelong friend Alad Wald for bringing this topic to my attention.