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Editorial: A threat, a suicide and a new stage production

Did U.S. Sen. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire bully a fellow senator into suicide?

This provocative and distressing question is at the heart of a new book and theatrical production about a long-obscured chapter in American political history. It’s a play that should come to New Hampshire for the sake of local students and politicians alike.

At issue is the 1954 death of U.S. Sen. Lester Hunt, a Democrat from Wyoming. Hunt’s suicide by gunshot wound in his Senate office is the focus of Dying for the Sins of Joe McCarthy: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt . According to author Rodger McDaniel, the events leading up to Hunt’s death were these:

Hunt’s 20-year-old son, Buddy, was arrested in Washington, D.C., for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. Initially, the police opted not to press charges. But when the police were questioned about it by Bridges and fellow Republican Sen. Herman Welker of Idaho, a close ally of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Buddy Hunt was recharged and convicted and ultimately paid a small fine. Bridges and Welker then badgered Sen. Hunt to resign, threatening to use his son’s conviction against him in the 1954 election campaign if he didn’t quit. Among their threats: They told Hunt they’d printed 25,000 flyers with a picture of his son on them and planned to put one in every mailbox in Wyoming.

The Senate at the time was closely split between Democrats and Republicans; if the GOP could take Hunt’s Wyoming s eat, they could take control of the Senate.

At first, Hunt ignored the continuing threats. Then, in May 1954, an emissary from President Dwight Eisenhower approached Hunt with an offer: Quit the Senate, agree never to run again and Ike would appoint him to a six-year term as chairman of the federal Tariff Commission. According to McDaniel, Hunt considered the offer seriously because he was tired of the threats from Bridges and Welker. But he ultimately said no – and a few days later took his own life.

McCarthy’s role is less clear. On the day before Hunt’s death, he announced he would open an investigation into a U.S. senator accused of bribing the police. He did not name the senator, but it was widely speculated that he was referring to Hunt, McDaniel says.

Remarkably, Bridges and Welker both spoke at Hunt’s memorial service, noting what a credit he had been to the Senate.

Were their threats enough to have forced Hunt’s suicide? Was he also suffering from illness? Were there other potential causes?

McDaniel, a Wyoming politician himself, has helped stage a theatrical production based on his new book in which Bridges, Welker and McCarthy are put on trial for criminal conspiracy to blackmail Hunt. It was produced earlier this year in Wyoming and will go to Washington, D.C., in October.

In the D.C. production, key roles will be played by former U.S. senator Alan Simpson; retired Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Michael Golden; Trevor Potter, general counsel to two Republican presidential campaigns; and Mindy Daniels, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance of Washington, D.C. A jury of local residents will hear the case and render a verdict.

In recent years, New Hampshire has become a leader on gay rights issues, including being among the first states in the country to legalize gay marriage. But the Hunt affair and Bridges’s role reveal a darker chapter. This, too, is part of the state’s political legacy and worth some serious reflection. Bringing the mock trial of Bridges, Welker and McCarthy to New Hampshire – perhaps by the New Hampshire Humanities Council or Historical Society – would be a worthy project indeed.

Legacy Comments25

What is going on here folks? I seem to be seeing a lot of folks on this forum who are harassing folks that disagree with them. Folks are being corrected on their grammar, being told to keep their posts short and succinct, and having their words twisted with assumptions. When that does not do the job of getting the opposing poster to leave, the name calling starts. We are also seeing accusations being made here that are starting to get personal. That accomplishes nothing. A forum should be about sharing ideas, looking for ways to fix problems not personal attacks.

Is this the kind of personal attack you had in mind? "Van wrote: 09/16/2013 Tommy - Looking for someone who doesn't know anything about history look in the mirror. You haven't proven my comments wrong because it is accurate and you are not."

When I read this editorial I was reasonably certain that it would trigger a knee-jerk, defensive lashing out from someone who knows nothing whatsoever of the history or the facts at issue, but said to himself, "I really don't know what's going on here, but this smells like an attack on someone who may be a Republican icon, so I'd better react with something." I never dreamed, however, that the editorial would trigger TWO such responses from the same person. Very impressive.

Tommy - Looking for someone who doesn't know anything about history look in the mirror. You haven't proven my comments wrong because it is accurate and you are not.

Van, is your position on the original story that it should be censored? Try to keep your reply direct and succinct.

I am interested in all sides to the story and this so-called Mock Trial isn't a trial it is predetermined. We all know that the Monitor does not publish all sides to the story. The Monitor is Guardian of Ignorance when it comes to political coverage and yes censorship or telling a false story through omission.

To Van, below, you gotta be kidding! Do you think former Senator Alan Simpson would get himself involved in what you describe? You can repeat your happy-time buzzwords like "Guardian of Ignorance" 'til the end of time, and they will never once measure up to the task of proving or disproving a point. What is the false story you allude to but not specify?

Here is a good line for some lost history on the civil rights movement: compare this truth with to what is being taught in our schools.

OK, Van, I read the article quite closely; and I completely agree with its main point: Lyndon B Johnson was a total SOB. So what? He did the right thing, and in the end he did it for the right reasons. Instead of getting your history lessons from a blog you ought to expand your horizons and read Robert Caro's deep, well researched and insightful biography of LBJ. Volume IV contains the most comprehensive iteration of the events that led to the passage of the Civil Right and Voting Rights Acts.

Right but at first he was not in favor of it. He signed it for his legacy and he was a racist for most of his life.

Exactly! You divine the truth: " first he was not in favor of it." But you fail to see the underlying truth that as many - certainly not all - Southern Democrats, LBJ came to see the error of his ways and underwent a serious process of redemption. His "legacy" was as he himself admitted was to have "delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come." Some legacy for such a skilled politician!

The Monitor is in full modus operandi again telling a one sided story attacking a Republican. Former U.S. Sen. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire is dead, he can’t defend himself and that is the way the Monitor loves it. Why should this play come to New Hampshire and be forced on our children? The answer is so it can indoctrinate students? Perhaps a play that was historically accurate like the KKK's link to the democrat party will actually teach the children something that they are not being taught in school for political reasons. The democrat party has far more skeletons in their closet. Just goggle LBJ and had having blacks voting democrat and find out what you get. That was in 1965 a little mote recent than this article. Perhaps the Monitor should do more digging. Also there is a lot more racism in the democrat party if someone was willing to look.

Van, you make believe that you are in possession of some deep dark secret, but once again you are hoist on your own petard. Nobody - and I mean nobody - denies the racist history of the Democratic party. The stories of Robert Byrd, Hugo Black, Al Gore, Sr., James Eastland, John Stennis, Richard Russell to name but a few. Here is the big difference. During the civil rights struggle of the 1960s they either saw the error of their ways and recanted their positions; or, as in the case of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, they became Republicans. Van, history did not stop in 1964 not even to serve your self-deluded arguments.

so all but 2 of the racist democrats stayed democrats, and changed how they voted on civil rights not because they changed their beliefs, but just to get votes. How noble.

Many more unreconstructed segregationists changed party, and many who remained Democrats changed their hearts and souls along with their votes. You ought to learn more about Senator Robert Byrd and Justice Hugo Black before you make such broad and cynical statements.

Where did that come from? Do you think we are going to believe that you know what was their motivation and in their hearts? Do you deny that people can grow and change for the better?

To Publius and Gracchus below: no amount of factual information is likely to make a dent in the troll-like behavior of certain posters here: those who make claims, against all evidence, that the Republican Party hasn't shifted far to the right since the late 1960's, hasn't become the repository of choice for closet racists, and more generally post endless comments that both demonstrate and nurture the kind of cynicism that abets the corporate right in its zeal to tear down ideals like the 'public interest', 'the common good', and even 'e pluribus unum', in favor of a libertarian creed that values coarseness and crass materialism, and makes selfishness the ultimate virtue.

It appears GWTW that anyone who does not agree with others so called "facts" are now 'trolls'. Did you ever notice that this is an "opinion" page yet the other side does not want opinions, they want to dig up slanted facts, revisionist history and then smear others through namecalling. Oh, and we are all "closet racists" and of course we are also "selfish" because we want everyone in society to contribute and not just take. When you consider the posts by some commenters they are always the same negative attacks.

Reply to Itsa below: Everyone is entitled to their opinion--just not their own facts. Those on here who lean rightward rely on a highly selective set of facts that is endless repeated, in robot-like fashion, along with a well-worn set of labels: there are the 'makers' and there are the 'takers', for example. Any attempt at rational dialog on the topic of wealth and social mobility (or the lack thereof) is dismissed as 'class warfare' by those unable to deal with facts other than those selectively provided as talking points by right-wing 'news' outlets.

Gracchus, good there is something that we agree on. Things have changed since the 60s but the racism of low expectations still exists with the democrat party. Many of those people you mentioned, worked hard making sure blacks didn't vote Republican that was the foundation of the voter laws in 1960. It had nothing to do with voter ID where we make sure that 1 vote for 1 person.

Van, the Republican party could have shown African-Americans something better than the back of their hands for the last 40 years. If they had perhaps they would be more competitive among those voters. Forcing elderly citizens who have never had a driver's license to travel in some cases several tens of miles to get a voter ID card does not guarantee 1 person 1 vote, and as you must know by now in-person voter fraud is so rare as to be nonexistent. Your commentary on the voting rights struggle is risible.

Van it is tough to argue with these folks. In fact, it is not even worthwhile responding. They are on a mission and that mission is to tear down any icons of the past, demonize everything Republican, etc. It would be pretty hard to prove that Bridges caused a person to kill himself. It is all innuendo and fuel for the anti-Republican crowd. Just ignore the pollitical folks.

How about commenting on the column that the Monitor wrote rather than the one you wish they had written? How does your comment even relate to this editorial? New tactic - divert and pontificate? And if you think you're convincing anyone that LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act simply because he wanted some new D voters, think again. In the South and in other parts of the country such as where LBJ came from, where many D voters were as deeply racist as you say, the Ds lost more voters than they gained. I remember when he signed that bill into law, and it was seen as having huge political risks.

I'd say it was a great political move...LBJ was right...Nixon got 35% of the black vote in 60...never been much above single digits since.

What was Nixon's percentage among Southern whites, the traditional strength of the Democratic party until 1968? Ever hear of Nixon's "Southern Strategy"? Pat Buchanan's finest(?) hour.

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