If a good man turns bad, are we required to pretend, for the rest of his life, that he is still good? Do such a man’s earlier good deeds render him strictly off-limits from any and all subsequent criticism until the end of time? Is he entitled to be revered indefinitely as a hero, an icon, or a saint, even if he has spent the past half-century proving himself to be a vile race-baiter, an ally of America’s enemies, and a liar who repeatedly bears false witness against his fellow man?
We can answer all these questions by examining the track record of Democratic congressman John Lewis, who has vowed to boycott President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on grounds that Trump is not “a legitimate president.” Incidentally, that was the same rationale Lewis used sixteen years ago, when he likewise boycotted the inauguration of George W. Bush.
Yes, we all know about Lewis’s days as a good guy in the early Sixties, when he took part in the Freedom Rides that challenged segregation across the South, and when he was arrested and beaten for his participation in civil-rights actions in places like South Carolina and Alabama.
But in addition to that, are we, by any chance, allowed to also remember that from 1962-64 Lewis was a vice chairman of a Communist Party USA front group known as the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee? Trevor Loudon’s extraordinary research has laid bare this fact and many others about Lewis’s past.
How about the fact that in 1964 Lewis praised Norman Thomas—a six-time U.S. presidential candidate on the Socialist Party of America ticket—as a man who “has symbolized to millions of Americans the ideals of peace, freedom and equality”? Are we permitted to be unsettled by that?
Is it okay if we find it curious that in 1965 Lewis became the first honoree to receive the annual Eugene Debs Award, named for the founder of the Socialist Party of America?
Are we allowed to raise an eyebrow over the fact that in ‘65 as well, Lewis penned an article for a Communist propaganda magazine in which he lauded Paul Robeson, a Communist Party member who had been a devoted admirer of the late Soviet dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin?
Or must we, as proof of our moral virtue and good manners, dutifully turn a blind eye to all these things?
Is it permissible to be unimpressed by the fact that in the late Sixties, Lewis was listed as a sponsor of the GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee, an anti-U.S.-military organization that served as a front for the Socialist Workers Party?
Are we allowed to wonder why, in May 1973, Lewis co-sponsored “A Call” for a founding conference of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a Communist Party front group that grew out of the movement to free the incarcerated Marxist revolutionary and Black Panther ally Angela Davis?
Are we permitted to think it less-than-wonderful that in 1989 Lewis was a founding member of the Institute for Southern Studies—a North Carolina-based spinoff of the Institute for Policy Studies—in light of the fact that the IPS was described in 1983 by then-Secretary of State George Shultz as an organization “which has for 20 years consistently supported foreign policy objectives that serve the interests of the Soviet Union”?
Would it be okay for some of us to take offense at Lewis’s assertion in March 1995—four months after the Republican Party had won House and Senate majorities on the strength of its “Contract With America”—that Republicans were akin to Nazis intent upon exploiting and abusing “the children,” “the poor,” “the sick,” “the elderly,” and “the disabled”?
Or must we forever bow our heads and genuflect whenever Lewis’s name is mentioned?
Are we permitted to wonder why Lewis in 2003 contributed an article to the Communist newspaper People’s Weekly World?
Are we allowed to question why Lewis in 2007 was a special guest at the annual conference of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization whose explicit aim is to “radically transform” the American government and economy?
Are we permitted to find it disgraceful that when the House of Representatives in 2009 voted overwhelmingly to defund the notoriously corrupt, pro-socialist, community organization ACORN—which had elevated voter-registration fraud into a veritable art form—Lewis was one of the relatively few Democrats who voted to continue pouring rivers of taxpayer dollars into that moral cesspool?
Are we allowed to be outraged by the fact that in mid-July 2014, after scores of thousands of (mostly unaccompanied) Central American minors had crossed the southern U.S. border illegally since October of the previous year, Lewis called for open borders and proudly declared that “our doors are open”?
Or must we perpetually build shrines in Lewis’s honor?
Are we permitted to be repulsed by the fact that in October 2008, Lewis likened Republican presidential candidate John McCain and and his running mate, Sarah Palin, to George Wallace, the former the segregationist former governor of Alabama who had “created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans”?
Are we allowed to think badly of Lewis for having lied in 2010 when he said that conservative Tea Party protesters on the steps of Capitol Hill had shouted the “N-word” at him as he walked past them?
Is it permissible to be disgusted by Lewis’s claim—in a speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention in September 2012—that Republicans were eager to bring back the days of Jim Crow segregation and bloody violence against blacks?
The great scholar and author Thomas Sowell, writing about the grotesque moral decline which the NAACP had undergone over a period of decades, once noted that “in time even monuments can become overgrown by weeds,” and “even a great crusade can degenerate into a hustle.”
Once-respectable individuals can likewise degenerate into malevolent hustlers. If you need proof, just look at John Lewis.