"You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left, no sense of decency?"
When U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch asked that question of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin Republican who was busy ruining lives by accusing everyone and his mamas of being commies, he probably expected an answer.
That same question, asked of the Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., would be purely rhetorical.
Why? Because we already know, at long last, that the dude has no sense of decency.
Phelps and his execrable band of extremists have gained notoriety for years by protesting the deaths of U.S. service personnel killed defending their right to protest. Phelps and company are expected to descend upon Raleigh today to try to disrupt Elizabeth Edwards' funeral by picketing outside Edenton Street United Methodist Church. Their beef with Edwards, who died this week of cancer? She and her husband, former U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards, expressed tolerance for gays.
I never met Edwards, but even a pacifist and free speecher such as I want to go out there today and knock Phelps' teeth down his throat for planning to raise a ruckus while the Edwards young 'uns are saying goodbye to their mama. One can only imagine how her family, friends and those touched personally by her grace, dignity and courage are affected by this affront to decency.
The irony, alas, is that preventing Phelps and his gang from protesting would dishonor the memory of fallen soldiers and patriots like Edwards more than anything Phelps' fools could do or say. America is a country of laws, and tyranny of the majority is still tyranny. As history has shown, sometimes the majority can be wrong.
If the law permits Phelps and his anti-gay gang to show up at the funeral - thereby, one hopes, further greasing the skids for their descent into hell when they're finally called to account for their deeds on that great gettin' up morning - then they must be allowed to do so unencumbered.
Just because we have to tolerate Phelps' putrid presence in our midst, though, doesn't mean we have to stand by and let him disrupt Edwards' home-going service. Remember: Evil prevails only when good people do nothing.
What to do, then. What to do?
Wade Hudson, a reader from Raleigh, asked me about a news story "a few weeks back about a town that lined the streets and kept the Westboro despicable kooks at bay so relatives could proceed with their funeral in peace. I think we all better get there and do the same for the Edwards family."
Hudson could've been talking about a funeral in Weston, Mo., or one in McAlester, Okla., where sympathizers turned out last month in far greater numbers than Phelps' misguided missionaries of malevolence to shield families of fallen soldiers from their homophobic rantings.
Yet, they're at it again, this time here. Have you no sense of decency, Rev. Phelps?
Oh, I forgot: We already know the answer.
email@example.com or 919-836-2811