This will be a week that shows the best and the worst of my Wisconsin homeland.
The best, of course, are the Green Bay Packers (shown here with Aaron Rodgers). They host a game at 6:40 p.m. ET Jan. 12, just two steps from the Super Bowl.
And the worst was Joe McCarthy. He was my senator when I was growing up; he was also someone whose lies desroyed lives. A PBS profile (9-11 p.m. Jan. 6) gives full details.
At times, the two worlds seem incompatible. The Packers — supported by small-town people who owned part of the team — typify the earnest nature of this part of the world. At my church (Clintonville Methodist), the minister would pause after the anthem, so choir members could leave and drive to the game. This was a world where good-deeds and good tackles were taken seriously.
How could these people have elected — and re-elected — McCarthy? The PBS series made that clear.
He had an affable, guy-next-door manner. He presented himself as a former farmboy — also an ex-Marine and former boxing instructor — who believed in values. When he talked, people believed him because … well, because Wisconsin people almost always tell the truth.
Gradually, we learned that he was a master of the big lies — audacious ones that are followedby more, before anyone could do much fact-checking. That’s a skill that is still used today.
McCarthy died in office at 48 after two Senate investigations and a censure. Chances are, Wisconsin wouldn’t have re-elected him anyway; the senators who followed — William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson — were, in many ways, his opposite.
But McCarthy remained a life lesson. Bad senators can happen to good people. Those good people can experience some awful things … and then, when it’s Packer time, some wonderful things.