Could America be witnessing the growth of a left-wing version of McCarthyism?
At a fund-raiser in Nevada on August 25th, Barack Obama called opponents of the Iran nuclear deal “the crazies.” (One wonders if that slur applies to Democrats like Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez, and Eliot Engel, or solely to Republicans.)
Obama had already compared Republicans who oppose his nuclear deal to Iranian fanatics who also reject the agreement while shouting “death to America.” As he put it on August 5th, Iranian opponents of the nuclear deal “are making common cause with the Republican caucus.”
Nor is Obama the only left-wing Democrat to hurl irresponsible charges against Republicans. On August 27th, Hillary Clinton – probably trying to deflect attention from her scandals, lies, evasions, etc. – asserted that, when it comes to women’s health, Republican presidential candidates are like terrorists.
There are a plethora of tacks one might take when considering these (and other leftist slurs against the GOP) – such as why many Republicans endure these rants in silence – but the one explored here is how closely these over-heated accusations resemble McCarthyism.
Permit an historical sidebar to put this essay into the proper context.
The term “McCarthyism” – which cartoonist Herbert Block coined – harkens back to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R, WI), who served from 1947 till his death in 1957. McCarthy achieved national notoriety after a radio address in Wheeling (WVA) on February 9th, 1950. In that speech, of which no recording survives, McCarthy waved a sheet of paper which, he asserted, contained the names of 205 “members of the Communist Party” or “members of a spy ring” who were U.S. State Department employees. Subsequently, the number changed to 57, then to 81.
Over the next several years, McCarthy waged a campaign against Communist subversion of various government entities, such as the Truman administration, the Voice of America, and eventually the U.S. Army. It was also said that he successfully campaigned against several political foes, such as Senator Millard Tydings (D, MD).
McCarthy’s career began to unravel when, in the spring of 1954, during an investigation of Communist influence in the U.S. Army, he was stymied by the Army’s chief legal representative, Joseph N. Welch.
Shortly before, on March 9th, 1954, journalist Edward R. Morrow had skewered McCarthy on his TV program, “See It Now.”
Following Morrow’s and especially Welch’s assaults, McCarthy’s successful involvement in investigations of Communist subversion had passed its peak, and his enemies moved against him. Eventually, the U.S. Senate censured him on December 2nd, 1954.
Although McCarthy remained in the Senate for almost another three years, his political career was, to all intents and purposes, over.
Even decades after he died, McCarthy remains, in the words of the late M. Stanton Evans, “blacklisted by history.” It is hard to think of another personality so reviled by people of almost every political stripe, including some Republicans as well as almost every Democrat.
Although it’s unlikely that Soviet records fully vindicate McCarthy, it seems to do no good that, long after he passed from the scene, revelations from Soviet archives, such as the Venona documents, revealed that Stalin’s agents had indeed infiltrated the U.S.
McCarthy’s campaign against Communist subversion did not occur in a political vacuum. From the late-1940s to the mid-1950s, and perhaps beyond, fear of Communist infiltration of the U.S. government and other industries – such as Hollywood, the universities, and even the mainline churches – played an important role in U.S. politics.
When one considers the times – especially the emergence of the Cold War and the rise of the Iron Curtain, Russia’s detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1949, the Communists’ take-over of mainland China in 1949, Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the “Hollywood Ten,” the blacklist, and the onset of the Korean War in 1950, there were ample reasons for Americans to worry about Communism in the 1950s.
We should also remember that, when McCarthy spoke out against Communist subversion in February 1950, attempts to identify Communists in America had been going on for several years. Names like Whittaker Chambers and Richard Nixon were already well-known to many Americans.
Initially, the expression “McCarthyism” referred to any charge that someone or some group was left-wing – Communist, socialist, etc. – and of doubtful loyalty to the U.S. Subsequently, the term’s meaning broadened, to include unsubstantiated accusations of almost any kind, as well as to attacks on an opponent’s character and/or patriotism. (This is where Obama’s and Clinton’s diatribes fit the term.)
In recent decades, leftists of every variety have used the term as a verbal weapon, probably to deflect criticism, whether justified or not, and especially to put their opponents on the defensive. In this effort, the leftists were assisted by their willing sycophants in the mainstream media (MSM), Academe, and the entertainment industry.
If, for example, someone criticized a left-winger’s assocaitions, the instant (and very loud) reaction was “McCarthyism!” That was usually sufficient to send the accuser scurrying for the tall clover. The accuser’s reputation was tarnished, he/she was thought to be toxic, and the leftist was free to continue undermining America.
Watching these kabuki dances, I was repeatedly reminded of the exchange between “Doc” Daneeka and Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. In the movie version, after Daneeka [Jack Gilford] explains Catch 22 to Yossarian [Alan Arkin], the latter exclaims, “That’s some catch!” Daneeka’s response is, “It’s the best there is.” For years, when leftists screamed “McCarthyism!”, it was the best catch there was.
Recently, we’ve read about the rise of leftist totalitarianism in America. On July 6th, for example, Tom Nichols published “The New Totalitarians Are Here” in The Federalist. Nichols writes that totalitarians insist not only on obedience (as do traditional authoritarians), but also demand that their ideas be accepted (which authoritarians do not), “even if it means bludgeoning every last citizen into enlightenment.” Why? Totalitarians believe that they “grasp reality” more clearly than others. As Nichols asserts, “[t]hat’s what makes totalitarians different and more dangerous [than authoritarians]: they are ‘totalistic’ in the sense that they demand a complete reorientation of the individual to the State and its ideological ends.”
To illustrate his claims about the new totalitarians, Nichols reminds his readers of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. “Oceana’s” ruling party not only knows how to get obedience, but insists that everyone must obey and love Big Brother. Once the party’s apparatchiks broke Winston Smith and his paramour, who had been rebels, they not only turned on each other, but loved BB.
If American leftists are increasingly manifesting totalitarian traits, their resort to McCarthyite tactics is doubly dangerous. (It is important to remember that the original McCarthyites were never in control of the country. Moreover, the 1950s Establishment never accepted him. The instant his power weakened, America’s ruling class moved to destroy him.)
Today’s left-wing McCarthyites, on the other hand, are part of the ruling class. Aided by a slavishly sycophantic MSM, they are far more powerful than McCarthy and his supporters could even dream of being.
That is why, if today’s left wing totalitarians also engage in McCarthyite tactics, America is in for very troubled times.