Books and Columns
22 December 2020
McCarthyism: a campaign or practice that uses false allegations and investigations to accomplish an end.
You don’t see that done successfully too often. Thank heavens!
McCarthyism entered the American vocabulary during the Cold War, named after Senator Joe McCarthy who shot to fame by falsely accusing people (mostly, writers, intellectuals, and actors) of being Communists and, thus, traitors and enemies of the U.S.
I was in Cody junior high and high school at the time and remember well conversations among the adults. Joe McCarthy was their hero. If he shouted, “That man’s a commie spy,” they said, “You bet.”
McCarthy screamed, “I have seen the evidence.”
The accused said, “That’s not true, Senator.”
The adults said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
McCarthy never managed to send a single subversive (or anyone else) to jail, but a lot of innocent people lost their jobs and some lost their lives. The facts were that: 1) being a member of the Communist Party was not illegal; and 2) the Communist Party of the U.S. was almost defunct.
Lies Make Headlines
But McCarthy never let a little fact stop him. Not when his lies made headlines.
Years passed, Joe scaring Washington’s politicians into silence. Day after day, he made headlines. He was a TV star; his Senate hearings topped the charts. The more incredible and outlandish his accusations, the better.
Imagine if McCarthy had had Twitter. He’d probably be president.
Journalists became some of his earliest targets and, at some point, I remember my parents cautioning: “You can’t believe what you read in the newspapers, Patty. Always remember that.” Even the Cody Enterprise was not immune from their concerns that the entire newspaper industry had been penetrated and was being controlled from Moscow.
Sound paranoid? Remember. Joe said as much. Our teachers said so, too. The country believed that Moscow had spies everywhere. They ran the State Department, the Pentagon, the New York Times. Anyone who’d ever been a member of the Communist Party or even studied Karl Marx was suspect. Later, they called it, “The Red Scare.”
Nothing but a demagogue
It took five years before McCarthy was exposed for what he was: a demagogue and pathological liar. Still, I went through college believing that McCarthy had saved us from the communist threat. He must have done.
Then, I heard one of my CIA training officers joking about spies in the CPUSA, saying that by the time McCarthy arrived on the scene, the Communist Party of the U.S. would have been dead if it hadn’t been for the number of FBI agents J. Edgar Hoover had infiltrated into it. He laughed, “McCarthy had about as much chance of finding a Soviet spy where he was looking as I’d have of finding a man in a maternity ward.”
Even then, I wondered … .
In short, Joe Biden will become the next president, but McCarthyism’s look alike, Trumpyism, isn’t going away. Not for a long, long, long time.
Ideas and words to provoke thought…