Monday, December 7, 2009

The New McCarthyism



On December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted to censure Sen. Joseph McCarthy, bringing to an end four years of political intimidation and character assassination so ferocious that McCarthy’s name is still synonymous with a particularly destructive form of demagoguery....Today, Joseph McCarthy’s ideological heirs in the Republican Party and right-wing media are using the language and tactics of McCarthy to stir fears that the nation is being destroyed by enemies from within.


So begins a report by the People for the American Way titled Rise of the New McCarthyism: How Right Wing Extremists Try to Paralyze Government Through Ideological Smears and Baseless Attacks. The report not only documents the similarities in tactics used by today's demagogues, but those media outlets and elected officials that either aid or remain silent in the face of their extremism, which only serves to poison the political discourse.

You can read the report here. Excerpts below.



Excerpt from report:

McCarthy tactics then and now

From 1953 to 1955, McCarthy held 117 hearings and even more closed-door interrogations, witch hunts for subversives that thrived on guilt by association: someone had worked for a union, dates a communist, been in a book club that read a book by Marx. Author Johnson writes that reviewing the transcripts of those sessions made it clear that McCarthy, in addition to guilt by association and character assassination, was engaged in an “obsessive hunt for homosexuals,” hounded writers, artists, and composers, attacked the reputations of military leaders.

Today’s McCarthyism has many faces and voices, including the household names of right-wing cable television, a plethora of radio hosts, Religious Right leaders, right-wing organizations and the bogus “grassroots” campaigns they generate – and Members of Congress and other Republican Party officials. Together they engage in character assassination and challenge the loyalty and patriotism of their targets.

Fox's Glenn Beck, who reaches millions of Americans with his televised tirades, has become an almost cartoonish McCarthy clone, with his guilt-by-association charts supposedly detailing the communist connections of White House officials.

Dangerous “elites” subverting the national interest

McCarthy inflamed fears that the nation was being destroyed by enemies from within:

The reason we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer – the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest jobs in Government (and the private sector) we can give.


Sound familiar? The attack on sinister Ivy League-educated elites is one of the essential rhetorical tools of far-right pundits and Republican politicians like Sarah Palin. The most surreal example was Ivy-educated, investment banker, millionaire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney railing against “eastern elites” at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Republican smear campaigns often make use of this “elites vs. real Americans” theme. Here’s Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, speaking to senators about then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

Remember the values of the regular folks who sent you to Washington. Don’t vote for a Supreme Court nominee whose values are closer to those of the intellectual elite than to those of your constituents.


McCarthy routinely accused his opponents of subverting the national interest. Typical was his characterization of Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson as someone “who steadfastly serves the interests of nations other than his own.”

That’s a staple of right-wing rhetoric today.

Read more here.

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