A half-century after he crawled into a bottle of booze, never to libel, slander and defame again, Joseph McCarthy is about to re-emerge. In fact, he recently made a guest appearance in that tip sheet of the zeitgeist, Page Six, which reported that “some historians” are upset that an upcoming movie about Edward R. Murrow will portray the disgraced Senator as nothing more than a “demagogic villain.” Imagine that: a man who recklessly accused the innocent and guilty alike of plotting the overthrow of democracy and capitalism-portrayed as a “demagogic villain”! These liberal Hollywood elitists will stop at nothing.
According to one of the Post’s unnamed historians, the real villain of the McCarthy era was not the Senator from Wisconsin but Murrow himself, a man who, let’s remember, worked for CBS-which is almost like working for the Communist Party. By “discrediting” McCarthy during a famous See It Now documentary, Murrow “actually helped hide the truth of the Soviet penetration of the U.S. government,” according to the Post’s surprisingly anonymous historian. Ah, so it’s all Murrow’s fault! (You’d think a historian with such a groundbreaking revisionist view of the McCarthy era would be delighted to get a boldface mention in the Post. So there is, after all, modesty among some academics!)
Ordinarily, a loony debate like this one is best left to the blowhards on cable television and talk radio (permanent home of at least one pro-McCarthy “historian,” Ann Coulter). It surely does little good to point out that the institution most responsible for McCarthy’s downfall was not CBS but the U.S. Army, which the demented Senator accused of coddling communists. Nice work there, Senator. The televised Army-McCarthy hearings, far more than Murrow’s See It Now program, sealed the, er, demagogic villain’s fate. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Army was unwilling to play the role of patsy, and when it fought back, the bully from Wisconsin was left friendless and defenseless. He was censured by his suddenly emboldened colleagues (all of them in the pay of the Soviets, no doubt) and died in an alcoholic haze in 1957.
Does it do any good to rehash the events of a half-century ago just because Hollywood is bringing out a movie that upsets “some historians” whose idea of a villain is not Joe McCarthy, but Edward R. Murrow? The answer has to be a resounding “yes”-not because of what happened yesterday, but because of what might happen tomorrow.
The tone of political debate today is ripe for some new McCarthy ready to challenge the loyalty of those who disagree with the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror. You’re either for us or agin’ us, right? And if you’re agin’ us, why, that makes you a stooge of Islamic fundamentalism, a closet jihadist, an agent of Osama bin Laden, the 21st-century versions of McCarthy’s com-symps and pinkos and card-carrying commies. Watch-these slurs and slanders are on the verge of making their way back into the political mainstream.
If you find all this hard to believe, you clearly haven’t been paying attention to public discourse, which has it that John Kerry, winner of the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, is a traitor who faked his heroics and his wounds. The real war hero in the ’04 campaign was, of course, George W. Bush, master of the skies over Texas. In today’s politics, veterans like John McCain and Max Cleland are slimed, and official Karl Rove–appointed candidates are hailed as real heroes because, after all, they’re for “us.”
So it is not inconceivable-indeed, it is scarily easy to imagine-that this administration’s allies will be quick to use the phrase “soft on terror” when dissidents raise their voices about the war in Iraq or the President’s go-it-alone policies. And how soon do you think the infamous “Arabists” in the State Department, who have been so roundly criticized for years in William Safire’s column, will be transformed into “Muslim sympathizers” and, finally, into “junior jihadists” if they continue to insist that maybe the Palestinians deserve their own state?
It is not beyond the pale to imagine State Department officials, network news reporters, op-ed columnists and other members of the anti-American elite forced on the defensive amid charges that they either are rooting for the jihadists or actively working on their behalf. If it sounds just a little too paranoid, bear in mind that a year ago, few would have believed that John Kerry, whatever his flaws, would be forced to defend his Vietnam service this year-even as he was running against a member of the Texas Air National Guard.
If Joe McCarthy is about to make a comeback at the expense of Edward R. Murrow, anything is possible-except, of course, dissent.