Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Throwback

History.com summarizes

"McCarthyism," as the hunt for communists in the United States came to be known during the 1950s, did untold damage to many people's lives and careers, had a muzzling effect on domestic debate on Cold War issues, and managed to scare millions of Americans. McCarthy, however, located no communists and his personal power collapsed in 1954 when he accused the Army of coddling known communists. Televised hearings of his investigation into the U.S. Army let the American people see his bullying tactics and lack of credibility in full view for the first time, and he quickly lost support. The U.S. Senate censured him shortly thereafter and he died in 1957.

So what does this have in common with Monday's showdown in Boca Raton (or, as the "in crowd" or "cool" ones have it, "Boca") or the 2012 presidential campaign generally?

There is one thing.  The website explains also

During a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator Joseph McCarthy (Republican-Wisconsin) claims that he has a list with the names of over 200 members of the Department of State that are "known communists." The speech vaulted McCarthy to national prominence and sparked a nationwide hysteria about subversives in the American government.

Speaking before the Ohio County Women's Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator McCarthy waved before his audience a piece of paper. According to the only published newspaper account of the speech, McCarthy said that, "I have here in my hand a list of 205 [State Department employees] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department." In the next few weeks, the number fluctuated wildly, with McCarthy stating at various times that there were 57, or 81, or 10 communists in the Department of State. In fact, McCarthy never produced any solid evidence that there was even one communist in the State Department.

There are only two politicians, one of them Newt Gingrich, who with a national profile effectively combine the charisma and demagoguery of the late Senator from Wisconsin.  The other is the former part-term governor of Alaska, who responded to the third presidential debate in part by declaring

I think President Obama certainly showed his desperation tonight with not only his mannerisms, with all of his interruptions and seemingly angered responses, but his false charges," she said. "And he is trying to make up for lost ground, of course, because the president’s lies are catching up with him. It’s unfortunate that Gov. Romney didn’t have time to answer all the false charges. I made a couple of pages of a list of the false charges.

Palin made it easy for us, even saying "I made a couple of pages a list" rather than "I recorded two pages of false charges."    It was worth noticing also that though she carved out for herself an extremely conservative persona, Palin was effusive in her praise of a candidate who last night sounded more like the late George McGovern (minus the integrity, decency, knowledge, or war record) than Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), Bob Dole, or even George Herbert Walker Bush.

Unfortunately, McCarthyism "did untold damage to many people's lives and careers, had a muzzling effect on domestic debate on Cold War issues, and managed to scare millions of Americans" before the Wisconsin Senator made the cardinal sin of (unjustly) attacking a branch of the United States military.   But the analogy breaks down here.   Sarah Palin has little impact because she has virtually no credibility.  Were she more than a curiosity with a cult-like following, she would have herself run for her party's nomination instead of selling out for a huge payday writing books, giving speeches, and gabbing in front of the Fox News cameras.

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