(And I also posted here.)
On this day in 1950, as noted here, the junior senator from Wisconsin, as he was once referred to by Edward R. Murrow, gave a speech in which he alleged that more than 200 employees of the U.S. State Department were members of the Communist Party.
And that was how Joseph R. McCarthy began to build his shameful legacy.
I guess the first thing you think of concerning McCarthy are the lives and careers he ruined through his inquisition that capitalized on the rampant anti-Communism of the time, but when you read about how he fought with congressional Democrats and the incumbent Democratic president Harry Truman, something else that becomes apparent is the fact that McCarthy created the Republican template through which all future Democrats would be bullied with virtual impunity ever since.
This link from PBS and playwright Arthur Miller tells us of some of the most noteworthy figures from that era who were victimized to one degree or another by McCarthy (Miller notes that the furor had died down by about 1954). Also, McCarthy enjoyed a friendship for a time with the Kennedy family, partly by virtue of the fact that both McCarthy and the Kennedys were Roman Catholic (expressions of loyalty to McCarthy were communicated by both Bobby and JFK as noted here, to the point where the future president would be scolded by Eleanor Roosevelt at the 1956 Democratic Convention). Eventually, though, “Tail Gunner Joe” grew too toxic even for the “Camelot” crew.
Someone else who benefited from McCarthy was Roy Cohn, whose career also was launched by the Wisconsin senator. As noted here, Cohn would end up with blood on his hands concerning the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and for a time, one of lawyer Cohn’s clients was the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, among many others (Cohn would also end up as an adviser to both Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan).
One of McCarthy’s staunchest defenders, by the way, was the conservative columnist Westbrook Pegler, who once expressed regret that an assassination attempt against President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t succeed and who also wished for RFK to be killed in 1965 (Pegler would get his wish three years later, of course). And for anyone who doesn’t think that “past is prologue,” consider how Pegler was quoted by Sarah Palin in her acceptance speech of the vice-presidential Repug nomination in 2008 (here), in particular that stuff about “(growing) good people in our small towns ... I grew up with those people. They're the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food and run our factories and fight our wars. They love their country in good times and bad, and they're always proud of America" (implying, of course, that "good" people could grow only in "small-town America"...and how apropos for Palin to peddle that mess in the land of Pancake Joe Pitts).
Another McCarthyite echo from the past was provided here by Moon Unit Bachmann, who wanted liberals “investigated.” I would argue that one of the most notorious McCarthyite smears, though, was provided by Bushco Secretary of Defense Don (“The Defense Secretary You Have, Not The One You Wish You Had”) Rumsfeld here, when he equated critics of the Iraq War with appeasers of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany before World War II in April 2006.
So just remember, the next time you hear of a loudmouth political demagogue trying to lay waste to his or her enemies through the most groundless, inflammatory language possible, this person is carrying on the foul tradition of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
And the cause of informed discourse dies another inch at a time (addressed by actor David Straithairn as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, And Good Luck”).