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Senator Joseph McCarthy
Joseph R. McCarthy
1909-1957, 2002-

By David Podvin

The last time Republicans controlled the federal government, they launched a political assault that became known as “McCarthyism”. In theory, the effort was intended to prevent communist infiltration of the United States. In reality, McCarthyism was a partisan tool designed to stifle dissent and destroy anyone who opposed the right wing agenda. After ruining the lives of many innocent people, the smear campaign ultimately failed - not as a result of stalwart opposition from the left, but because Joseph McCarthy was an alcoholic who self-destructed.

In January, the Republicans will again have Washington completely under their control, and they are now laying the groundwork to resume the unholy crusade of Tail Gunner Joe. The party’s chief propagandist, Rush Limbaugh, recently delivered a diatribe that was classic McCarthyism in its demagoguery and malevolence. The harangue was ostensibly directed at Senator Tom Daschle, but was really intended to intimidate all potential dissenters into silence:

“You sit there and pontificate on the fact that we're not winning the war on terrorism when you and your party have done nothing but try to sabotage it, which you are continuing to do. This little speech of yours yesterday, and this appearance of yours on television last night, let's call it what it is. It's nothing more than an attempt to sabotage the war on terrorism…”

Substitute “communism” for “terrorism” and the words could have flowed directly from McCarthy’s mouth. Limbaugh is now constantly pounding the message into the otherwise vacant brains of the millions of Dittoheads who consider his sewage to be objective news.

1)      Daschle and the Democrats are “saboteurs”.

2)      And for whom have they committed sabotage? America’s enemies.

3)      And what do you call an American citizen who sabotages this country on behalf of our enemies?

4)      trai·tor n. One who betrays one's country, a cause, or a trust, especially one who commits treason.

What supposedly provoked Limbaugh’s well-rehearsed spontaneous outrage was a statement by Daschle that America must do more to capture Osama bin Laden and thwart al-Qaeda. That is the act of treason committed by Benedict Daschle and his seditious Democrat Party – urging a tougher stand against the terrorist group that slaughtered thousands of Americans.

In true McCarthy-era fashion, Limbaugh has an ambitious young ally in Congress who is eager to get publicity by flushing out imaginary subversives. McCarthy’s amoral hatchet man in the House was named Richard Nixon. Limbaugh’s Nixon is Florida Representative Mark Foley, who circulated a press release titled "Foley Questions Daschle's Patriotism”. The congressman accused the Senate Minority Leader of giving "aid and comfort to our enemies", which is exactly the same allegation Nixon made about the Democrats. After raising the question of Daschle’s patriotism, Foley went on to provide the answer – Daschle has none.

Congressman Foley doesn’t really look like Nixon, but if you close your eyes, you can almost smell Checkers.

As it did in the Fifties, the mainstream media has sided with the demagogues and pilloried the voice of reason. Limbaugh has been widely supported by the chattering class after Daschle meekly (what else?) pointed out that assailing political opponents as traitors is not the highest form of public discourse. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post responded to Daschle’s complaint by accusing him of being mentally disordered. Kurtz wondered how anyone in their right mind could challenge Limbaugh, given that Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert had conferred indisputable legitimacy onto the Vast One by inviting him to be an analyst on NBC’s election night coverage.

Howard Kurtz is better qualified to manifest dementia than to diagnose it, which makes him a reliable gauge of which way the journalistic wind is blowing. Kurtz is the archetypal media lemming who has yet to generate an independent thought. His enthusiastic embrace of a return to the McCarthy-era rules of conduct reflects the prevailing sentiment among mainstream scribblers and electronic blowhards.

American conservatism is a kindred spirit of the Soviet philosophy, which classified dissenters as unpatriotic and insane.

The current revival of domestic Stalinism can be defeated only through confrontation. Ominously, Daschle has been left to defend himself against the totalitarian mob that has targeted him for destruction. The conservative political-reportorial complex is ceaselessly vilifying him as an enemy of the United States. After being compared unfavorably by Republicans to Saddam Hussein, Daschle was targeted for death with a letter containing anthrax. If his fellow Democratic senators are outraged that fascists have painted a bullseye on their leader and declared open season, the indignation has been well concealed.

Meanwhile, Democrats across America coil ever further into the fetal position. Liberals have failed to provide a deterrent that would cause the Republicans to stop escalating the attacks. There has been no organized opposition to the conservative wilding. No boycotts. No protests. No bourgeois riots. This inertia/cowardice is also reminiscent of the Fifties; the good guys chose to be helpless victims then, too.

As every schoolboy learns, bullies keep pushing until someone pushes back harder. Limbaugh and Foley emerged from their tag team punking of Daschle unscathed and emboldened, which guarantees that the onslaught will intensify.

There have always been demagogues who equate disagreement with disloyalty. Now, the other elements for a reprise of McCarthyism are in place: a Satanic foreign threat, total Republican control of government, a prostrate Democratic Party, and an apathetic liberal rank and file. This time, however, the occupant of the White House is not moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower, but liberty-averse George W. Bush. And there are no Edward R. Murrows remaining in the mainstream media to confront scurrilous right wing demagogues – corporate journalists of integrity are an extinct species.

In 2000, the Democrats refused to defend themselves against a power cartel intent on stealing the election, thereby surrendering their rightful claim to the presidency. In 2001, they refused to defend themselves against an unprecedented right wing power grab, thereby forfeiting control of the national agenda. In 2002, they refused to defend themselves against smears that challenged their legitimacy to govern, thereby losing command of the Senate.

Now, they have one last chance. History documents that American conservatives show no mercy when seeking to eradicate dissent. If liberals lack the courage to aggressively defend themselves against the resurrection of McCarthyism, they will no longer have to agonize about the continuing erosion of their power and freedom.

This time, they will lose it all.

More David Podvin

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Last changed: December 13, 2009