His point, misconstrued by Democrats at the time and since, was not to accuse specific individuals, but rather to indict the Democrats for turning a blind eye to ridiculous security risks in important government jobs, even after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Alger Hiss. (Sorry, Nation magazine, they're still guilty.)
McCarthy gave his Wheeling, W.Va., speech two weeks after Secretary of State Dean Acheson had defended celebrity communist spy Hiss on Jan. 25, 1950 -- the day of Hiss' criminal conviction for denying under oath that he was a Soviet spy.
Even after Whittaker Chambers had produced documents proving that Hiss was working for the Soviet Union while advising President Roosevelt, the Democrats were still defending a traitor. Chambers said of Acheson's disgusting defense of Hiss, "You will look in vain in history for anything comparable to it."
As Democrats always do when they are caught red-handed harming the country, they obsessed on some small, technical error of a Republican.
They claimed that McCarthy had said in his Wheeling speech that he had the names of 205 card-carrying members of the Communist Party -- not 57. (Having only 57 communists in the State Department was apparently considered a great success for a Democratic administration.)
In fact, McCarthy had mentioned the 205 number only in citing Byrne's letter to Congress a few years earlier saying that was the number of known security risks still employed at the State Department.
As Soviet spies were honeycombed throughout the government, influencing U.S. policy to the benefit of the Soviet Union, the Democratic-controlled Senate convened panels to determine exactly what Joe McCarthy had said to a meeting of Republican women in West Virginia. To wit: Had he said he had the names of 57 specific security risks at the State Department, or 205?
After dedicating months of investigation to this crucial question -- with Senate investigators actually flying to West Virginia to interview everyone who attended the speech -- it turned out McCarthy was right.
The Senate committee that was determined to censure McCarthy ended up having to drop the matter of McCarthy's Wheeling speech entirely. A fact-filled memo detailing the committee's findings concluded that McCarthy had said he had the names of 57 security risks, not 205.
The truth about McCarthy's Wheeling speech, including the committee's memo finding that McCarthy was telling the truth, and a newspaper article reprinting the speech before it became a object of obsession by Democrats, is given in M. Stanton Evans' monumental book, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies.
Moreover, contrary to the nonsense about McCarthy not being able to name the 57 specific individuals, the very day he got back to Washington, he gave a six-hour speech on the Senate floor, providing details about the problematic State Department employees, chapter and verse. He did not "name names" because that was not his point.
As McCarthy said, some State Department employees with communist associations might be innocent. His point was: The Democrats were still refusing to take Soviet espionage seriously by investigating these preposterous risks on the government payroll.
Far from recklessly smearing people, McCarthy described each employee as a "case" and cited such evidence as their being identified as Soviet spies in FBI reports, by fellow spies and by the State Department itself. He reported their connections to known agents, attendance at "Youth International" meetings in Russia and repeated contacts with known Soviet espionage groups.
These were not baseless charges. And as we now know, they were absolutely true.
Sensible people knew it at the time, but the disgorging of Soviet archives as well as Soviet cables decrypted by the top-secret Venona project proved beyond a doubt that McCarthy was right about the individuals he named. None of them should have been allowed anywhere near a government office.
The claims of Will and Krauthammer are as true as liberal slanders about Karl Rove outing a CIA agent, tea partiers calling a black congressman the N-word and Duke lacrosse players raping a stripper. Even at the time, liberals had to back down from their lies about McCarthy saying he had a list of "205" communists. But liberals write the history and conservatives don't read.