Freshman Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is just the latest in a long series of public figures to be reviled for "McCarthyism" following his recent questioning of Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense. The response? Conservatives have rushed to defend their own against the charge. To understate the case, that's not enough. It's time to debunk McCarthyism itself.
No matter how much evidence vindicating the late Sen. Joe McCarthy comes out, what we call McCarthyism remains anathema in American life. Simply to utter the word is to deep-freeze debate, even thought itself. Even as we learn about the history-changing extent to which American traitors working for the Kremlin penetrated and subverted the U.S. government (including many individuals investigated by McCarthy), the unsupportable fact remains that nothing in American public life is worse than to be compared to the man best known for his uncompromising fight against the secret, massive assault on our nation. When will we realize it's time to make amends and honor his memory?
Liberals and conservatives alike continue to fall for the poisonous bait. Last summer, for example, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's accusations that Mitt Romney hadn't paid his taxes "baseless" and "shameless," and compared them to so-called McCarthyism. The Hill newspaper's write-up of Fehrnstrom's comments perfectly sums up society's ignorance on the issue:
"This reminds me of the McCarthy hearings back in the 1950s," Fehrnstrom said, referring to former Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who led a controversial search for communist sentiment during the Cold War. "I would ask (Reid) one simple question: 'Have you no sense of decency, sir? Is there nothing that you won't do to debase yourself and the office you hold in the name of dirty politics?'"
"Baseless" and "shameless" were indeed apt descriptions for Reid's smear tactics, but they don't describe the exhaustive investigations mounted in the middle of the 20th century by teams of Red-hunters, including McCarthy's, in the House and Senate. As for their quarry, it was not, as The Hill delicately stated, "communist sentiment during the Cold War." Literally hundreds of Soviet agents taking orders from the KGB and related Soviet intelligence agencies to bring down the American republic had become deeply embedded in the U.S. government in the 1930s and 1940s. Most of them remained undiscovered, and many were active well into the 1950s.