Paul Greenberg

Sen. Taft may have thought he was using McCarthy, but it was McCarthy who was using him -- and his respectability. Just as today a respected scholar and thinker on the right like Wilfred McClay will write an apologia for Rush Limbaugh in Commentary. No enemies to the right! The man may be a boor, but he's our boor!

Whittaker Chambers knew better. The old anticommunist (and, before that, communist) knew the dangers of entrusting a great cause to brutish minds and raucous radio voices. He would warn William F. Buckley about supporting the junior senator and demagogue from Wisconsin after young Buckley had used his precocious intellect to make excuses for McCarthy.

"All of us," Whittaker Chambers wrote Bill Buckley, "would like to be his partisans, if only because all are engaged in the same war. As it is, most of us make an effort to overlook certain matters or to give him the benefit of the doubt of most doubts. But, all of us, to one degree or another, have slowly come to question his judgment and to fear acutely that his flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Sen. McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anticommunist effort for a long time to come."

Which is just what happened with the Army-McCarthy hearings. McCarthyism would become the bane of the whole anticommunist effort for a long time to come. Just as the Limbaughs and Becks, O'Reillys and Coulters, now threaten to make a caricature of conservatism.

Dare point out that danger and you'll be told, in effect, no enemies to the right! Even if you disagree with their means, you'll be told you ought to recognize that their ends are the same as ours. (Just as Joe McCarthy's were?) That kind of dangerous simplification overlooks how easily means come to replace ends.

The moral of the story: Style is not an optional feature when it comes to ideas; it is of the essence. And when high-minded ends are pursued through low ends, it's not the ends that may win out. See the example of Joe McCarthy. It is an example not to follow but to beware.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.