Breaking Glass

Goodbye, Senator McCarthy

Hold on, let me make sure my word processor is in full Cliché Mode: “The specter of Senator McCarthy walks again in contemporary America.”  Yes, that seems to be working properly.

Particularly over the past couple of years, we’ve heard a great deal about McCarthy and McCarthyism.  The name surfaces whenever a government agency identifies an individual or group as potentially subversive or tied to terrorism or, indeed, whenever one suggests that a militant group has unsavory connections.  Over the past few months, many Americans have expressed powerful opposition to the war against Iraq, a stance on which reasonable people can disagree.  However, one major organization involved in orchestrating antiwar demonstrations has been an affiliate of the Workers World Party, a kooky sect that idolizes the dictatorial regimes of Iraq and North Korea.  If you point out this connection, however, and recommend that moderates should stay far away from these troubling characters, you will face an immediate rhetorical response: You are a red-baiting McCarthyite!

Somewhere along the line, the word McCarthyism was curiously transformed to include virtually any criticism of extremist movements, especially those on the left.  Not for a second do I want to defend the memory of the late senator from Wisconsin, who was a liar and a jerk of the first order, but I’d like to see...

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