Thursday, February 11, 2010

Joe McCarthy: Then and Now

"I have here in my hand a list of two-hundred-and-five - a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nonetheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."

Senator Joseph McCarthy
Wheeling, West Virginia
February 9, 1950

In a public career that lasted a little over a decade, Senator McCarthy was never able to uncover a single professed Communist working within the United States government.

One of the many things I love about the MSNBC program Countdown with Keith Olbermann is Keith's habit of citing the fact that a story he is highlighting is on the anniversary of a significant day in American history. He then ties the two events together symbolically. Such was the case on Monday evening. While covering the latest barrage of right wing lies and craziness, he noted that it was the sixtieth anniversary of the speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that launched the red-baiting career of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy.

From what I have read on the subject - on a personal level anyway - old Joe was a thoroughly likable guy. Jack Kennedy, the most amiable of men, thought the world of him. In fact Pat Kennedy, JFK's sister, even dated the Republican McCarthy for a time - with papa Joe Kennedy's wholehearted approval. As for me, I think I would have liked Joe McCarthy. I definitely would have loved to have gotten drunk with him at one time or another. The guy could be raucous and freewheeling - a lot of fun by all accounts. But I never would have voted for the man; not if he were the last candidate on earth.

It has all the makings of high comedy: A mediocre legislator with a 'round-the-clock drinking problem decides he needs "an issue" that might propel him into prominence. The nationwide reaction to his false assertions that day in Wheeling placed him in an out of control, high speed roller coaster that was destined to crash sooner or later. And although there was much comedy to be mined from this story (people like McCarthy are always unintentionally funny) in the final analysis there was not much to laugh at. Promising careers were ended. Lives were destroyed.

In the years to come McCarthy became one of the most feared men in Washington. The entire city would be reduced to walking on tiptoes around this disreputable jackass. No one - not even two presidents - would dare confront him head on. The only person in the entire country with the courage to take on Joseph R. McCarthy in a public forum was a legendary broadcast journalist named Edward R. Murrow. His March 1954 CBS program, See It Now, exposed the senator as the liar and fraud that he really was. Murrow's courage did not come without a cost. Sadly, the McCarthy broadcast marked the beginning of the end of his career at CBS News.

Like all demagogues, Joe McCarthy would eventually be done in by his own excesses. In 1954 when he tried to take on the United States Army, accusing them of being stacked to the rafters with Card Carrying Commies, the very absurdity of the charge proved to be too absurd even for the Congress. In a famous confrontation that was viewed by millions on television, council for the Army, Joseph Welsh, asked the thoroughly humiliated McCarthy:

"At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?"

By the end of the year, on December 2, he would be censored, stripped of all of his seniority. Two-and-a-half years later, he would be dead; a broken man victimized - as he himself victimized so many others - by his own demons, primarily alcoholism. He was forty-nine years old

In May of 1957 the body of Joseph McCarthy was laid to rest in a small, rural cemetery adjacent to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Appleton, Wisconsin. The practice of baseless, political accusations that haunted America through much of the 1950s and which bears his name - McCarthyism - was buried with him....or so we believed at the time.

Joe McCarthy lives.

In 2010 his legacy is thriving. The man is everywhere. Sixty years ago there was only one Joseph R. McCarthy. Today there are literally hundreds of them. And his presence is not limited to the floors of the U.S. senate. He is on television; on the radio; and in hundreds of editorial offices throughout the country. The old son-of-a-bitch is literally dominating the opinion media! And to think, Joe McCarthy never had his own TV program.

The fear that so many within GOP feel for Rush Limbaugh reminds me of the psychological hold that old Joe had on Republicans and Democrats alike sixty years ago. Last week Sarah Palin publicly chastised and called for the president to fire Rahm Emanuel for using the term "retard". She won't dare call Rush on the carpet for repeatedly using the same word on his program a couple of days later. Like everyone else in her party she is frightened to death of him. Don't mess with el Rushbo.

This terror was demonstrated last year in a quite comical way, when Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia had the gall to denounce Limbaugh in an interview with Politico and, later on, during an appearance on the Chris Matthews Program. Gingrey soon got the word - loud, clear and unmistakable: Criticizing the Great One meant certain exile to political Siberia. Within a matter of hours the thoroughly humiliated lawmaker was on his knees, telling Limbaugh on his radio program:

"I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments, and I just wanted to tell you, Rush - and all our Conservative giants, who help us so much maintain our base and grow it to get back this majority - that I regret those stupid comments."

As Theodore Roosevelt once said in a slightly different context, "The man has all the back bone of a chocolate eclair."

Why are these people taken seriously? Why are they treated by the establishment with such respect? Why do idiots like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck create such fear and awe in the minds of people who ought to know better? For the same reason a drunken neanderthal like McCarthy was held in such esteem six decades ago: Because he excited "the base".

Would you like to know what the most beautiful thing about being a progressive blogger is? Unlike the mainstream media, we answer only to our consciences. We are able to mention the unmentionable; that this country is filled with people - scores of millions of them - who are stupid enough to buy into the McCarthyite propaganda that is broadcast into American homes and American cars on an hourly basis. I love Frank Rich. He is probably the greatest columnist on the scene today - but you'll never hear that manner of brutally honest assessment from him. He wouldn't dare.

Back in the Fabulous Fifties, Joe McCarthy's reckless accusations against honest and dedicated government bureaucrats irreparably harmed the State Department. Diplomatic talent that had taken decades to cultivate was scattered like ashes to the wind. As a result of this purge (and that is exactly what it was) so many of the blunders committed a few years later which led to American involvement in Vietnam might very well have been avoided. Tail Gunner Joe's sick and twisted legacy had done its eternal damage.

That very same kind of damage is being done to this country today. Contrary to what the inscription on his tombstone might have you believe, Joe McCarthy is not dead. The old bastard is still very much with us. Just look around you.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Goodnight and Good Luck
a film by George Clooney

This tells the story of how Edward R. Murrow and his people at CBS News bravely took on Joe McCarthy on a cold evening in March of 1954.

To read more recent postings on this site, please go here:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan



At 12:38 PM, Blogger charles moore said...

Hi Tom,
Thanks for another great Rant and history lesson. I feel that it is important for the younger generation who is not old as dirt as I am to be reminded how an out of control nobody can spread lies and not only get away with it, but become feared as well. And it is also good to point out that most of his incoherent charges were probably fueled by alcohol (Today, drugs?)

At that period it was only McCarthy. It is sad today to see how many are spreading lies and falsehoods and having those untruths accepted as gospel. As you point out, it would almost be comical except for the chilling consequences some of this crap has. Repeat anything often enough and it will eventually be accepted as truth.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Rain said...

So true and they are with the help of those like Ann Coulter trying to renovate McCarthyism as being a virtue. They lie, rewrite history and are doing all they can to dumb down their followers to not have a clue.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger P M Prescott said...

Demogogues only tell the people what they want to hear. They preach to the choir. That's why they get away with it and are so feared. Fear of the mob.

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Bennett said...

Excellent job of showing how history repeats itself. We live in interesting times.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Teeluck said...

He is now a Martyr for Rush and his idiot brigade...someone should have stuffed him and kept him around like in Madamme Toussaud's, 'cause it's only when they are buried then the psychos make them martyrs.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

So true, the excited base is the key. We can only hope that the base continues to shrink until the whole thing collapses on itself.

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Georgette Orwell said...

As a native of Maine, I'm proud of Senator Margaret Chase Smith's speech called "A Declaration of Conscience" on
1 June 1950. A Republican (back when that wasn't a prejorative term), she was the only woman in the Senate, and a wicked good one too. For a while I thought Sen. Snowe might follow in her footsteps, but it was not to be.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:31 AM, Blogger rhbee said...

I noted this same phenomenon many years ago just as I was deciding to retire from teaching. The Limbaugh effect (lets call it that for now) in the classroom was immediate and disastrous. To disrupt any sane conversation, any presentation of material, or any rational debate that was the growing classroom strategy. Did they learn it from Rush, no. They seemed to be coming to it on their own. Did they care that the cumulative effect was the loss of an education for the rest of their classmates, hell no. Have they become the 100's, no make that 1000's who openly carry their guns, clamor for more public forums they can shout down, simper after Palin, and gloat over every hypocritical Republican vote against public policy, yes.

I for one was hoping for the rise of a different kind of middle class.

At 3:30 AM, Blogger Teeluck said...

Hey Tom, check this out

you might like it

At 10:14 AM, Blogger carol said...

I think this is why we progressives have to keep watch on Palin. Although I would love to ignore her, she is not going away. Regardless of whether she runs on the Repub ticket, her influence is palpable. Even if her popularity dwindles, her existing fan base is powerful, loud and motivated (not to mention armed to the teeth). Plus she's got that whole Biblical prophecy thing going for her. She can easily inspire a witch hunt.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger rhbee said...

Carol, I agree with the keep watch thing but I suggest that we need to do more than that. She is going to be visible and stay so for the forseeable future but we are talking about the invisible here. The subtle undercurrent of anger and protest and outrage and frustration that is being managed to the ultimate by Limbaugh,Beck,and Faux Newz.

We need to find a way to tap into our own dissatisfaction with the direction the Obama government has taken. We need to recognize that Scott Brown is more real and important than Palin's palm readings.

We need to figure out how to awaken the middle class of this country to the reason why a progressive change is valuable to them. We shouldn't let the Tea Party steal the idea of less is more from us. We need more Tom Degans and Jon Taplins, or at least we need more of them to come out and get busy.

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So,rhbee, please explain why you think progressive change is valuable, and what exactly you think is progressive change.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger rhbee said...

I would think the word progressive is self explanatory but for the purpose of clarity I'll define it this way. Progress, to my mind, is a movement forward towards a recognizable and worthwhile goal. A progressive change would then be one that implemented such a move.

A current example of a valuable and progressive change would be a public option health care system and the concomitant open competitive effect this would have on the way the insurance monopolies conduct their business.

But I realize, of course, that suggesting such a change is valuable is subject to argument so instead of progress we get filibuster. Still, implementing such a plan would be progress.

Another idea that is on my progressive agenda is the implementation of a change in election financing. An amendment is apparently being prepared as we write that will limit campaign finances strictly to public donations. Screw the conservative corporatives on the Supreme Court by making their recent ruling moot. LOL.

A third progressive idea that I truly believe most Americans were voting for when they elected Obama and a Democratic majority was to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afganistan and begin a long and if possible line by line re definition of the budget for the MIC. Bringing the troops home and putting them to work here, rebuilding our infrastructure and using the technological advances that have made us such world power to revitalize and rebuild America is the most valuble thing I can think of for us and ultimately for the rest of the world.

We need to lead our world into an unselfish future that provides health and welfare and happiness for all of us.

At 9:44 PM, Anonymous Beatrix said...

Very good explanation of the Progressive movement.
I would add reversing DADT,loosing DOMA and becoming a leader to the rest of the world regarding green energy and useful legislation to reverse global climate change.
your rants are a balm to sooth my aching soul. Thank you.

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At 11:09 PM, Blogger Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Anyone in the US who hasn't seen the direct paranoid parallels between Miller's The Crucible, McCarthy and these latter day nutjobs, The Teabaggers, can only have had a third rate education. They are screamingly obvious.

I don't know whether any of you have seen Mark Fiore's animated political satire, but he's a national treasure - here's an example:

Learn to Speak Tea Bag



At 9:57 AM, Blogger Peter V. Bella said...

You could say the same about the rabid insane rantings of Keith Olbermann. Then we have the raging hormonal teenage girlish babbling of Chris Matthews.

You have your so called McCarthys too.

Glass house. Brick.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Darlene said...

What is frightening to me now, as it was during the Joe McCarthy era, is the ability of a loud mouthed nutcase to convince so many non-thinking people that his lies are truth. The 'Dittoheads' are living proof of the dumb, dumb, and dumber followers.

Someplace we missed the boat in teaching critical thinking and civics to our students. There will always be a radical minority in any society, but the fact that Rush has so many followers is a symptom of a failed educational system.

Joe McCarthy may have been an amiable drunk but he was pure evil in the way he ruined so many lives. I lived through that time and it's deja vu all over again.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Dear Peter,

Olbermann and Mathews may be ranters (as I obviously am), they may even be insane (as I very well may be). Here is the difference between us and the Limbaughs and the Palins and the Becks and the McCarthys:

We're tellin' the truth.

Thanks for posting, though, and keeping the pot stirred.

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Hey Tom,

Speaking of which, here's an update on the Teabagging brethren's coven meeting last week in Nashville:

When Bumper-sticker Sloganeering meets Rampant Paranoia



At 12:31 PM, Blogger rhbee said...


To rant and rave against the night, yes that is what it's all about. Truth be told it takes us up to hear you so bold.


If just once I heard Rush or Beck report the hypocrisy of the Republican naysayers like Rachel Maddow did last week then I might really believe that your side actually cared about the truth.

At 1:31 PM, Anonymous SFC MAC said...

You omitted something very important from your "history lesson". For years, left wingers denied the evidence of the infiltration of communists into the American government.

In 1995 the United States government declassified and released the VENONA PAPERS. The VENONA project was the breaking of the Soviet wireless codes in 1943, 1944 and 1945. It was an investigation into the penetration of communists into the American government.

A synopsis from a New York Post article:
"In 1992, Russia's first post-Communist leader, Boris Yeltsin, made a historic decision to open the nation's archives to Western scholars and historians. Yeltsin was anxious to expose the misdeeds of past Soviet leaders, and his decision opened the floodgates on evidence that proved profoundly discomfiting to apologists for the Communist system.

Together with the Venona documents - 3,000 intercepted and decoded cables between Moscow and the Soviet officials in the Unied States regarding espionage - which were declassified in 1997, the new material caused a veritable upheaval in historic research."
Read more:

KGB inflitration did indeed reach high levels of government, including the State Department.(Felix Bloch)

That kind of espionage occured throughout the Cold War.

Denial ain't a river in Egypt.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Denial may not be a river in Egypt, SFC Mac, but it appears to be your general operational setting.

To add a note of balance to this, the US, UK, and other intelligence agencies penetrated virtually all echelons of Soviet intelligence throughout the Cold War - and still do today - only today it's more likely (as with some high profile case in the US over the last 10 years) to be the Chinese undertaking industrial espionage.

So what precisely is your beef? That's just part of what any intelligence agency is tasked with doing.

There seems still to be a general 'Reds under the Bed' paranoia amongst certain Americans: and I never did understand the outrageous way in which you allowed that alcoholic hack, McCarthy, free rein to attempt to prosecute US citizens for their political beliefs - ironically a Soviet practice.

I think it's perhaps worth remembering, and what you've apparently failed to grasp, is that wherever there is a human weakness (and that is everywhere), e.g. greed, or a fear of being exposed for being gay etc. then there will always be someone (whether that is CIA, FSB or MI6) ready and eager to exploit that weakness for their own ends or "national interests" - hence you will always get examples like Aldrich Ames who are willing to sell their country down the river for cash.

And anyway, your research is well out of date and has been bested and superseded by the information MI6 gleaned from the two KGB defectors Col. Oleg Gordievsky and Maj. Vasili Mitrokhin; the latter being senior archivist for the Soviet Union's foreign intelligence service, the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, and subsequently co-author, with Professor Christopher Andrew, of the "The Mitrokhin Archive". The unfortunate thing is, that he offered it to CIA... and they turned it down. Oops.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Sarge Charlie said...

frankly Mr Degan, I could care less what you are sick and tired of listening to.
Just so you know, I am sick and tired of folks like you who put yourself on a pedistal claiming that you have truth on your side, what you have is not a clue what is happening to our country. Oh yeah, you still blame all our problems on Bush. You folks finally ellected someone worse than Jimmy Carter, congrats.

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Suzan said...

If only your courage were contagious.

We'd be rid of this pestilence soon and could begin to rebuild our world.



At 8:23 PM, Blogger rhbee said...

Sarge Charlie,

We don't blame all that happened during the eight years Mr. Bush was president on Mr. Bush. We blame most of it on the Republicans and Democrats that let him have his way with our democracy in the name of security. We blame ourselves for not figuring out how to defuse the fear your Bush and friends used to blugeon their way to power. We blame the way we let the media you call "liberal" embed themselves in this fearfulness much like the media folks in McCarthy's era did. We blame those like you who block out any attempt to find the truth of events by sheilding them in the shroud of patriotism.

Yes, Obama may be like Carter, damned by the Republicans and obstructed by them too. But take a look at what Carter has been doing with his life after the presidency and compare to what any of the Republicans elected to the office have done. I'll take the honesty of a Jimmy Carter any day over those who put their party's interests over the country's like the Republicans are doing now and did then.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Matt-Man said...

Dude, seriously...Limbaugh is a piece of crap but Olbermann is every bit as self-absorbed and ideological as Rush-Tard. Cheers!!

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At 10:42 AM, Blogger askcherlock said...

Your comments concerning Limbaugh were "right on the money". Charismatic,ideological purists like Mao, and Stalin, and Hitler, and Limbaugh have plagued mankind since the very birth of politics. Fortunately, Limbaugh has no real political power, and can only create dissent among those gullible enough to accept his propaganda. The best thing that could happen at this point is that the Republicans become hopelessly split between the conservative purists and the moderates.

At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Bruce Samet said...

Hey Tom,
I've just been listening to come commentary on the 1953 film "War of the Worlds." Structural point: The good guys always move in from the left, the bad guys from the right.

Plus ca change ...?

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Terry Pierson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Terry Pierson said...

Bravo, Tom.

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Thank you, Terry....

Right back at you!

T'is a nice thought to go to sleep on. On that happy thought....

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to find a blog of sanity. Beck is always talking about duct taping his head to keep it from exploding - now if he would only cover his mouth and nose...

At 11:48 PM, Anonymous omb said...

Anyone interested in real facts surrounding Sen. Joe McCarthy should pick up a copy of M. Stanton Evans "Blacklisted By History". If you read this and have any doubt that McCarthy was a bonafide American hero then you should probably move to Cuba, Venezuela, or perhaps Massachusetts, if you're not already there.
As to the post, I have a hard time taking seriously anyone berating McCarthy with the same tired lies and praising Keith Olbermann's journalistic stylings in the same breath.
That just made me laugh.

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At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Aaron said...

while i loved your parallel between the mcarthyism of then and now, you left out a very important part of your history lesson--even if mcarthy had found that DC was in fact steeping a communist teabag, it would be the people's decision whether or not to drink the generic, tasteless brew.

it's amazing to me that 60 years later, the american public is still duped into thinking that socialism is a four letter word--and people like darth limbaugh can (and do) use it as a weapon to shoot down anything that could give a little financial relief to the lower class.

don't we remember what happened with the last red scare? have we really forgotten about the terrible things we did to some of most peaceful, loving people this country has ever known? there's an old man i'll never forget; he's a good guy who hangs around beacon new york. some saturdays, you can find him on the corner of route 9 and 9D, playing his banjo. his name is pete seeger, and he'll tell you all about it.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Darlene wrote: "What is frightening to me now, as it was during the Joe McCarthy era, is the ability of a loud mouthed nutcase to convince so many non-thinking people that his lies are truth. The 'Dittoheads' are living proof of the dumb, dumb, and dumber followers.

Some place we missed the boat in teaching critical thinking and civics to our students. There will always be a radical minority in any society, but the fact that Rush has so many followers is a symptom of a failed educational system."

Bravo Darlene! Well said!

Aaron wrote: "It's amazing to me that, 60 years later, the American public is still duped into thinking that socialism is a four letter word--and people like Darth Limbaugh can (and do) use it as a weapon to shoot down anything that could give a little financial relief to the lower class."

And that ties in nicely with what Darlene was saying.

But ask yourself: how did we get to the state where an irrational fear mixed with paranoia are the default settings in the minds of certain Americans - and certainly those (amazingly through choice) who watch Fox News and/or listen to Limbaugh?

By way of answer, allow me to dip into recent history and offer the words of Hermann Göring, as he gave evidence in his own defence, April 18, 1946, at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials:

"Naturally the common people don't want war. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY."

Now, does that ring any bells? Bush-Cheney-Rove, perchance? Add these cretins to their propagandists-in-chief, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity & O'Reilly and all they're doing is working from a very old play book. The embarrassing thing is that people not only listen to them, they also believe and trust them.

And what do all these clueless wonders have in common? They are conservative Republicans.

And what's the problem with that? Read the piece at the link below, as it's a recognised psychological condition which explains so much about their mentality and deeply flawed way of thinking: The Full Measure of Republican Neuroses

Another great debate here, Tom - and great to read Darlene and Aaron's input too!



At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad your 'historical facts' are as bogus as most of your blog. In fact, we now know from the Venona taps and other sources that many of the people McCarthy was concerned about WERE communists and/or communist sympathizers. Nobody with favorable opinions on communism OR Nazism should have been employed by the State Dept or the Department of Defense. You're living in the 1970's, when this kind of ignorance was still fashionable among liberals, along with 'the Rosenbergs were framed' and the U.S. was to blame for invading North Korea and North Vietnam.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Cosmic Navel Lint said...


Just a suggestion, but you might want to change the settings on your blog to accept only posts which are not anonymous. If folks have the courage of their convictions and want to comment, then they'll be happy to put a recognised sign-in name over their posts.

Allowing anonymous posts just stinks up the place.

At 9:04 PM, Blogger rhbee said...


It seem fair to say that all these anonymous comments aren't from the same person. In fact, one looks quite a bit like a robo comment which brings into question the security issue. But the others range from naive to complimentary to disagreement. More than likely the commenter just chose the identity by mistake.

You are right though. Anonymous comments, if they intend to disagree, are cowardly in this type of debate.


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