His is probably the most hated name in American history. Other villains—Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—today evoke merely the esoteric passions of the antiquarian or the interminable controversies of partisans. Only Joe McCarthy has given his name to an enduring term of political abuse, and in American politics today there is literally no one who would publicly defend him. When he died, eminent public men could find no good to say of him. Vandals in Appleton, Wisconsin, have repeatedly desecrated his grave, and nearly 30 years after his death his ghost continues to haunt us, called up only by his old enemies to frighten us of what we once became, to warn us of what we might become again.
It is not immediately clear why so much hatred should endure so long, especially when it is recalled that the Senator was never accused or convicted of any crime, never betrayed his country, caused no wars, perpetrated no atrocities, and after 1946 never even lost an election. The reason usually given for the hatred of McCarthy is that he did and said so many evil things. That he has a reputation for doing and saying evil cannot be denied. We are told that McCarthy made reckless accusations of treason, and that he often or always failed to substantiate his charges. He made vitriolic attacks on his opponents and publicly challenged their good faith and integrity. He interfered with the workings of the State Department and the Army. He sent his aides on a junket to Europe, where they made fools of themselves and embarrassed the United States. He ruined the careers of many—hundreds, thousands—of innocent people. He encouraged mass hysteria, played on fear and resentment, and harmed the cause of responsible anti-Communism. He violated the rules of the Senate as well as the standards of common decency. He physically attacked Drew Pearson. He lost his temper, bullied witnesses, talked dirty, and drank too much. He insulted such devoted public servants and stalwart patriots as Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall. He tried to link Stevenson with Alger Hiss, and he made attorney Joseph Welch cry on national television. Perhaps worst of all, when journalists or other senators called McCarthy a liar, a crook, an extremist, a homosexual, or a fraud, he paid them back in the same coin with his distinctive gift for invective. Joe McCarthy said and did all these things and more, and the evil that inheres in them lives after him and recoils upon us to this day in the hatred that attaches to his cursed name.
Once in a while, however, someone who marches to the tune of a different drummer points out that Joe McCarthy did not do some of the evil things that were done in and around his era. He did not, for example, make solemn commitments to anti-Communist allies of the United States, as Franklin Roosevelt did to Chiang Kai-shek, and then violate those commitments at the first opportunity. He did not, like General Eisenhower, initiate “Operation Keelhaul,” in which untold numbers of anti-Communist Russians were delivered to the Soviets at the point of American bayonets in the aftermath of World War II. He did not make agreements with Joseph Stalin that consigned an entire subcontinent to Communism and then characterize the Yalta agreements as an act of prudent statecraft.
He did not send American troops to Korea, and later to Vietnam, and then deny them the full support of American military power while their death tolls mounted. He did not allow the Hungarians who revolted against Communist domination to be shot or rounded up by Soviet tanks and Mongolian troops. He did not sponsor an invasion of Communist Cuba, withdraw promised air support at the last minute, and leave the invaders to be slaughtered by Castro’s armies. He did not countenance the overthrow and murder of President Diem and his brother, plunge an anti-Communist ally into chaos from which it never recovered, and later sign a peace treaty that ensured Communist control of South Vietnam and make excuses while the Communists ignored the treaty, conquered the ally, and defeated the United States for the first time in its history. He did not embark on foreign and defense policies that permitted the most savage and aggressive tyranny in world history to become the equal of the United States in strategic weapons and pronounce it a step toward a generation of peace. Perhaps most of all, McCarthy did not, in the wake of Alger Hiss, the Amerasia case, the Rosenbergs, and other lesser treasons, ignore, ridicule, scorn, and work against those Americans who knew the extent of Communist infiltration in the Federal government and obstruct most substantial measures to expose it and bring it to an end.
Joe McCarthy did not do any of these things, which were usually done or authorized or approved or supported by many of the persons and institutions he attacked, and they, like much of what McCarthy did, were also evil, among the most evil things in our history, and most of us have forgotten them and even wonder if they really happened or if anyone really did them. The evil that never happened, that other men didn’t do, died with them and lies interred with the bones of its victims—not hundreds or thousands but millions—whose ghosts are never invoked and who have largely disappeared from human memory; but if there is a Bar of Justice beyond this world and beyond human memory, I would rather stand before it and answer for the evil that Joe McCarthy did than for the evil that he didn’t do.
The real reason for the hatred borne by the name of Joe McCarthy has little to do with the evil that is attributed to him or with his uncompromising anti-Communism but rather with what he discovered and what he said publicly about the forces (the people, ideas, and institutions) that by 1950 had come to dominate American government and public discourse. McCarthy not only claimed that a Communist presence had entered into the Federal government but also that non-Communist or ostensibly anti-Communist elements in the government and more broadly in the national elite were in some sense “soft” on or sympathetic to Communism and, consequently, that they lacked the resolution to extirpate the internal Communist presence and deal effectively with Communism abroad. Even more, he suggested that the connection between the elite and the forces of subversion and aggression was in itself an indictment of the elite, regardless of whether its members were formally affiliated with Communism, whether they had actually committed espionage or treason in a legal sense, or whether they verbally espoused opposition to Communism. McCarthy, in other words, was not principally concerned with the issue of Communism in government but with the relationship between Communism and the elite or establishment, and because his concern necessarily involved a militant challenge to that elite, it prompted a massive political and verbal counterattack upon him, crushed him and the movement he created, and transformed him into the demonic embodiment of evil that moves among us even today.
McCarthy’s contention about the dominant forces in American society was, of course, never presented explicitly or in general terms and was usually expressed in hyperbole and ad hominem. It is quite true that McCarthy often exaggerated and overdramatized the connections between the establishment and the more clearly subversive forces, but it was precisely that dramatization that enabled large numbers of Americans to perceive the connection at all. It is probably also true that McCarthy himself did not think of his rhetoric as a device for political and didactic purposes but that he accepted his own dramatization as literal truth. Taken literally, however, much of what McCarthy habitually said was absurd. His notorious attack on Adlai Stevenson—”Alger, I mean Adlai”—linked two men who had little real association and who were quite distinct on a literal level. Yet it was the point of his attack that Adlai and Alger did share some important things in common besides their stuffiness. The great virtue of McCarthy consisted precisely in his ability to communicate to the average American what the bonds were that connected establishment liberals like Stevenson and crypto-Communists like Hiss. McCarthy’s rhetoric pointed directly to what they shared, isolated it, and held it up, squirming and screaming, for all the American nation to see. And what the nation saw, it did not like.
Between approximately 1930 and 1950 the United States experienced a social and political revolution in which one elite was largely displaced from power by another. The new elite, entrenching itself in the management of large corporations and unions, the Federal bureaucracy, and the centers of culture, education, and communication, articulated an ideology that expressed its interests and defended its dominance under the label of “liberalism.” Although liberalism formally defines itself in opposition to Communism, in fact it retains and incorporates some of the basic premises of Marxist doctrine—in particular, the idea that human beings are the products of their social environment and that by rationalistic management of the environment it is possible to perfect or ameliorate significantly the human condition and indeed man himself The environmentalist and ultimately Utopian premises of liberalism are the justification for the expansion of state and bureaucracy, the regulation of the economy, the redistribution of wealth, and the imposition of progressive education and egalitarian experiments on traditional institutions and communities by liberal agencies and policies.
In foreign affairs, the premises of liberalism hold out the prospect of an “end to war” through the transcendence of nationalism and international rivalry and the evolution or conscious design of a cosmopolitan world order in which war, empire, sovereignty, and significant differentiations among peoples have disappeared. It so happens that the ideology of liberalism, for all its contempt for “special interests,” coincides very conveniently with the political, economic, and professional interests of the bureaucrats, social engineers, managers, and intellectuals who believe in it and who are most zealous in pressing for its agenda. Without liberalism or some such formula under another name, these groups cannot easily explain or justify the power, prestige, and rewards that they hold. By the late 1940’s, due to the crises and power vacuums created by the Great Depression, two world wars, and the advance of technical knowledge and skill, this complex of special interests and its ideology had secured an essentially dominant, though not exclusive, influence in the strategic power centers of American society. In a word, the rising liberal elite had become a liberal establishment.
The environmentalist premises of liberalism, its social engineering methods, and its Utopian or meliorist implications are not fundamentally distinct from those of Communism, and indeed the two ideologies share common roots in the pleasant fantasies of the Enlightenment as well as in what Whittaker Chambers called “man’s second oldest faith,” the promise of which “was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods.'” Given the common premises and roots shared by members of the new elite and by Communists, it is not terribly surprising that they could work together in administrations and institutions committed to the premises. Nor is it surprising that liberals often failed to recognize the Communists among them or, when their presence was pointed out, that they often failed to see them or the significance of their presence or even to express very much concern about it.
Finally, it is not surprising either that some who began as liberals found themselves, frustrated by the compromises and slow pace of conventional politics and faced with the emergencies of global war and economic chaos, ineluctably drawn toward and into support for the more muscular tactics of Lenin and Stalin. Liberal ideology and the expectations it creates in the minds of those who believe it do not conduce to caution, nor do they discourage the mental habit of dividing the world into the simple dichotomies of the Manichean under the labels of “progessive” and “reactionary.” “Thus,” wrote Chambers, “men who sincerely abhorred the word Communism, in the pursuit of common ends found that they were unable to distinguish Communists from themselves, except that it was just the Communists who were likely to be most forthright and most dedicated in the common cause.”
The discovery of Communist infiltration, then, was not the principal meaning of McCarthy’s activities, although it cannot be doubted that he did indeed discover and expose Communists in sensitive positions and, more, importantly perhaps, the indifference of the new elite in government to their presence. On February 23, 1954, for example, Mrs. Mary Stalcup Markward, who had worked for the FBI as an undercover informant in the Communist Party in Washington, DC, and had had access to Party membership files, testified under oath before McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and identified Mrs. Annie Lee Moss, a civilian employee of the Army Signal Corps, as having been to her knowledge a member of the Communist Party. Mrs. Moss, testifying under oath also, later denied this accusation and, because she appeared to be almost completely uneducated, was believed by many to be a most unlikely Communist. The Markward testimony was thus not widely credited at the time, and the incident appeared to be an embarrassment for Senator McCarthy.
In the course of her testimony, however, Mrs. Moss had mentioned her address at “72 R Street, S.W.,” Washington, DC. In 1958 the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB), weighing the credibility of Markward as a witness, obtained access to the membership files of the Washington area Communist Party that had been seized by the FBI. These files, the authenticity of which the Party did not challenge, contained a record of one Annie Lee Moss living at 72 R Street, S.W., in Washington. Although the SACB, in a ruling of 1959, found that “Markward’s testimony should be assayed with caution,” this reassessment by the Board had nothing to do with the Moss case. Nor did it involve an insinuation of lying on the part of Markward but rather a conflict of interpretation of how she had been compensated by the FBI. Moreover, even while urging caution in regard to Markward’s testimony, the SACB concluded that a finding that Markward “palpably lied or that she testified on this or other proceedings to a deliberate series of falsehoods” would not be warranted and that “in the few instances relied upon, Markward is, with two minor exceptions, corroborated by other credited evidence.” Given Markward’s unequivocal identification of Moss as a Party member, the substantiation of the identification by a bipartisan and independent board through the discovery of Moss’s name and address in Party membership files, and the absence of any reason to believe that Markward had lied, the conclusion that Moss was a Communist is inescapable.
Another such case made public by McCarthy is that of Edward M. Rothschild, an employee of the Government Printing Office, who was described under oath by his fellow worker James B. Phillips on August 17, 1953, as having attended meetings in 1938 for the purpose of forming a Communist Party cell in the GPO. Mrs. Markward also testified under oath the same day that she had known Rothschild’s wife, Esther, as a member of the Communist Party. Rothschild himself had earlier acknowledged that he was in a position at the GPO to obtain access to classified information that was being printed and assembled there, but he had denied actually having done so. The witness Phillips related an incident in which he had observed another employee try to steal classified data. When asked if they were Communists, both Mr. and Mrs. Rothschild took the Fifth Amendment. There was no reason to doubt the testimony of Phillips and Markward, and because of McCarthy’s hearing, Rothschild was discharged from his position in the GPO.
In neither the Moss nor the Rothschild case was a major espionage investigation involved. The point is not that Moss and Rothschild were equivalent to Alger Hiss or Kim Philby but that the information publicized by McCarthy’s hearings had been presented to the appropriate security authorities by the FBI some years before. In the case of Moss, the FBI had offered a witness against her to the Army and to the Civil Service Commission in 1951, three years before McCarthy’s hearing, and both had ignored the Bureau and the witness. In the Rothschild case, the FBI had made known to the GPO as early as 1943—10 years before McCarthy’s hearing—that information on the Rothschilds’ Communist activities was available. In 1948 the Bureau offered a list of 40 witnesses against Rothschild to the Loyalty Board of the GPO, but not one was called. In 1951 the FBI had provided more information on Rothschild, but the GPO, under new security rules formulated by the Eisenhower Administration, cleared him in 1953. For all of the rhetoric about the “stringent” security rules established under Truman and Eisenhower, those who administered these rules were often either too indifferent or too incompetent—these are the most charitable interpretations—to avail themselves of reliable evidence on the presence of Communists and security risks in sensitive positions of the Federal government.
The Moss and Rothschild cases are only two relatively clear instances in which McCarthy exposed the presence of Communists or subversives in government. His investigation of security risks in the defense establishment in 1954 led to the removal of over 30 individuals from employment in defense plants after they were identified as Communists by witnesses before his subcommittee. When confronted with these accusations and provided opportunities to respond, these individuals had generally taken the Fifth Amendment—i.e., refused to state whether they had been or were Communists and often whether they had committed espionage. Perhaps they all were high-minded civil libertarians, but perhaps also there is no reason for persons who refuse to deny they are Communists or spies to work in defense plants.
The case of Owen Lattimore, first accused by McCarthy and later found by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to have been “a conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy”—a judgment based on the testimony of ex-Soviet diplomatic and intelligence officers and of former Ambassador William Bullitt and analysis of Lattimore’s own publications, as well as on the statements of Louis Budenz and other evidence—is another complicated but reasonably conclusive instance of McCarthy’s discovery of a Communist. In addition, there are a number of cases first publicized by McCarthy in which the evidence is not conclusive but highly suggestive—patterns of association, membership in Communist front organizations, political activities, and public statements—of Communist or pro-Communist sympathies or of inability to make responsible judgments about Communism. The cliche that “McCarthy never discovered a single Communist,” repeated ad nauseam by the academic branch of the elite, is simply untrue.
Nevertheless, it was not the minutiae of Congressional investigations and the administration of Federal laws and regulations that created McCarthy’s following, nor did they significantly contribute to the hatred of him that the new elite exhibited. Had McCarthy announced, in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950, the discovery of Communists in labor unions rather than in the State Department, his speech would have attracted little notice. The State Department and the individuals whom McCarthy proceeded to identify by name were at the heart of the establishment and its agenda, and when McCarthy made bald assertions about their connections to Communism, he was launching an attack upon the establishment that it could not ignore and which it could reciprocate only with hatred. Other criticisms of the elite from the right—of its economic and foreign policies or of the constitutionality of its legal measures—did not challenge its fundamental legitimacy or its basic loyalty and integrity, nor did they generally suggest that it was a distinct social and political, as well as an ideological, formation, implicitly and inherently alien and hostile to the mainstream of the nation. Hatred and destruction of McCarthy were the only possible responses to this kind of attack. Thomas Reeves says in his biography of McCarthy that he is our King John. It may be more appropriate to say that he is the liberals’ Trotsky, their Emmanuel Goldstein, their Jew. His very existence was a threat to their interests and power and was ultimately incompatible with their dominance in the United States.
It was McCarthy’s accomplishment to infuse into the American right the militancy of a counterrevolutionary movement, and the large following he attracted tends to confirm that there was indeed what Chambers called a “jagged fissure” between the elite and the “plain men and women of the nation” on the issue of the relationship between the elite and Communism. The militant antiliberal and anti-Communist movement that McCarthy was the first to instigate also underlay the Goldwater movement of the early 1960’s, the Wallace following of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the “New Right” of the last decade.
Every time these mass expressions of antiliberalism have appeared, mainstream conservatives and the Republican Party have hastened to take political advantage of them and frequently have used them to obtain political office as Eisenhower did in 1952, Nixon in 1968, and Reagan in 1980. Yet every time also, those who gained office have proceeded to ignore, to compromise, or actually to betray the constituency on which their office-holding was based. They have done so because they are themselves part of or closely connected to the elite against which this constituency is mobilized.
In recent years, particularly under the Reagan Administration, attempts have been made to formulate a more “responsible,” a more “credible” and “respectable” version of conservatism that pays lip service to the antiliberal and antiestablishment (populist, if you will) constituency but which in fact seeks to defuse its militancy and consolidate it into the apparatus of elite power. It is no accident that many of the older exponents of this newest of the new conservatisms were themselves among the foremost critics of McCarthyism in the 1950’s and 1960’s and that many of its younger exponents take the lead in urging the repudiation of McCarthyism and other symbols of militancy by “responsible conservatives.”
To repudiate McCarthyism, however, would be to accept not only the establishment but also the premises and agenda on which it operates, for the complex of public and private bureaucracies that compose the establishment is inseparable from the environmentalist, Utopian, and social engineering functions that the premises and agenda of liberalism express and rationalize. The American right, then, if it is serious about wanting to preserve the nation and its social fabric and political culture in any recognizable form, must continue to embrace Joe McCarthy and the kind of militant, popular, antiliberal, and antiestablishment movement that he was the first to express on a national scale.
There is, of course, such a thing as “liberal anti-Communism,” and there is no doubt that such prominent liberals as Sidney Hook, John P. Roche, and the late Senator Thomas Dodd, among others, have long been uncompromising enemies of Communism within and without the United States. In recent years, anti-Communist liberals of the Kennedy-Johnson era have played an important role in trying to reshape right-wing anti-Communism into molds more acceptable to the establishment. Anti-Communist adherents of liberalism may bring a more cautious and skeptical assessment to their own ideological premises than is common with most of their colleagues and thus refuse to be swallowed up by the enthusiasm such premises more often generate. As a general rule, however, anti-Communist liberals tend to reflect these premises in their opposition to Communism. To them. Communism is not, as Lenin argued it was, the result of an organized, highly disciplined, and ruthless apparatus, but is itself another deformation of the environment, like crime and war, a product of ignorance, poverty, oppression, and neglect. Hence, they want to fight communism not with force but with reform, to remove its “causes” with more foreign aid, more education, more development, and, most recently, more democracy—all of which “solutions” ignore the main cause of Communism but accrue to the advantage of the educators, economists, social engineers, political technicians, and professional verbalists who undertake to administer the solution.
“The seeds of totalitarian regimes,” said Harry Truman in announcing his Doctrine in 1947, “are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife,” and it was “primarily through economic and financial aid” that Truman proposed that the United States resist the expansion of Communism. From Truman’s day through Lyndon Johnson’s “TVA on the Mekong” to the present efforts of aging social democrats in the Reagan Administration to fight Communism by undermining our best anti-Communist allies—in the Philippines, South Africa, Chile—for the sake of “human rights” and “democracy projects,” the incompetence of liberal anti- Communism to defeat Communism is clear. No one who seriously subscribes to the premises of liberalism can for long countenance the thought that the only way to deal with Communism is through the timely and efficient use of force, nor can he subscribe to the idea that those who share the premises of Communist doctrine constitute an alien and hostile presence that cannot be tolerated in a society determined to survive.
Anti-Communist liberalism does not, then, contradict the McCarthyite perception of an inherent softness toward Communism deriving from liberal premises. These premises manifest themselves even when those who share them are sincerely anti-Communist, and they serve to undermine the effectiveness of their anti-Communist measures. Yet anti-Communism has never been a dominant strain in the ideology of the liberal elite that emerged in the early part of the century. It was not dominant in McCarthy’s day, when the elite in both political parties did everything it could to resist, weaken, obstruct, and distract serious anti-Communist efforts and was itself the source of the evil appeasements and retreats that we have long since consigned to oblivion.
And it is not the dominant strain in liberalism today. Private efforts by journalists and investigators have shown in recent years how campaigns such as the antinuclear movement, much of the opposition to American policy in Central America, the movement to weaken the CIA and FBI, and opposition to virtually every new weapons system proposed by the Defense Department have been led by persons and groups whose attitude toward Communism and the Soviet Union is at best equivocal and who often show no hesitation at working with Soviet-controlled front groups and known Communists.
Such campaigns are neither largely composed of nor led by card-carrying Communists, nor do they enjoy success because of Communist assistance. On the contrary, their following and leadership consist precisely of persons who regard themselves as liberals or roughly equivalent persuasions, and they enjoy success because they are generally well-funded by establishment foundations, well-received by establishment media and political figures, and well-organized and packaged by establishment intellectuals and verbalists.
When such movements and their leaders and followers worry as much about Soviet military programs as they do about those of the United States and NATO, when they denounce “human rights violations” in Cuba and Angola with as much fervor as they do in El Salvador and South Africa, when they protest Afghanistan as strongly as Grenada, and when they speak with as much hatred and fear of the KGB as of the FBI and CIA, then I shall regard them as the “humanists,” “pacifists,” and “civil libertarians” that they profess to be. Until that time—and I do not hold my breath—I shah believe that Joe McCarthy tore a mask from the face of liberalism, and I shall regard the mainstream of its adherents under another label, which, even if not printed on a membership card, is more truthful and more terrible.
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