McCarthy was not a very attractive figure. The Wisconsin senator wore a perpetually creepy smirk and when he spoke, did so in a high pitched voice punctuated by nervous cackles. Yet it was what he did that made him infamous.
During the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, McCarthy spearheaded a witch hunt for communist sympathizers in the government. He would appear before television cameras waving a piece of paper and declaring, “I have a list.” The list was phony, but it was sufficient to put the fear of exposure into many innocent hearts.
One of them was my uncle, Milton. During the 1930s, as a teenager, he attended several Communist Party meetings. Then he went off to war to serve in Patton’s army. Once back home, having few technical skills, he sought a job as a bus driver for the city of New York.
The question was, would he be hired if his past became known? He and the larger family therefore worried on his behalf. As it happened, he was hired and remained on the job for decades. Nonetheless, others had their careers ruined by the McCarthyism scare.
Flash forward to today. The very liberals who denounced McCarthy’s tactics have adopted them as their own. They have taken to vilifying their enemies on little or no evidence. They have even taken to getting people fired from their jobs if they disagree with liberal dogma.
Just ask Brendan Eich. He is the man who had to resign as CEO of Mozilla because liberals revealed he donated money to support the California proposition in favor of traditional marriage. Likewise, just ask the Koch brothers, who are routinely flogged on the floor of the Senate by majority leader Harry Reid.
Reid calls the Kochs un-American, just the way McCarthy called his targets un-American. Because they funded causes other than the ones he prefers, they are condemned as trying to take over the country. Even Condoleezza Rice, a former Secretary of State, was attacked for having supported the Iraq war and therefore is deemed unfit to sit on corporate boards.
The difference between the old McCarthyism and the new? Why, McCarthy was one man. For several years, he made a big stir, but then he was brought down by a coalition of Americans who could not bear to see him undermine the fabric of American freedoms.
This partnership included liberals such as CBS’s Edward R. Murrow, but also conservatives such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ultimately asked by counsel Joseph N. Welch at the Army-McCarthy hearings “Have you no sense of decency?” McCarthy could not muster an answer.
Today’s liberals, when asked the same thing, do not even attempt an answer. They have no shame because they are convinced of their personal rectitude. Still living in a time warp where they conceive of themselves as the victims of a McCarthy, they cannot imagine they are now the victimizers.
And so Harry Reid can accuse Mitt Romney of not having paid his taxes, without providing a scrap of evidence. Or Barack Obama can accuse Republicans of engaging in a war on women by citing a false statistic about how women supposedly earn 77 cents on the dollar for the same work compared to men.
Even when these contemporary McCarthys are called out for their mendacity, they stand tall because they know they have legions of equally corrupt liberals at their back. They are confident that the media will not assail them the way they did McCarthy. Nor will academics expose their shabby politics.
Worse still, voters keep voting for these genuinely anti-American miscreants. As a result, they keep doing what works for them.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.