Sunday, March 21, 2004
Revisiting History's Greatest Monster
TINO's at it again. Daring fellow that he is, he quotes an attack on Joe McCarthy, thus raising the question of why he bothered ? McCarthy's beastliness is proverbial in modern pop culture. The chattering classes may suck at policy but they're unbeatable at shredding reputations. Tailgunner Joe is one of that select group of people who the nuance-junkies are prepared to call evil. Given their record of accuracy, it's worth checking out just what it is they have against McCarthy.
The quote does do a pretty good job of summarising the case against McCarthy: he, almost randomly, chose to give a speech making bogus charges about communist infiltration of the US government then - surprised by the positive reaction - he decided to keep the bandwagon rolling by making more and more outrageous charges until he finally self-destructed.
The above account is not totally untrue: McCarthy did indeed give a speech. But all the rest is bunk. Let's start at the beginning: the choice of subject for McCarthy's Wheeling speech was anything but random. It came just two weeks after the Hiss affair had reached its dénouement. Alger Hiss was the very model of an establishment insider - for example, he was an advisor at Yalta and helped in the formation of the UN - also, a well-respected Washington figure and a Soviet spy. When he was fingered as an enemy agent Truman tried to have his accuser prosecuted for perjury. When that failed the way was clear for action to be taken against Hiss. The statute of limitations prevented Hiss being prosecuted for espionage, but he was successfully prosecuted for perjury (in that he'd denied he was a Soviet spy) a fortnight before McCarthy's speech. What's more, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had responded to the conviction of a key player in the Democrat administration by proclaiming he would not turn his back on Hiss - as though he thought Hiss was being unfairly persecuted for the his purely personal habit of committing treason. Given this background, it would have been more surprising if McCarthy had not spoken out about this issue.
What McCarthy claimed in that speech was that there were 57 Communist Party members working in the State Dept. There was no suggestion all, or any, of them were necessarily spies - McCarthy was simply making the point that they were not the obvious choice of people to handle classified documents. Liberal reaction to this speech was practically textbook - they tried to charge McCarthy with perjury by claiming he'd said there were 205 communists in the State Dept. Actually, the figure of 205 security risks comes from a 1946 admission by a previous Democrat Secretary of State. Nevertheless, it is instructive to note that when McCarthy pointed out a serious breech in security in the State Dept, one previously admitted by its own head, the Liberal's reaction was to quibble about the numbers - Aha! He said 205 not 57, or possibly 163 or 98 or….Whatever he really said - and the perjury attempt failed utterly - security in the State Dept was clearly a train wreck and the Liberals reaction was to run exactly the kind of fine tooth comb over McCarthy's public pronouncements that they never applied to trivialities like national security.
This set the pattern for the rest of the McCarthy years. McCarthy would reveal a horrendous breech of security and the Left would claim he was drunk/insane/a Nazi. To note that McCarthy never revealed a single Soviet agent is not only untrue, but it misses the point: McCarthy wasn't about tracking down known spies, he wanted to ensure that when a security risk was identified they were removed from their job. Friedman acknowledges that McCarthy had the support of 'J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon and the Hearst newspaper chain ' So, a politician, some newspapers and, oh yes, the man in charge of tracing down Soviet spies. But, still, Joe was making it all up.
Friedman cites McCarthy's attack on the US Army's comatose security apparatus as the overreach that finally caused disaster. Hardly - consider the case of Annie Lee Moses, card-carrying Communist employed in the Pentagon's Code Room. McCarthy was not necessarily being paranoid in suggesting this was probably not the best role for her. Similarly, not only did the notorious Rosenberg spy ring rely on sources inside the Army, but McCarthy was able to identify other specific risks still working for the Army. In short, there was nothing hypothetical about the thought of communists working for the US Army.
Of course, the Left does like to float the myth that the Army-McCarthy hearings were about such weighty matters as Soviet infiltration simply because telling the truth about the central issue of these hearings may leave them looking a little weird. McCarthy, the Right-Wing Monster, employed a remarkably diverse staff (had anyone back then thought in those terms). A key staffer, Roy Cohn, had a crush on a young male staffer who was conscripted into the US Army under murky circumstances. Cohn is alleged to have put pressure on the Army to go easy on his unrequited love. As McCarthy himself said: 'Is my committee being charged with pressuring the Army to give David Schine a fur-lined cap ?' Indeed they were. McCarthy had exposed a communist in the Pentagon Code Room, so the Left retaliated by investigating manipulation of the military hat supply system. Who was smearing whom again ?
The story of Joe McCarthy is the textbook example of how the Left argues. McCarthy raised serious points about infiltration of the US government by agents of a communist dictatorship. The Left claimed he smelled and was ugly.
But what of McCarthy's allegedly right-wing critics ? Their major talking point is that McCarthy somehow brought Anti-Communism into disrepute. They were just about ready to do something about communist infiltration of the US government when along comes Joe and screws it all up with his amateurism. Hey - the revolution was in 1917, McCarthy's speech was in 1950 - thirty-three years ought to be enough time for anyone to get organised. Maybe, just maybe, 'responsible anti-communism' was a euphemism for doing nothing. And who exactly regarded McCarthy as discredited anyway ? At the time McCarthy was a hero to millions of ordinary Americans. It was the establishment that hated McCarthy for harassing his betters. If McCarthy's reputation has subsequently sunk, then that is the result of half a century of propaganda which the Liberal media has pumped out unopposed (or perhaps I should say 'responsibly opposed' ?). McCarthy didn't bring anti-communism into disrepute, rather the Left demonised McCarthy to try and distract from their own failings, helped immensely by the tacit consent of a Right which hated McCarthy for its own reasons.
Friedman's own indictment of McCarthy points to the inadequacies of the Republican establishment. Friedman notes that 'McCarthy's charges seemed to explain why the United States had just "lost" China and the outbreak of the Korean War seemed to make subversives in government a more urgent issue. '.. A quarter of humanity and one of the world's great civilisations had fallen under the swathe of barbarians - in what sense was this not a disaster ? Yet, Friedman's answer is to put quotation marks around 'lost'. That is the essence of how TINOs argue, the sneering, sarcastic tone as they try to imply that it may look like they're totally incompetent but, if you were enlightened like what they is, you'd recognise that condemning a billion people to communist tyranny is actually a strategic victory.
Does any of this still matter ? First principles say yes, the Left still relies on the politics of personal destruction, and there's still a large group of soi-dissant Conservatives who can be relied upon to pull their skirt over their heads every time they meet a real Conservative. But there's more to it than that. You want to know what the Cold War would have been like without that thug McCarthy ? Like the War on Terror is now. Once more we find ourselves engaged in a brutal conflict with a totalitarian philosophy and once more the chattering classes are outraged at any suggestion of actual conflict. Some people are surprised by the lackadaisical approach of the political establishment to the war, hey - we're the country of Kim Philby. Lackadaisical is what they do.
In the US McCarthy cut through all this. McCarthy was a brawler, a dirty fighter, yes - even a thug. America was at war with one of the most hideous regimes in history and we are invited to be appalled at one of the guys trying to defend America ? People who seem to regard the USSR as mildly eccentric compose screeds detailing just how rotten McCarthy was. So it's not the brutality that appalled them - was there something else they didn't like about McCarthy ?
Ironically, Friedman himself puts his finger on the real reason why Tailgunner Joe drives TINOs to distraction when he slyly notes that McCarthy had the support of the Hearst newspaper group. 'Had the support of the newspapers' is how TINOs say someone had massive public support, allowing them to discount the public as deluded fools who've been mislead by malicious wordsmiths. Well, McCarthy did have huge public support. When Dean Acheson claimed treason was no reason for him to snub Alger Hiss, America's TINOs thought he was being a perfect gentlemen, the public thought he was being a disgrace. McCarthy was the representative for everyone who was appalled at Acheson's arrogant belief that a Harvard education alibied treason. He was the conduit by which the American people took on the corrupt, incestuous establishment which thought of national security as a dreadful bore.
Needless to say, both Liberals and TINOs don't really like the public. What McCarthyism really meant was that these people could no longer run politics as a private members club, now the US public was roused and wanting to know what their alleged betters were doing to the country. For that, the political establishment would never forgive McCarthy.
Now history is repeating itself. Again civilisation is under attack, and again the establishment is - to say the least - asleep at the wheel (how else to explain events like this ?). The Great and Good alternate between hysterical predictions of imminent attack and coma. We have a chaotic immigration system, space cadet judiciary, a law enforcement community torn apart by PC and Armed Services bleeding dry. Not that the chattering classes claim to be sanguine about it all, but they don't want to deal with in that way. They probably worry about bringing respectable anti-terrorism into disrepute. Same ol', same ol'. We can let the chattering classes stumble on in the same old way or we can get to grips with these babbling wasters. We should be enraged. Our nation is under attack and our political establishment has renounced its responsibility for national defence. We are perfectly justified in victimising those who persistently fail in their duty to this country. In short, we need our Joe McCarthy.