McCarthyism is a term describing the intense anti-communist suspicion in the United States in a period that lasted roughly from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. This period is also referred to as the Second Red Scare, and coincided with increased fears about communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents.
Originally coined to criticize the actions of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, “McCarthyism” later took on a more general meaning, not necessarily referring to the conduct of Joseph McCarthy alone.
During this time many thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies.
A 1947 comic book published by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society warning of the supposed dangers of a Communist takeover.
There’s a saying from the Greeks that, whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.
Well, it seems like the Republicans are pretty mad right now.
And when Republicans get mad, they turn to one of their old stand-bys: characterizing Democrats and liberals as anti-American, unpatriotic, socialist, communist scum.
The poster child for this shameless post-McCarthyism has become Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota. This is from an interview of Bachmann with Chris Matthews on the MSNBC show Hardball:
MATTHEWS: You believe Barack Obama may – because of this relationship (to Bill Ayers) – have anti-American views?
BACHMANN: Absolutely. I’m very concerned that he [Obama] may have anti-American views.
MATTHEWS: How many in the Congress of the United States do you think are anti-American? You already suspect Barack Obama — is he alone or do you think there are others?
BACHMANN: The news media should do a penetrating expose … on the views of the people in Congress and find out if they’re pro-America or anti-America.
Although Bachmann has gotten the most notoriety for her comments, she’s certainly not alone in playing the McCarthy card. At a fund raiser in North Carolina, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation”… a comment that, by logical extension, means city and suburban folks-the types who vote for Democrats-are “fake” and “unpatriotic” Americans.
At a campaign rally in North Carolina, Republican congressman Robin Hayes said that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.” At a meeting of Florida Republican in Orlando, Republican Senator Mel Martinez compared Barack Obama’s tax plans to those in Castro’s Cuba, saying “That’s socialism, that’s communism, that’s not what Americanism is about.”
Keep in mind, this is coming from high level elected Republican officials. It’s not hard to imagine that even worse is being said by state and local Republican officials. (And we won’t even talk about what’s happening on talk radio.)
Now, there was a time when Democrats and liberals would cower in fear at these kinds of attacks. These are the same tactics that, after all, helped to spark the Reagan Revolution and get George W Bush elected and re-elected. But that was then.
Today’s progressives don’t get mad. They get even. Bachmann’s remarks so infuriated Democrats that her opponent, Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg, collected more than $810,000 in campaign contributions in just four days after her Hardball comments. Tinklenberg had raised just $1 million for the entire election cycle through the end of September. What seemed like a easy election for Bachmann has now become a competitive race.
How did this happen? Credit the “Progressive Infrastructure” which is described in the book The Practical Progressive: How to Build a Twenty-first Century Political Movement by Erica Payne:
After the defeat of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, conservative philanthropists began to build a set if ideologically-aligned institutions-academic centers, think tanks, legal advicacy institutions, watchdog groups, single issue groups, community organizations and media vehicles-to change the intellectual and political climate of the country.
In the last 40 years, this “infrastructure” has supported and promoted conservative ideology so effectively, that it ultimately assured its political dominance.
In 2002 progressives began to wake up to this enormous structural disparity. We began to understand that our candidates are losing not because they were bad candidates but because they were structurally outmatched.
We were sending David to fight Goliath without a slingshot. So we began to build new institutions outside of politics and to transform old organizations to meet the challenge.
One of those institutions is the website DailyKos.com, which is a forum style website where members can post news and other information. After it was aired, the Bachmann interview was posted on DailyKos.com, immediately drawing the attention and ire of the site’s progressive readership. Those folks then did what any modern and self-respecting progressive would do: they used the Internet to send money to Bachmann’s Democratic opposition. And all of a sudden, Bachmann is in the race of her life.
If you’re a hard core political junkie, I highly recommend that you read Practical Progressive: How to Build a Twenty-first Century Political Movement. It talks about the organizations, and their leaders and tactics, that are mobilizing to re-shape America after eight years of the failed conservative experiment. Fixing the coutry in the wake of the Bush era won’t be easy, but this book offers practical advice on how progressive citizens can become part of the solution.