Friday, November 07, 2008

Use Your Allusion: McCarthyism

'McCarthyism' sprang forth in the 1950s, and derives its name from Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (1909-1957). McCarthy became chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953, where he set out on a hunt for Communists who he believed were infiltrating the American government.

On example of his thinking is a speech he gave on February 9, 1950 to a group of Republican women in Wheeling, West Virginia. He produced a piece of paper about which he claimed:
I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.
As a result of his work, many citizens suspected of being Communist sympathizers were blacklisted and faced discrimination. His tactics were very unpopular among the other Senators, and eventually he was censured with a unanimous vote from the Democrats and with the Republicans voting 50/50.

Today, McCarthyism is a term invoked to describe a political witch hunt, particularly when a person's patriotism is brought into question, and the accusations are unsubstantiated.

Many view McCarthy with disdain, while others have believed he is deserving of a better reputation. Ann Coulter, for instance, dedicated an entire chapter of her book Treason to defending McCarthy, and suggesting that the Democrats denounced him for fear that they were actually guilty of his accusations.


I think this is an important term to be aware of in light of the recent election. Obama has frequently been accused of promoting a socialist agenda, particularly when he suggested that we should "spread the wealth around." Some have suggested that he is a Communist.

This image is a good example of the suggestions that some have been making.

Are the charges justified? Are they just unsubstantiated accusations...McCarthyism? I'll leave that up to other people to argue about. Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see what decisions he makes as our next President.

But when someone speaks about attacks on Obama as McCarthyism, at least you'll know what they mean.


  1. Mark-

    Hey man, thanks for your post. A friend of mine would make the argument hat the government exists "to promote the common welfare" of the people. In her point of view this would mean bringing people up to an even playing field. I struggle with this, because it is a PORTION of what government is about. But I think government exists primarily to provide the framework for people to succeed based on their own hard work.

    This is one of the reasons I respect and admire Obama. (Hear me carefully... I respect the man, I don't wholeheartedly accept his platform, or the Republican platform either.) He worked within the framework to succeed, working hard to make himself into a successful individual.

    However, from his work within Chicago (and from my work in the Memphis inner city) we have both come to realize that the problem is systemic: you cannot simply expect people within a dysfunctional system to singlehandedly make something of themselves. Not when they are faced with the daunting task of survival: avoiding violence (at home and outside), finding sustenance, and taking care of their own family/friends. Those dwelling in the inner city have very little chance of success: they go to the worst schools (often with the worst teachers) where they have no books and no supplies. They don't have male role models to show them love, affection, and true masculinity. They find much of their love, acceptance, and protection in the gangs that populate their area, which provide them with an identity, acceptance, purpose, and cash. And the problem repeats itself in each generation...

    I think I am just ranting now. But here's the problem, as I see it: Is Obama a socialist? No. Not unless wanting to improve the situation of millions of Americans makes him a socialist. The graduated income tax was an idea supported by Ronald Reagan, the idealist of the Republican party! Wanting to provide jobs for Americans isn't socialism; it is simply good policy! And wanting to level the playing field by providing health care for children is simple an investment in our future...

    While I don't agree with MANY of Obama's platforms, to label him as a Socialist is simply silly. We Republicans (and I am labeling myself here) need to get our heads out of the sand and realize that there are more important social agendas out there than simply protecting our nest eggs at the expense of the American public.

    Sorry for the rant. I look forward to what others might think!

  2. Hey Daniel,

    Thanks for a passionate, but well-balanced reply.

    Yes, I think too many Republicans have not been able to spend enough time in places like Memphis. We simply don't get how hard it is to grow into a kind of person whom you've never personally seen or known.

    Role models are so important. And how many of us can really say we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps?

    It's nice to know that since I've been married, I've never asked my parents for financial help. But my parents payed my college tuition. If I did have some sort of collapse, they would be a safety net for me. It's hard to imagine what it's like not to have a safety net of some sort, especially if you've never really learned how to manage your finances to begin with.

    I think it all comes back down to family. When our families are weak, our society will grow weak.

  3. Daniel, I really appreciate your comment. The biggest issue I run into is the mindset that hard work equals success which is not the case. Or even worse that hard work equals wealth.

    I think this is a culturing mindset that has allowed a lot of people to lose compassion for others because they see it as their fault. And I see this as one of the reasons the church fails to do it's job a lot of the time.