The GOP's return to McCarthyism

Karl Smyth
19 October 2008

The communist witch-hunt headed by Senator Joe McCarthy in the late 1940s and early 1950s represents one of the darkest periods in American history: an era of frenzied paranoia and suspicion, when distrust and intolerance ran rife throughout many spectrums of American society. That this atmosphere was carefully and deliberately cultivated by senior elected figures, hell-bent on purging what they perceived as the subversive invasion of Communist influences across the nation at the expense of destroying innocent people's lives and reputation in the process, has made it all the more regrettable and reprehensible.

It was this spectre of fear mongering that resonated in the words of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann during her interview (found here) with MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Friday's edition of Hardball. In the interview, Bachmann sought to draw a clear connection between liberal politics, the Left, and anti-Americanism while espousing the usual talking points regarding Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright that McCain surrogates and attack ads have regurgitated in recent days. As Bachmann argued:

"If we look at the collection of friends that Barack Obama has had in his life, it calls into question what Barack Obama's true beliefs and values and thoughts are. His attitudes, values, and beliefs with Jeremiah Wright on his view of the United States-is negative; Bill Ayers, his negative view of the United States. We have seen one friend after another call into question his judgment-but also, what it is that Barack Obama really believes?"

Unfortunately for Bachmann, she clearly didn't have the sufficient intellectual flexibility to weave this charge in a coherent argument, and given sufficient rope to hang herself by Matthews, she suggested that that the American media take a "great look" at the current Congress and investigate how many of its members are "anti-American" as opposed to "pro-American."

It should come as no surprise that Bachmann's performance has drawn sharp criticism from the Democats, and has prompted a campaign to censure her behaviour. The introduction of such a simplistic and politically charged dichotomy into the final weeks of this race, however innocous or ill-crafted, represents an alarming and totally inappropriate reversion of the McCarthyite politics of half a century ago. Whether Bachmann's charge was sanctioned by the McCain camp is moot: this particularly distatestful attack is a direct product of the negativity which has become a mainstay of GOP electoral strategy in recent election cycles, and is a strong indictment of what Peggy Noonan referred to this week as a trend within the Republican Party towards promoting a "new vulgarization" of American politics.

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