A Return to McCarthy-ism


Today’s Headlines from Libertarian Sites

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell,
Jr. (Mises Institute)

by JD Tucille (About.Com)

Sells Out on Internet Taxes
by Aaron Lukas


On its web site, Accuracy
in Academia
outlines its mission as correcting ideological biases
in scholarship.

We contend that academic freedom is threatened by a progressive
ideological orthodoxy, pervasive in the intellectual community, which
degrades professional standards in teaching and scholarship, and inhibits
speech and research which contradict orthodox views.

A worthy mission, to be sure,
but lousy scholarship is hardly unique to the Left as it also plaguse,
and continue to plagues, much of the Right. AIA’s Daniel Flynn provides
a textbook example of this in a speech he gave at Accuracy In Academia’s
recent “Rethinking McCarthy” conference. As the title of his speech indicates,
Flynn’s goal is proclaiming that no less than “Vindication Comes 50 years
Later for ‘Tailgunner’ Joe.” Flynn’s attempted rehabilitation of McCarthy
relies on exactly the same sort of obfuscation and logical errors that
he would rightly decry if employed by a Leftist to vindicate a Soviet
leader or apologist.

Before looking at Flynn’s
claims in detail, lets look a moment at what we know today about McCarthy’s
main obsession — the infiltration of American institutions by spies working
for the Soviet Union.

The major conclusion based
on evidence available since the fall of the Soviet Union is that the Soviet
espionage network was fare more extensive than had previously been imagined
by anybody except the diehard anti-Communists such as McCarthy. Declassified
documents from both Soviet archives and American intelligence agencies
establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Communist spies were extremely
successful in penetrating their U.S. targets.

But does this mean that McCarthy’s
claim of a widespread conspiracy is vindicated? Hardly. Consider, for
example, a case where the Right was correct and the Left was incorrect
— the prosecution of Alger Hiss. Hiss was accused by Whittaker Chambers
of conducting espionage against the United States (which Chambers also
claimed to have taken part in). The statute of limitations had run out
on the espionage charge, but Hiss was indicted for perjury after he testified
to a grand jury that he had never engaged in espionage against the United
States on behalf of the Soviet Union. After his first trial ended in a
hung jury, Hiss was convicted in his second trial.

Although the evidence against
Hiss was overwhelming, many prominent Leftists argued that Hiss was simply
a victim of Red baiting and that he had been framed by Chambers and/or
the FBI. Documents made available since the fall of the Soviet Union clearly
corroborate stories told by both Chambers. Soviet cables intercepted by
the United States discuss a spy who is almost certainly Hiss; Hiss is
the only one who happens to fit the description and was at the events
mentioned in the cables. In the early and mid-1990s even many of his former
supporters on the Left began to concede that Hiss probably was a spy for
the Soviet Union.

If McCarthy had made similar
fact-based allegations which were simply dismissed as Red baiting, but
which later turned out to be accurate, there might be some basis for claiming
vindication for McCarthy. Unfortunately for Flynn, McCarthy operated in
an entirely different universe from this sort of fact-based proceeding.

Flynn makes much of the fact
that some of the individuals McCarthy accused of being Communists turned
out to have actually been Communists, but this is a bit like saying that
some of the predictions made by National Enquirer psychics actually come
true — like the psychics, McCarthy threw so many accusations around that,
given the size of the Communist spy network, random chance had to make
him right about a few of his targets.

McCarthy’s accusations rested
not on reasoned consideration of the evidence but an irrational need to
accuse anybody and everybody. Flynn’s claim that McCarthy was right is
incredibly irresponsible. Or perhaps Flynn wants to join a long list of
certifiable kooks who agree with McCarthy’s June 14, 1951 speech on the
floor of the Senate — a three hour tirade in which McCarthy claimed that
Gen. George C. Marshall had been a Soviet agent all of his life. McCarthy
later published this speech in book form as “America’s Retreat from Victory:
The Story of George Catlett Marshall” in which McCarthy claimed:

If Marshall were merely stupid the laws of probability would
have dictated that at least some of his decisions would have served his
country’s interest . . . . What is the objective of the conspiracy? I
think it is clear from what has occurred and what is now occurring: to
diminish the United States in world affairs, to weaken us militarily,
to confuse our spirit with talk of surrender in the Far East and to impair
our will to resist evil. To what end? To the end that we shall be contained
and frustrated and finally fall victim to Soviet intrigue from within
and Russian military might from without” (quoted in Powers, p.244)

McCarthy’s entire brief career
consisted largely of such wild accusations, which he was constantly being
forced to retract or modify. When McCarthy claimed that he had a list
of 205 known Communists in government, for example, all he really had
was a list of 205 people who an informer thought might be a Communist
but who the government had already investigated and found the accusation
unsubstantiated (which doesn’t mean some of them weren’t Communists —
some of them certainly were, but the last time I checked the United States
was a country of laws where evidence, not intuition, carries the day).

For McCarthy, the formula for
finding Communists was simple — anybody who didn’t agree with him on
policy issues was a Communist or Communist-aligned. Flynn should be ashamed
of himself for giving the impression that McCarthy acted reasonably in
making his allegations. After disparaging Left wing supporters of death
row convict Mumia Abu-Jamal for conveniently leaving out facts that don’t
fit their claims, it is unconscionable that Flynn doesn’t even address
McCarthy’s ridiculous claims about Marshall or the flimsy basis for his
other accusations.

Probably it is because Flynn
knows precisely how insane many of McCarthy’s claims were that he has
to go to absurd lengths to rationalize McCarthy’s witch hunt. Flynn informs
the reader, for example, that if McCarthy “Created a climate in which
governmental institutions could go after individuals because of their
political beliefs,” this is ameliorated by the fact that many of those
institutions, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee, were
originally created by New Deal Democrats to go after their enemies. So,
you see, two wrongs do make a right after all (the obvious conclusion
to such a claim would be that McCarthy was every bit as insidious as the
New Deal Democrats, but apparently this view would conflict to much with
the McCarthy-as-hero that Flynn is selling).

Similarly the best defense
Flynn offers to the charge that “McCarthy was guilty of publicly defaming
individuals by linking them to Communism before they had a chance to defend
themselves” is a lame reply that “if this was true of McCarthy, it was
certainly true of his liberal opponents as well.” Did Flynn just hire
Bill Clinton as his ghost writer? Because a New Deal Democrat defamed
someone, McCarthy had a green light to call Gen. Marshall a Soviet agent
on the floor of the Senate.

In fact, Flynn plays right into the hands of apologists for Communism who he so despises — just as McCarthy did when denies that smeared liberals by mixing Communists with liberals. claims it was “liberal s[who] were unable to distinguish between their fellow and”, noting Roosevelt Truman administrations handling Alger Hiss Harry Dexter White respectively.

Besides, the claim that liberals
couldn’t distinguish between liberls and Communists is an outright lie.
Many liberals and ex-Communists, disillusioned by the Soviet Union’s pattern
of human rights abuses and cooperation with Nazi Germany in the 1930s,
formed an important part of the anti-Communist movement. To McCarthy and
many of his allies, however, the only good anti-Communist was a conservative
anti-Communist and they attacked liberal anti-Communist groups and individuals
as being secretly Communist. Such attacks seriously harmed the ability
of liberal anti-Communists to influence left/liberal opinion and cast
the entire movement as being about a result of little more than acute

McCarthy was no hero and is
certainly not vindicated by new evidence. If anything McCarthy was far
more useful to the Soviet Union than many of its genuine spies. Almost
single handedly McCarthy managed to completely discredit anti-communism.
To this day, many people don’t even know there were active liberal anti-communist
organizations. Instead anti-communism became identified with McCarthy’s
madness to tragic results. The fear of another Red baiting witch hunt
served to silence genuine security issues and concerns about Communists
in government, and made honest discussions of important policy regarding
Communism difficult if not impossible.

As Richard Gid Powers puts
it in his excellent history of anti-communist movements in America, Not
Without Honor

. . . McCarthy’s charges were so far from the truth that while
it might take time to demonstrate that he was a fraud, the final outcome,
to those who knew the facts, was never in doubt. Isaac Don Levine [a prominent
anti-communist] recalled that the moment he had heard what McCarthy had
done in Wheeling, he had known the anticommunist cause was doomed.

By focusing on this ridiculous
attempt to whitewash McCarthy, Flynn fails to note the real irony and
lesson of the red baiting of the 1950s — much of it never would have
happened if it hadn’t been for liberals and leftists. The main institution
that led and aided the witch hunt was the House Un-American Activities
Committee, which turned up a lot of important information but also helped
made reckless charges, and created an environment where demagogues such
as McCarthy could accuse anyone of being a Communist, like some modern
day Inquisitor.

But HUAC wasn’t started by
a bunch of crazy right wing nuts — in fact it had its origins under a
different name as a special committee to investigate alleged Nazi sympathizers
in the 1930s. When the chair of that committee, New York Congressman Samuel
Dickstein, wanted a committee with broad powers to investigate German-Americans
he proposed a committee to investigate “un-American” activities. In this
effort he was eventually joined by anti-Communist New Deal Texas Democrat
Martin Dies and HUAC was born.

Ironically, today there is
almost no principled opposition to the massive powers that Congressional
committees and subcommittees now wield. Where once Leftists such as I.F.
Stone decried the ability of committees to compel testimony by offering
immunity from prosecution, today defendants compelled to give such testimony
are usually said to get off on technicalities when their prosecution is
overturned (as, for example, happened in the case of Iran-Contra defendant
Oliver North and others).

Although McCarthy is gone,
his spirit lives on, not least of all in folks like Flynn who blatantly
distort and ignore the truth.

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