In Praise of McCarthyism

I”€™ve avoided reading, let alone commenting on, the various post-election analyses of “€œwhere is conservatism headed?”€ or “€œwhat went wrong?”€ symposiums, because in my old age I”€™m becoming more intolerant of people who know so little that they don”€™t even know that they know nothing of the subject they”€™re discussing. Of course, the post-election symposium over at National Review didn”€™t involve the least bit of self-criticism, no sense that any of these lickspittles were taking the least bit of responsibility for what had happened to the GOP and the conservative movement. But what really gets my goat is the “€œmainstream”€ analyses, because these folks obviously have no knowledge of the subject “€“ nor any desire to acquire any.

Emblematic of this mentality is a piece by one Neal Gabler, once a commentator for Fox News, albeit as a liberal foil for the neocons to push around, and also an author, of sorts: according to Senor Gabler, the big problem of the conservative movement isn”€™t that it has forgotten its roots “€“ although there is some vague reference to Barry Goldwater’s supposedly “€œlibertarian”€ orientation. Goldwater, according to Gabler, is the central figure of the “€œcreation myth”€ of conservatism. I”€™m not sure what Gabler’s sources are, but whatever they are, they are dead wrong: Goldwater was an effect, not a cause. His nomination was the result of a long time spent in the wilderness by conservative Republicans, and he owed his victory in San Francisco to members of the much-reviled John Birch Society, who made up the core of his cadre of activist footsoldiers.

In any case, Gabler’s ignorance is just beginning to reveal itself, because after this nonsensical opening he goes on to give us the conventional wisdom about the alleged nature of the split on the right. Is it between neocons and paleocons? Between moderates and authentic conservatives? Between the Washington-centric and the heartland types? None of the above. It’s supposed to be about “€œwhat conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the “€˜evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy”€™ branch”€ and “€œthe more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch.”€

Really? Ms. Parker is a wine of recent vintage, whose flavor is distinctly neoconnish: no one had ever heard of her before the Iraq war, at least not in conservative circles, and she came to prominence as a kneejerk defender of our Iraqi adventure and whatever foolhardy domestic policy George W. Bush had taken up that week. And who are these “€œoogedy boogedy”€ “€“cons we hear so much about? I never hear any names attached to this designation, because there aren”€™t any: it just represents a prejudice of the New York-Washington axis of sophisticates, who deride anyone who doesn”€™t sneer at organized religion of any sort. Yes, the evangelicals are an organized constituency within the GOP, but they hardly constitute a clearly-defined wing of the conservative movement: there any many libertarian evangelical Christians, and the idea that libertarian ideals and Christianity are opposites in a dichotomy is more myth-making on Gabler’s part.

But let’s get to the core of Gabler’s argument, which is this:

“€œThere is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn’t begin with Goldwater and doesn’t celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party’s past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn’t run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.”€

Oh dear lord: don”€™t blame the neocons, who ginned up an unnecessary and debilitating foreign adventure, let their devotion to “€œbig government conservatism”€ bankrupt the country, and turned the Bush presidency into one of the most unpopular regimes since that of King George III “€“ oh no! They”€™re never to blame. They aren”€™t even mentioned anywhere in Gabler’s screed. Instead, disinter the corpse of good ol”€™ Joe McCarthy “€“ yes, that’s the ticket! Blame a man who has been dead for half a century “€“ it’s all his fault!

What a crock!

Even more BS, however, comes with his explanation of McCarthy’s role in the history of the American right. According to Gabler, it was McCarthy who “€œfirst energized conservatism and made it a force to be reckoned with.”€ What nonsense: what about the America First Committee, which predated McCarthy by a generation? With 800,000 members, and the nation basically in support of its goal “€“ which was to keep America out of WWII, up until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor “€“ the AFC was surely a much bigger force to be reckoned with than McCarthy or any organization associated with his name. Secondly, Gabler gabbles on about “€œalleged”€ Communists in the Truman administration, but the reality is that McCarthy was right: as the Venona documents make all too clear, the Truman and Roosevelt administrations were riddled with commies, spies and fellow-travelers, including Harry Hopkins, FDR’s left-hand man. None of this is mentioned by Gabler, of course. Maybe he just doesn”€™t know: and, surely, he doesn”€™t care, either.

Nor does he understand what McCarthyism was: he associates it with Karl Rove and Willie Horton (?). In his lexicon, which is the lexicon or uninformed liberalism, is it merely anything he finds distasteful in American politics: one might call this oogedy-boogedy liberalism. The real essence of McCarthyism, however, was indeed “€œresentment,”€ as Gabler avers, but he doesn”€™t ever get around to describing what this resentment is or was directed against, which is the Establishment “€“ the elites, in government, in the media, and in academia. In short, our rulers.

And this is precisely what the McCain campaign did not do: it never attacked the elites, except when whining about bad media coverage and favoritism shown to the Obama campaign: but when push came to shove, and a real opportunity to come out against the Establishment presented itself, what did McCain do? Why, he endorsed the multi-trillion-dollar bank bailout, and signed a joint statement with Obama pledging his support for anything the barons of Wall Street wanted.

If, instead, McCain had come out against this historic act of grand larceny “€“ if he had stood up to the Establishment and said “€œNo way, Jose!”€ “€“ he might have won the election. Yet he just couldn”€™t bring himself to do it: indeed, if I”€™m right, he never even considered. Such a stance would have been unthinkable for the Republican party of today, which isn”€™t even fit to shine Joe McCarthy’s shoes.

The reason the Respectable Right, as well as the Respectable Left, has always hated McCarthy was precisely because of his populism: because he tried to go over the heads of the media, the government, and the Powers That Be, and appeal directly to the American people. There were commies in the government, and no doubt in the Army, and Tail Gunner Joe had no compunctions about exposing them “€“ that was his “€œrecklessness.”€ Well, then, let them make the most of it. In that case, recklessness was a virtue.

The neocons, of course, hated McCarthy, because they hate populism in all its forms: better that a small cabal should make policy behind closed doors, than that the people should be let in on their secrets. They know what’s best for us: and we “€“ we are just dust-motes, blown about by the wind-makers. Why, how dare these people evoke “€œresentment”€ over this state of affairs! That is the primal sin of the neocons and their liberal friends-and-enablers: “€œResentment”€! We aren”€™t supposed to resent anything. We”€™re just supposed to sit still and take it, and anyone who stirs up resentment is one of the evil “€œMcCarthyites”€.

What crap!

The sad fact of the matter is that nothing is in the “€œgenes”€ of the modern day conservative movement and/or the GOP—nada, zilch!—because they”€™ve forgotten their true history (that is, if they ever remembered it). They are a blank slate waiting to be written on by the first neocon newspaper columnist to come up with a catchy theme: an empty goblet waiting to be filled with whatever guff the Bill Kristols and David Brooks of this world are pushing that week.

It’s pathetic, disgusting, and tragic all at once. Now, if you”€™ll pardon me, I”€™m going back to my cave, where I”€™ll nurse my “€œresentment”€ for the rest of the evening until it’s reached such feverish intensity that I”€™ll be inspired to blog another item for Takimag.com……



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