McCarthy and His Enemies

in History

Even in 1954, it took quite a bit of courage to write a book supporting Senator Joe McCarthy’s investigations into communist infiltration of the American government. Although the common people (later called the “silent majority”) supported him, the intellectual class did not. Dwight MacDonald called him “the most dangerous demogague” in the United States. Former Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson called the Senator’s crusade a “reign of terror.” President Truman compared him to a politician doing the work of the Kremlin (this perception would help kick-start Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate). Even conservatives like Whittaker Chambers called the Senator “a raven of disaster.”

When McCarthy and his Enemies appeared it was tarred with the same brush used against the Senator. Dwight MacDonald likened the authors’ rationalizations of McCarthy’s behavior to how fellow travelers in the 30s glossed over Stalinist brutality.

Even using the book as a favorable source today earns an onslaught. Ann Coulter, Arthur Herrman, and Stanford Evans, capitazing on de-classified documents showing Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg were Soviet spies, have been castigated for daring to vindicate McCarthy.

But from the vantage point of sixty years, the book is all its enemies say it is. They certainly gloss over the Senator’s reckless behavior (i.e. his accusation that George Marshall was a Soviet agent) with such soothing phrases as “it was here that the Senator made an error in judgement.” The same with Far Eastern expert Owen Lattimore, who McCarthy called “the top Soviet agent in the United States.” They never entertain the idea that the Senator was a grand-standing headline grabber; for his theatricality in this instance, damaged the case against Lattimore, who, while not a spy, was certainly an energetic fellow traveler.

Yet the book is also what its admirers say of it. Examining internal security under FDR and Truman, they certainly make a case for robust investigation. In spite of credible facts, FDR continued to advance Hiss up the State Department ladder; at one point he was in charge of security at Dumbarton Oaks; on another, as the diligent recent work of M.Stanton Evans has shown, Hiss played a much larger role at Yalta than anti-McCarthyites argued, with FDR and then-Secretary of State Edward Stettinius relying on the Soviet spy on key policy issues. As a result of such denial, Hiss came within a hair’s breadth of being Assistant Secretary of State. Even such New Deal stalwarts as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called FDR “naive about communism.”

Such partisan blinders were worn by FDR’s successor, Harry Truman. Despite being warned by the FBI about Economist Harry Dexter White’s espionage activities for the Soviets (a view bolstered by de-classified documents decades later), Truman nevertheless advanced White into a higher position in the government. His dislike of the Republican Congress was so extreme that he dismissed the Hiss as a “red herring.”

Unfortunately, as with the latter successors vindicating McCarthy, Buckley and Bozell didn’t heed the advice of such responsible anti-communists as Whittaker Chambers: to avoid associating with the Senator and his recklessness because it would do damage to the cause.

Although Buckley would later repudiate his support of McCarthy, in 1954 he hitched his wagon to an insincere huckster (if McCarthy was truly worried about the Communist threat why did he abandon the cause after he was censured ?).

As an artifact, the book certainly is more responsible than other pro-McCarthy ones of the period. But alas, that is not saying much.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.