Seventy years ago today, on January 3, 1946, Joseph Raymond McCarthy stepped into the U.S. Senate seat formerly occupied by the founder of this magazine, Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette. By February of 1950, McCarthy had burst into the national spotlight with a series of speeches against purported Communist infiltrators in the U.S. government. A recent cover story on Donald Trump in the National Enquirer brought back memories of McCarthy’s list, claiming “shocking details about Trump's plan to go after fifty-five Islamic spies who have penetrated all levels of the U.S. government.”

Joe McCarthy, known sarcastically as “Tail-Gunner Joe” because of his false claims of military heroism, held onto his Senate seat until his death in May 1957. His career was marked by bullying, and a series of unsubstantiated allegations regarding the loyalty of hundreds of U.S. citizens. He is most remembered for his crusade against suspected Communists, which came to be known as “McCarthyism” (a term first coined by political cartoonist Herbert Block). In addition to his persecution of individuals, McCarthy was well known for his attacks on the press, not unlike the attacks launched more recently by Donald Trump.

From the start, The Progressive was a leading voice against McCarty’s crusade. The magazine once called him “an ambitious faker living by his wits and guts, a ruthless egotist bent on personal power regardless of the consequence to his country, a shrewd and slippery operator with the gambler's gift for knowing when and how to bluff . . . .”

These are words that sound eerily familiar today.

In fact, the spirit of Joe McCarthy continues to infuse our politics—especially today, in an era of politically charged Congressional investigations into topics like Hillary Clinton’s supposed role in the deaths of U.S. embassy staff in Benghazi, Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s racially charged attack on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel because of his Mexican heritage, and Trump’s the suggestion that the United States create a special  a registry for Muslims. The Progressive was, is, and will remain the voice of reason in an era of dangerous demagoguery.

In 1954, McCarthy booked a five-city tour, beginning at the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, during which he claimed to have a list of 205 known Communists in the U.S. State Department. By the time he reached Salt Lake City, Utah, that number had changed to fifty-seven, and later eighty-one—it was always a moving target.

“If the ‘numbers racket’ seems a tricky and confusing story,” noted The Progressive’s editorial, “it is solely because McCarthy's repeated change of numbers made it hard to follow his charges from day to day, week to week, and month to month during the period when his sensational allegations were winning him headlines throughout the world. It is worth noting here how guesswork played a part in McCarthy's charges in so grave a field as treason and espionage.”

The Progressive first covered the actions of McCarthy and his investigations into so-called “Reds” in the State Department in a June 1950 article by Stuart Chase called “’Jumpin’ Joe’ McCarthy—His Motives and Methods.” Chase enumerated a list of the methods used by McCarthy that painted many as subversives through innuendo and unsubstantiated claims: “It must be remembered that McCarthy's methods produce obloquy by mass communication—headlines, syndicated commentators, radio, newsreels, television—a Niagara of words and symbols unparalleled in history. How can an innocent person hope to clear himself?”

Another 1950 article by Joseph L. Rauh Jr, titled “Informers, G-Men, and Free Men,” looked at the various aspects of the Loyalty Program to investigate federal employees. “If there are many Communists in the Federal Government, the relentlessly administered Loyalty Program has failed to uncover them,” Rauh wrote, “One of the chief dangers of the loyalty program springs from the FBI’s refusal to disclose to loyalty suspects the identity of the persons who informed against them.”

Rauh went on to conclude: “The time has come to return to the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded and which made us great. Let the Government stick to its job of detecting and preventing crime, but let it abolish resort to the techniques of the police state. Let us do away with confidential informants, dossiers, political spies, wire-tapping, and headlines for publicity-seeking ex-Communists. As an indispensable first step, we must banish that fear of the future which generates hysteria and rewards informing, and go back to the essentials which made this nation proud to call itself the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In June 1953, James Wechsler, editor of the New York Post and former Washington correspondent for The Progressive, gave a gripping recount of his own seventy-minute testimony before Joe McCarthy’s committee.

“But to assume that such facts make any decisive difference in a McCarthy hearing,” he wrote, “is to assume that this is a rational proceeding in which the ordinary rules of reason, evidence, and logic prevail. In McCarthy's nightmare world all such rules are obsolete.” In this world, Wechsler noted, “truth is irrelevant if it conflicts with McCarthy's premise. McCarthy's point was quite simple. The only yardstick of patriotism in his hearing room is submission to McCarthy and his mob.”

Many people were afraid to stand up to McCarthy and his mob, as careers were ruined and some of McCarthy’s victims even committed suicide. But The Progressive’s April 1954 issue was a bold step in the opposite direction. The special issue, titled “McCarthy: A Documented Record,” was divided into separate sections including “The Numbers Game,” “McCarthyism in Action,” “Win at Any Cost,” and most notably, “Striking at the Freedom of the Press,” which chronicled McCarthy’s efforts to undermine journalists and news outlets. These included a specific request to the Post Office “to supply him with estimates of the cost of ‘subsidizing distribution’ of The Washington Post [and] The Wall Street Journal” through postal cost breaks—threatening these mainstream publications economically, in a manner not unlike Donald Trump’s threats to sue The New York Times.

McCarthy also personally threatened Time magazine by calling for an advertising boycott, leading the conservative magazine Editor & Publisher to write: “When a United States Senator attempts to silence criticism in the press by high-pressuring advertisers into dropping their economic support of a publication, that is a new low in politics. This strikes at the very roots of press freedom—the economic power that makes a free press possible. . . The whole thing reeks with totalitarianism.”

The Progressive’s special issue was being prepared during the same month that Edward R. Murrow aired a half-hour special, “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy,” on his popular television program See It Now. It was bold, critical, and well-researched exposés like Murrow’s and The Progressive’s that led to the eventual censure of Joe McCarthy in the Senate in December 1954. After that, McCarthy’s role as a public figure declined rapidly. He was shunned by his colleagues in the Senate, and died May 2, 1957, probably of the effects of alcoholism. He was succeeded by William Proxmire in a special election. Proxmire, a progressive Democrat who had once worked as a reporter at the The Capital Times, said of McCarthy that he was a "disgrace to Wisconsin, to the Senate, and to America."

Even though McCarthy’s investigations in the Senate ceased, the House Un-American Activities Committee (formed in 1938) continued its investigations of private citizens and organizations for potential communist ties until 1969, when it was renamed the House Internal Security Committee. It was finally abolished in 1975.

In June of last year, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a prominent Trump supporter, called for HUAC to be revived.



Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive.

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Comments

Hold on. Are progressives saying it is wrong to call for boycotts of private businesses in protest of their public actions? Or do you change your policy depending on who's doing the protesting?
Oh man, I am so old I remember this on t.v.......same old stuff, all over again with Trump and his Nazi gang. Yep.
One commonality between Trump and McCarthy is of course Ray Cohn.
It is a bit useless to boycott private business and their product, the financial system is a separate non-entity, creativity should be dealt with objectively. That's why we have etsy. Lol. The uselessness though, that is pejorative
NYT Steven Greenhouse is tweeting this story.
Part of what scares me about the "new" McCarthyism is that a loyalty program is no longer needed. The government and the corporations that hold so much power already have our information, and can skew it how they wish. Unity seems to be what we need. If we stand together, talk with one another (even with those who hold opposing views), and refuse to be turned against one another, we can stop the fascism that has taken hold.
Ahh, two faces of fascism, and I am wondering if the Progressive illuminates light on those faces. Here, from the Black Agenda Report, Glen Ford, "In decadence and decline, the U,S. has produced two strong strains of fascism that now vie for supremacy. The First Black President, now outgoing, represents the 'cosmopolitan, global obsessed' variety of fascist. Donald Trump hails from an older fascist strain, 'crude and petty, too ugly for global prime time.' At this stage in history, the two corporate parties seem incapable of producing anything other than fascists of one kind or the other." And what does Obama give Trump as a house warming gift? This year’s NDAA is Obama's special Big Brother Ministry of Propaganda -- the passage of the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act which establishes the little known or discussed Global Engagement Center. Imperial control, globally, a bit more turbo charged than the alcoholic McCarthy.
A succinct reflective analysis of deja vu. But what's missing is an explanation of Fred Koch's raison d'etre, along with Welch and others, for creating the JBS. Perhaps there existed a Moscow "mule" or "mole" who compromised our democratic way of life. What transpired in Fred's continuing benefits and beliefs during M.I.T. and subsequent years was perhaps use of Soviet handlers in the 1930's and early 40's? My family never disparaged Joseph McCarthy, but I do not know why. Perhaps, like Fred Koch, he had been "handled" by others on the "Bank on the Fox."

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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