Monday, January 30, 2006

A Dose Of Irony

The following statement was made in 1952:
The American people realize this cannot be made a fight between America's two great political parties. If this fight against Communism is made a fight between America's two great political parties the American people know that one of those parties will be destroyed and the Republic cannot endure very long as a one party system.
The person who said that was Senator Joseph McCarthy.  The context was the Red Scare.  Senator McCarthy, among others, went on to accuse the Democratic Party of succumbing to influence from the Communist Party.  McCarthy warned that casting the global struggle against Communism as a struggle between the Democrats and Republicans would cause irreparable harm to the USA.  Then he proceeded to do exactly that.  It did not do as much harm as he had anticipated, either to the USA or to the Democratic Party, and it probably did little harm to the Communists, either.  Some individuals suffered harm, and the whole thing turned out to be a waste of time.  

That is not to say there was no Communist threat.  The USSR was building  nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.  They had submarines and long-range bombers.  In addition, they had an enormous conventional military force; it may have been able to conquer all of Europe, even without nuclear weapons.  They even tried to put nuclear weapons in Cuba.  The point is that, even in the face of a substantial threat, there was no justification for the extreme tactics that characterized what came to be known as McCarthyism.  

McCarthy was correct, in that there was a great potential for our political system to be harmed by the identification of pro-Communist sympathies with one legitimate political party.  It did not turn out too badly, mostly because some politicians and some journalists (most notably, Edward R. Murrow) could see what was going on, and managed to convince a large number of voters that they could vote for Democrats and still be patriots.  Perhaps more importantly, in the 1950's only part of the Republican Party went along with McCarthy.  Had the entire party done so, the results might have been substantially worse.  

It would be easy to draw parallels between the situation in the 50's and that in modern times.  Substitute Al Queda for Communism, Karl Rove for Joseph McCarthy, and you see what one political party is trying to do to the other.  Again, we see a lack of unity developing in the Republican Party; not all are on board with the domestic spying business, for example.  We still need to see more effort on the part of journalists, and we need to see the American people get wise to the ploy.  With a little good luck, we can minimize the damage to our political system.