Writing at Human Events, national treasure M. Stanton Evans takes maintream conservatives to task for historical illiteracy on the subject of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The occasion was the ignorant reactions among conservatives (who should know better) to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's "weird assertion," as Evans writes, "that he had received a telephone tip from a nameless caller, saying Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for a decade and that based on this Romney must now disprove the allegation."
Reid’s ridiculous statement properly ignited conservative wrath (plus some unusual criticism from “mainstream” sources). At this point, however, conservative talkers, bloggers and TV pundits veered off en masse into a fogbank of confusion, bracketing Reid with Joe McCarthy and repeatedly parroting liberal untruths about McCarthy’s record.
Thus, on a recent Monday, no fewer than three conservative radio hosts on WMAL, Washington’s main political talk outlet, compared Reid to McCarthy as a supposed exemplar of political evil. In all these instances it was painfully clear that the talkers knew nothing of McCarthy, but were simply reciting in half-remembered phrases the standard liberal line about him.
Nor were the radio hosts alone in this performance. Joining in the Reid-McCarthy analogizing have been, among others, actor- former Senator Fred Thompson, writers at Breitbart.com, National Review’s Rich Lowry and columnists/tv commentators Charles Krauthammer and George Will. In these instances also it’s evident that the commentators know nothing at all about McCarthy except what the liberals deign to tell them.
Vivid examples of this problem were the remarks of two radio talkers and columnist Will that McCarthy in making his initial charges of communist infiltration claimed to have a “list” of Reds and fellow travelers in the Federal work force, but was bluffing when he said so. As Will flatly put it on ABC-TV, “He didn’t have a list.”
But in fact he had a list, as anyone can find out who bothers to review the record. McCarthy had the list in his possession when he set forth some 70-plus security cases on the floor of the Senate in February 1950. Subsequently he provided their names in writing to the Senate committee that looked into the matter, plus a supplementary list of two dozen other suspects for a total of more than 100 names presented to the Senate. (There would be many more cases cited later.)
Granted, these lists would mysteriously vanish from the committee archives (along with a lot of other relevant data on the suspects), but that wasn’t the doing of McCarthy. However, I happen to have copies of the lists in my possession, as fortunately they survived in other places. George Will et.al could have them also if they cared to, since the lists are photographically reproduced in their entirety in a book I brought out a few years ago examining McCarthy’s cases.
Blacklisted by History is the book. It is indispensable. Buy it if your don't already have it, and read it twice.
A subset of this dispute is the question of what McCarthy said about subversion in a stump speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, as part of a Lincoln Day political speaking tour shortly before his oration to the Senate. The Wheeling argument mainly concerned the number of cases he claimed to have, his opponents saying he claimed 205, McCarthy responding that he in fact claimed 57 (as noted, a number that would grow substantially by the time he addressed the Senate roughly ten days later).
Without getting too far into the weeds on this (there are two chapters devoted to it in the book), suffice it to note that in 1951, the Democratic Senate sent staffers up to Wheeling to dig out the facts about the issue, as part of an investigation aimed at throwing McCarthy out of Congress. When the staffers came back, they filed a 40-page report that in essence said McCarthy was right about the numbers and his critics were mistaken.
Whereupon, their report would be buried also and vanish from the public record, while a perjury charge against McCarthy for lying about the numbers would be quietly dropped from the discussion. (Like the disappearing list of McCarthy cases, this report survived in an out-of-the-way filing system, and was recovered.)
As to whether McCarthy had a list of cases at all when he spoke at Wheeling ,it’s self evident that he did, as he would go immediately before the Senate following his return from his political foray (the Monday after his arrival in Washington on Saturday) to make a formal proffer of his charges. The massive nature of this six-hour speech, and the extensive documentation it included, make it obvious that he and/or his researchers had been on the trail of his cases for some indefinite time before then. And to be on the trail, of course, they had to know the identities of the suspects.
From all of which the lessons to be learned are (at least) two. First, as to the past, McCarthy was repeatedly proved right, about the larger picture of subversion, and about a host of individual cases, while his opponents did everything they could to misrepresent and conceal the facts of record—the above cited examples being taken from a copious roster of liberal falsehoods, evasions, and distortions in their campaign against McCarthy.
Second, as to the present: It’s usually not a good idea for conservatives to let the liberals do their thinking for them.