I'm publishing this on schedule, because what I've been hearing on television (CNN and MSNBC) suggests that some of our civil liberties may soon be under attack, and since that's what this diary is mostly about, it fits.
1945-1958. What should we discuss today? The Taft-Hartley Act and a renewed war on Labor? The McCarran-Walter Act, confirming the quota system for immigration that favors Northern and Western Europe (we'll mention it a few times in the diary)? The fact that with very few exceptions we had no idea what the fathers in 1950 sitcoms did for a living? No, the anticommunist activity that has survived the fall of the Soviet Union and has subtly morphed into accusations of anti-Americanism, which may have its roots in the Red Scare that followed World War I but which reached its fullest flowering between 1948 and 1954 in the careers of Richard Nixon and, especially, Joseph Raymond McCarthy (R-Wisconsin). We see his influence when Ted ("Calgary") Cruz accuses Chuck Hagel of taking speaking fees from North Korea. We see it when Michele Bachmann accuses Huma Abedin of being an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood or John Sununu questions the Americanism of the president and Allen West talks about Communists in Congress. Today, we'll review where all this comes from.
Joe McCarthy didn't really invent the aggressive anti-communism that followed World War II. We have to look to California for that, and it happened before Pearl Harbor, as a state senator in California decided that anti-communism might be his ticket to the governor's office. Jack Tenney, who had begun his career as a Democrat in 1926, switched parties after voting for FDR as an elector in 1940, and the following year founded the California Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities. Among the people he persecuted were Paul Robeson and Carey McWilliams. By 1947, his findings in part inspired the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the successor to the Dies Committee in Washington, D. C., to open hearings on Communist influence on Hollywood that resulted in the prosecution of the Hollywood Ten, a number of left-leaning screenwriters who refused to name names under oath.
We can't overlook the California Senate race of 1950 for its role in establishing the essentially fact-free nature of postwar anticommunism either. Greg Mitchell wrote a book about this race which he called Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon Vs Helen Gahagan Douglas-Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950. I know I don't have to introduce you to Richard Nixon. Helen Gahagan Douglas (this is a nice biography of her) ran for Congress in 1942 when her husband, the actor Melvyn Douglas decided not to, and, after four terms, she won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat. Admittedly, it was her opponent in the primary who first said she was pink down to her underwear, but you didn't think Nixon wouldn't stoop to reviving that accusation, did you. One of his main selling points was that Helen Douglas had voted with Vito Marcantonio, who represented parts of the district Charlie Rangel represented as a member of the American Labor Party (read "Socialist") and who led the opposition to the Mundt-Nixon Act which would have required all Communists to register with the federal government (it became part of the McCarran-Walter Internal Security Act), more than a few times. Marcantonio, like Bernie Sanders, caucused with the Democrats, so of COURSE she did. Nixon won the election, Helen Douglas retired from politics.
But even before the primary season of 1950 had begun in California, Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury in January, and a hitherto obscure senator from Wisconsin who had been elected in 1946 and who had done nothing to distinguish himself since he took his seat gave a speech to the Ohio County Women's Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia February 9. During the course of this speech, he waved a piece of paper, claiming that it was a list of 205 people in the State department who were Communists. When he spoke to reporters in Salt Lake City the next day, the number was 57, and ten days later when he gave the speech in the Senate, the number was 81. Presto, famous, because he had forced the Truman administration into a defensive position with the charge that it was soft on Communism.
And until November 1952, McCarthy continued to hammer at the State Department. As Ellen Schecker writes in Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998):
The Wisconsin senator and his right-wing allies used the techniques that had been successfully used against the far left to attack the liberal mainstream. By embedding their charges in a broader partisan political agenda they drew widespread support from other conservatives and made it hard for moderates and liberals to defuse those charges without themselves being accused of a cover-up. As a result, by the early 1950s, it was possible for people with no connection to the communist movement to suffer at the hands of McCarthy and his followers. Being controversial was enough.There we have the model for many of the excesses of right wing politics, even some being used by Republicans today (see, for example, Darrell Issa and the Fast and Furious issue).
As you also know, the Republicans won the 1952 election with a non-political figure, Dwight David Eisenhower, whose ties were to the moderate Eastern wing of the party. During the campaign, an attack McCarthy made on General George Marshall had forced Eisenhower to remove a favorable reference to the General from a speech. Many Republicans, including their candidate, thought McCarthy had gone too far. Eisenhower never directly confronted McCarthy, because he found direct public confrontations distasteful, and he was determined to preserve the dignity of presidency lest his power be eroded to the nation’s detriment. Instead he tried to undermine him indirectly, and McCarthy had been assigned the chairmanship of the Senate Government Operations Committee with its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. It was now up to the Senate to police itself.
His own committee. Power, as we all know, corrupts, and the people he hired as staff didn't help him as much as he had hoped they might. J.B. Matthews, who McCarthy made his research director in June 1953, published an article in the July 1953 issue in the right-wing American Mercury that called the Protestant clergy
the largest single group supporting the Communist apparatus in the United States.The Protestant clergy. Talk about overreach. This announcement also turned J. Edgar Hoover against McCarthy, and Hoover stopped sending McCarthy materials from the FBI's files.
Meanwhile, his key aide Roy Cohn
The Schine business caused some problems for McCarthy, especially since he had stopped targeting the State Department and was going after the Army, especially the Signal Corps lab at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, where several of the civilian employees, Jewish engineers, had been associated with Popular Front groups. He was interested in the people who cleared these engineers, the people who cleared a Brooklyn dentist who invoked the Fifth Amendment when he filled out the military's loyalty oath and the people who let said dentist leave the Army with an honorable discharge.
The Army hearings were televised for two months. There's a TERRIFIC documentary on this, put together in 1964 by Emile d'Antonio called Point of Order that's posted on YouTubebut since it's 96 minutes long, here's the link. On June 9, the thirtieth day of the hearings, Robert Welch, a lawyer from Boston, after needling Roy Cohn for several days (the needling was on the homophobic side involving pixies and fairies, but, frankly, if anyone deserved it, that would have been Cohn), begged Cohn to “tell somebody about them quick” whenever he learned about ”a Communist or a spy anywhere." McCarthy, intervening, noted that if Welch was so eager to learn about subversion, he should know that he had “in his law firm a young man named Fisher . . . who has been for a number of years a member of an organization which was named, oh years and years ago, as the legal bulwark of the Communist party” - when McCarthy continued along these lines, Welsh begged him to stop.
The hearings ended eight days later.
We know that Edward R. Murrow aired criticism of McCarthy, but he wasn't the first media person to do so. I wrote a diary about the comic strip Pogo for Top Comments at the end of November in which I said this about Pogo's take on McCarthy:
In 1953, the cartoonist Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo, introduced two senators, Simple J. Malarkey(yes, Malarkey, the word Joe Biden reintroduced into the political discourse in the Vice presidential debate) and Mole MacCaroney, to the strip in June, 1953; as a point of reference, Edward R. Murrow's report ran on CBS March 9, 1954, almost a year later. The lynx and the mole are symbolic of Joe McCarthy (R-WI) and Pat McCarran (D-NV), the two most -- I guess "committed" is a nice neutral word -- anticommunists in the Senate. McCarthy you know about, McCarran was the author of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, a bill that Truman vetoed and Congress overrode the veto for. It may have removed the restrictions against Asian immigration from the Act of 1924, but it barred entry to suspected subversives, Communists and so-called "fellow travelers" like Dario Fo, Graham Greene, and Carlos Fuentes.In this cartoon (June 8 1953) the two, who have been investigating the inhabitants of the swamp to root out subversives, turn upon each other.
On December 2, 1954, by a vote of 67-22, the Senate censured McCarthy for his bad manners. McCarthy died in May, 1957, but the "ism" he created lives on. McCarthyism now stands for the period from the end of World War II in 1945 to 1954. It includes the censure of the film industry, the press, and publishing houses; it encompasses loyalty oaths, the frequent violation of people's constitutional rights, the denial of passports to U.S. citizens who didn’t meet “someone’s” standard of loyalty, and an overall disregard of civil liberties. Beside helping to saturate American culture in fear of “Communism,” it became associated with Republicans in the American mind. It still is, as we saw in the introduction to this diary.
The California part of this diary comes from research connected with my doctoral dissertation, and the McCarthy material, from my lecture notes, is mostly drawn from Ellen Schrecker's terrific book. I suppose we'll be looking at disregard of civil liberties pretty frequently for the next few weeks with regard to sleeper cells, but that's another story.