February 27, 2003

I SUSPECT THAT THIS JONAH GOLDBERG PIECE on McCarthyism will generate a lot of, er, discussion.

Kevin Drum has already responded.

UPDATE: Apparently, by linking this piece I’ve produced a flood of hatemail to Jonah Goldberg. I guess more of my readers are civil libertarian types.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Verdon says that now Kevin Drum is subjecting me to neo-McCarthyism. Or something like that.

There are also replies up from Silent Running and Arthur Silber.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I read Kevin Drum’s post again and — though it really didn’t register with me the first time — I think it is kind of a cheap shot.

But I want to be clear where I stand here. I don’t hold any brief for McCarthy. He was a buffoon and a thug. But if McCarthyism was bad, it was because he accused innocent people, not because he pursued Communists. Communists were — and are — comparable to Nazis. Being one is as bad as being a Nazi. Supporting Communism is as bad as supporting Nazism. And calling Communists Communists isn’t McCarthyism — as Kevin Drum himself agrees.

And if you disagree, and think that Communists aren’t as bad as Nazis, well, that’s your opinion. But don’t expect me to be impressed, or to think that you hold any sort of moral high ground. So what part of my position is different from this passage in Kevin’s post?

I can’t pretend to speak for the entire liberal community, and certainly not for liberals of a generation before me, but I’m not sure anyone really denies that there were indeed communist spies in the United States back in the 50s. The problem with McCarthy — and McCarthyism — wasn’t that he uncovered lots of communist spies, but that he didn’t uncover many communist spies. While other, more careful investigators had some success, McCarthy himself was extraordinarily unproductive.

What McCarthy did do was accuse everyone under the sun of being a communist. If you had belonged to the communist party as a student in the 30s, you were a communist. If you belonged to the ACLU, you were a communist. If, like Fred Fischer, you belonged to the Lawyer’s Guild for a few months after you graduated from law school, you were tarred as a communist on national TV.

It’s not McCarthyism to accuse a communist of being a communist. It is McCarthyism to accuse someone of being a communist who has only a vague association with communist friends, groups, or ideas.

As I said in this post about A.N.S.W.E.R. that Kevin links disapprovingly:

It’s not McCarthyism to call people who are communists, communists. Communists, as devoted followers of murderous totalitarianism, deserve to be called to account every bit as much as their Nazi colleagues. And in the 21st century, they can hardly pretend to be ignorant of their ideology’s true nature.

Sounds to me like Kevin and I are on the same page — except that, somehow, he’s accusing me of McCarthyism. I guess it’s not McCarthyism to accurately charge 1950s Communists with Communism. It’s just McCarthyism to accurately charge 2003 Communists, like A.N.S.W.E.R., with Communism. That doesn’t make much sense to me.