Mccarthyism Essay, Research Paper
Since Joseph R. McCarthy first used his political power to ruin the careers of hundreds of men, the term McCarthyism has forever been used to denote someone or something that uses their power to launch a groundless and mean spirited attack on a particular minority group.
Joseph R. McCarthy, possibly the greatest demagogue in the history of America, was also the strongest anti-Communist. In the minds of his friends and foes alike, he was an incredible person whose mere presence could be overpowering. He was a master at playing the press and his name was in the headlines frequently. He also perfected the art of playing on people’s fears. His portrayal of Communism as the supreme evil allowed his accusations of “disloyalty” to be incredibly effective.
Of course, there were some things about the flamboyant Senator from Wisconsin that limited his effectiveness. During his storied career, he was never once able to prove an accused Red was guilty. He was a heavy drinker and had a soft spot for horse racing and poker games. Despite these shortcomings, he was able to become a national celebrity.
From his expensive election campaign, to his first speech on Communism, to the Army-McCarthy hearings, to his sudden death, Senator McCarthy has been a controversial figure. Even today, Senator McCarthy remains at the heart of a long-lasting argument about morality and politics. Some people feel that he was a counter-productive demagogue who aimlessly attacked innocent people. Others felt that he was bringing to the attention of America the eminent threat of Communism. He was a cold-hearted man who was a disgrace to the United States, whose anti-Communist fervor was not based upon ideology but upon his need for a headline gaining cause.
Joseph Raymond McCarthy was born in 1908 on a family farm in Outagamie County, Wisconsin. His parents were devout Catholics and told their nine children that “you shall live by the sweat of your brow”. He went to a country school until grade eight, and at the age of nineteen became the manager of a grocery store in Manawa. He was a popular person and the store was very profitable. Then it was suggested by some friends that he go to high school, and in one year he crammed a full high school education, while being at the top of the class.
He enrolled in Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he graduated as a lawyer. McCarthy then set up a law practice in Waupaca, a nearby town, and it is reported that he took only four cases in nine months. At that time, he went to work in Shawano for Mike Eberlein. They worked together for three years until Joe won the judgeship for the Tenth District of the Wisconsin Circuit Court. Although he was exempt from the draft because of his public position, in 1942 he entered the Marine Corps. In his two years as a first lieutenant, he went on a number of flying missions, broke his leg on a ship during a party (although he later claimed that his leg carried “ten pounds of shrapnel”) and gained a lot of good press along the way. In 1944 he unsuccessfully ran against Alexander Wiley for a senatorial seat from Wisconsin, and began planning to defeat Robert La Follette Jr., whose seat was up for re-election in two years. La Follette was a Republican, and so was McCarthy, so the real race would be for the primary.
Joe’s campaign used lots of money, along with a dash of luck. He sent letters and postcards to almost everyone in Wisconsin, made half a dozen speeches a day, and attacked La Follette ruthlessly. Luck happened to be on his side when his opponent chose to sit on his laurels, and only campaigned for a few weeks. McCarthy just barely won the GOP nomination. Interestingly enough, he got the labour vote, which was dominated by Communists. He was very fortunate to sneak by, because La Follette was a popular man.
His Democratic foe was to be Professor Howard McMurray. Joe used his ability to put issues simply, among other things, to beat his opponent by nearly a 2 to 1 ratio. The Senatorial career of Joseph R. McCarthy was on its way.
In his first three years as senator, McCarthy was an everyday senator. He was highly influenced by monetary backing from lobbyists. The most interesting of these was a stint with Pepsi. At the time, sugar was strictly rationed.
The Allied Molasses Company, sugar supplier for Pepsi, somehow got a hold of a million and a half gallons of high-grade sugar-cane syrup, which it refined and sold to Pepsi. For unknown reasons, this sugar slipped past the rations, and the Department of Agriculture demanded that the rations for Allied Molasses be cut back. A $20,000 bribe assured to him by Russell Arundel, Pepsi’s Washington lobbyist, inspired McCarthy to help end the sugar rationing six months before originally scheduled, thus nullifying the USDA’s demands.
Another early issue for Joe was housing. A friend of his named Harnischferger owned a prefabricated-home manufacturing outfit in Milwaukee. He asked him to go against public housing for veterans and to support instead the inexpensive prefabricated home as an alternative. A $10,000 perk from Lustron, another prefabricated operation, provided additional incentive. He joined the newly created Senate Housing Committee, and he took a nationwide road tour to accentuate his point. He continued in this way until the end of 1949, when he determined that he needed a new subject to put his name in the headlines and to use as a base for his reelection in 1952.
He found his next subject one night in early 1950, at the Colony Restaurant in Washington, D. C. Among his dinner guests was Father Edmund A. Walsh. McCarthy talked with his guests for a while, before bringing up the subject of the need for an issue. The group discarded quite a few before choosing Communism, which was suggested by Walsh, who was an ardent anti-Red. “That’s it” McCarthy said. “The government is full of Communists. We can hammer away at them.
His timing was perfect. The Alger Hiss case was in full swing when he began his campaign, and the convictions and executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg took place during his witch-hunting career. Joe’s first speech against Communism took place before the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9th. His speech started as follows: “I have in my hand a list of 205 cases of individuals who appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party. This speech sparked one of many controversies over McCarthy, partially because there was no single reliable copy of the speech. The dispute was over the number that he had stated. At his next speech, in Salt Lake City, he claimed that he had said 57. However, there is now substantial proof that he said 205 in Wheeling.
The next number he came up with was 81, on the senate floor, on the 20th of February. He took six hours, from the late afternoon to just before midnight, explaining in detail a number of cases of supposed Communists in the State Department. But, as pointed out by Rovere, his marathon speech had many flaws: four of the cases simply never showed up; he skipped them entirely. Several cases worked for the United Nations and many cases were the same. Cases 13 and 78 were only applicants for State Department jobs in 1948.
Finally of case 40, he said, “I do not have much information on this except the general statement of the agency [unidentified] that there is nothing in the files to disprove his Communist connections.” From Case 40, there is an obvious case of “guilty until proven innocent” as opposed to the “innocent until proven guilty” method practiced in the American courts. As it was, neither McCarthy nor his staff spent much time researching these “81 of those whom I consider to be Communists in the State Department.”
He was a master manipulator of the press. His name was constantly in the headlines under such articles as “NEW McCARTHY INVESTIGATIONS BEGIN” or “McCARTHY OUTLINES NEW REDHUNTING PLAN.” Although reporters followed him everywhere and his hearings were constantly televised, he was voted “worst senator” in a poll of the press. He can be compared to O. J. Simpson, as there was a very strong controversy about him, but he was always in the headlines.
His fight against communism garnered huge monetary support. Donations from as little as ones and fives, to as much as tens of thousands of dollars were received from across the country. To every donor, he sent a letter thanking the person for the donation and asking for more money to keep up “the hard and costly struggle against Communism.” As it turns out, the fight against Communism was quite inexpensive, and most of the money went into his bank account and then into soybean futures or horse race bets. Joe’s national prominence might have been easily ended had anyone tried to investigate the situation. However, at that time, you were as good as Red if you attacked his reputation.
Today, most of us look at McCarthyism in a negative way, but in a nationwide poll, a full fifty percent approved of McCarthy and his methods, with twenty-one percent undecided. It is astonishing that half the American population approved of his tactics, even though there were serious flaws in his methods. This poll shows that either a large portion of people in the 1950’s were quite gullible, or that Joe was an excellent demagogue. Both were probably true.
From 1950 to 1954, Joseph McCarthy was on the top. A simple sentence of his could be enough to ruin a man’s career; a few kind words to the voters helped many fellow Republicans into office. In May 1954, he got into a confrontation with the United States Army and its secretary, Robert Stevens, and the famous Army-McCarthy hearings started soon after. With a television audience of twenty million Americans, the flamboyant senator randomly fired accusations of Communism toward certain Army officers. With the assistance of his faithful aide Roy Cohn, he was able to put together enough evidence to give him at least slight credibility.
McCarthy went too far, however. President Eisenhower helped the Army, his former employer, mount an impressive counter-attack. They recounted how McCarthy’s former assistant and Cohn’s sidekick, David Schine, had the senator gain him soft military assignments after being drafted. The press revolted as well, with Edward Murrow of early television fame showing plain, unedited clips from the hearings to show the fraud in McCarthy.
Over the span of thirty-six days and testimony was heard from thirty-two witnesses. Joe kept up his attacks, which gradually weakened. Every day, millions of viewers tuned into see McCarthy pointing his finger yet again at another man. McCarthy was obviously slipping, but he didn’t give up. Then, when he was attacking an associate of Joseph N. Welch, chief attorney for the Army, Welch stood up, faced the senator, and said: Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency? And with that, the hearings ended, and so did McCarthy’s witch hunting career. On December 2, 1954, the senate voted 67-22 to condemn him for “conduct contrary to senatorial traditions.” The condemnation, only the third one in 165 years, noted the abuse of his senatorial powers.
After the condemnation, he tried to pass a few of bills written by him, but most senators didn’t approve these, probably to avoid association with the “worst senator”. He had lost his honour, and rightly so. As a result of his lower status, he began drinking heavily. Sometimes he would be drunk for days on end. He was frequently hospitalized, and although McCarthy and his doctors claimed reasons such as abrasions or broken bones, he was really dying from alcohol-induced cirrhosis. He died on May 2, 1957, at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland of peripheral neuritis. At his family’s request, there was a funeral for him in the Senate chamber, and he was buried in Appleton, Wisconsin, seven miles from his birthplace.
Joseph McCarthy ruined the careers of hundreds of innocent men and women to advance his own. Yet for all of the suffering he directly caused, not to mention the pervasive fear in liberal circles of being unfairly associated with Communism which he indirectly gave birth to, throughout his entire senatorial career, he never once was able to directly convict a single suspected Communist of a crime. He was probably the most talked about senator of his time. A great many arguments have been had over this man from Wisconsin. Even today, he is still potent in the minds of America. When Alger Hiss died at age 92 on Friday, November 15, 1996, the next day the San Francisco Chronicle used an entire paragraph to describe how McCarthy used the anti-Red atmosphere created by the Hiss case to begin his infamous run.
Wrong doings aside, he had an amazing but swift career. He went from everyday senator, to national prominence, to humiliation, and to death, all in seven years. McCarthy played on people’s fears. “The Fight for America” was nothing more than a cleverly thought-out plan that took advantage of America’s hysteria about Communism during the Cold War.