People For the American Way today released its latest “Right Wing Watch: In Focus” report, “Rise of the New McCarthyism.” The document examines the far right’s adoption of strategies pioneered by Senator Joe McCarthy during his anti-communist witch hunts in the 1950s.
More than 50 years ago, Sen. Joe McCarthy waged a campaign of political intimidation that was so fundamentally unfair and un-American that we still use his name to describe abusive demagoguery. Today right-wing pundits, activists, and Republican Party officials are taking McCarthyism to new heights – or depths-and almost none of their fellow conservatives are speaking out against it.
The report lays out how the characteristics of McCarthyism are reflected in right-wing attacks on the Obama administration and its allies:
- Charging that America is threatened from within by “elites” who are willing to subvert America’s interests
- Smearing political opponents as communists/socialists who are out to undermine America
- Using guilt by association to attack the patriotism and integrity of anyone who opposes you or your political goals
- Targeting gays as dangerous and unworthy of public service
- Impugning the integrity and patriotism of military leaders you disagree with
McCarthy was only able to do as much damage as he did – and ruin as many lives as he did – because too many other public officials who knew what he was doing was wrong were afraid to stand up to him. That’s what’s happening today. Republican Party officials who dare to criticize Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh end up apologizing with their tail between their legs.
“The Right Wing is clearly borrowing from Joseph McCarthy’s playbook,” said Michael B. Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “And the leaders of the GOP are attempting to gain political ground from its baseless smears and character attacks. Americans need to do to the new McCarthyism what they did to the old one: stand up to the lies and demand fairness, honesty and decency in our political discourse.”