The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 12, 2018

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Unamerican Activities
Daniel J. Flynn - 04/24/08

Thus, in its first pages, Blacklisted by History rebuts a central theme of nearly all previous books on McCarthy. Given that Venona ceased intercepting cables before McCarthy even became a U.S. senator, it is interesting that the program confirms any, let alone ten, McCarthy cases. In documenting numerous instances of—gasp!—McCarthy getting it right and his academic detractors getting it wrong, Evans ensures that the conversation on McCarthy continues and does so on the basis of information that rebuts assumptions and reorients starting points.

In the world of McCarthy biographies, the senator transforms from real man to fictionalized symbol, an amalgamation of the various anti-communist bogeymen of the era. Evans details how major media outlets identify Senator McCarthy as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. But McCarthy wasn’t really interested in Communists in Hollywood or local classrooms. McCarthy’s scope was more limited. “His main goal, oft-stated and sanctioned by the law, was to get his suspects out of the federal government and its policy-making system; all the battles in which he was engaged revolved around this central purpose,” writes Evans.

It is with this purpose in mind that McCarthy charged the State Department with harboring Communists in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950, thrusting him into the spotlight as America’s most prominent red hunter. Despite Evans interviewing several surviving witnesses to McCarthy’s speech, resolving the controversy over whether McCarthy charged the State Department with housing “57” Communists or “205” Communists seems unlikely to be settled in this or any other treatment. Eyewitness perspectives are as varied as are those in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon.

Where Evans can offer more clarity is in the bizarre nature of the consequent congressional investigation of the State Department that morphed into an investigation of the accuser rather than the accused. Indeed, Maryland Senator Millard Tydings, the chairman of the committee, tellingly bellowed to his Wisconsin colleague: “[S]o far as I am concerned in this committee you are going to get one of the most complete investigations ever given in the history of this republic.” But McCarthy was not supposed to be the subject of the investigation, the State Department was.

Senators demanded that McCarthy name names. After his suggestions to present them in executive session were rebuffed, opposition senators deemed “naming names” a smear and a disgrace. Tydings himself repeatedly boasted of possessing a recording of McCarthy’s Wheeling speech, a smoking gun that he would reveal at the most opportune time. He never did. Under oath, Tydings conceded that he possessed no such recording. Tydings claimed that four committees of the previous congress had cleared the State Department of charges that it harbored Communists, but that claim too proved fallacious. So contemptuous of McCarthy were Democratic colleagues that the Wisconsin senator had trouble finishing whole sentences without interruption.

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