By: Diana West
Dear Victor Davis Hanson,
You suggest in your syndicated column, “Harry Reid: A McCarthy for Our Time,” that we “ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the same question once posed to Sen. Joseph McCarthy by U.S. Army head-counsel Robert [sic] N. Welch: ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?’”
First of all — that would be Joseph N. Welch, not Robert. Robert W. Welch was someone rather different — a founder of the John Birch Society. Second, I would like to ask you a question: Are you aware of the context of Joseph N. Welch’s showboating remarks?
M. Stanton Evans did the spadework in Blacklisted by History, his groundbreaking – no, orbit-reversing – book about the late Sen. McCarthy, who died in 1957. The book devastates the fact-devoid conventional wisdom (including the “no decency” fable) on McCarthy and reconstructs an evidence-based record. A very different person emerges from Evans’ research: a political leader who – alas for the purveyors of “court history” – in no way resembles the execrable Harry Reid.
Yes, Welch theatrically denounced McCarthy at a June 1954 Senate hearing for outing Welch’s assistant Frederick Fisher as a former member of a Communist front, the National Lawyers Guild. But weeks earlier, on April 16, 1954, Welch himself outed Fisher – confirming that he’d relieved Fisher from duty over his previous front membership – in the pages of the New York Times!
It sounds fantastic – it is fantastic – but somehow Welch’s baseless “no decency” accusation lingers, its staying power derived from wells of pure ignorance, laziness or mendacity. It cries out for correction.
Next, you equate Reid’s smear of the peaceful patriots supporting Cliven Bundy as “domestic terrorists” with what you describe as McCarthy’s “smearing his opponents with lurid allegations, while questioning their patriotism.” Peaceful patriots demonstrating about federal government overreach equals covert Communists infiltrating the federal government? Is that a logical pairing? Which peaceful patriots did McCarthy smear with “lurid allegations,” anyway?
I note that despite your being a widely respected historian, the historical record is not a part of this essay. That is, your examples of Reid’s allegedly McCarthy-like evil come down to the familiar buzz phrases – “Have you no decency?” and “lurid allegations,” the famous list of names, “un-American.”
Take Reid’s slander of Mitt Romney as a tax cheat and what you deservedly call Reid’s “pathetic rejoinder” on being asked for proof: “I’ve had a number of people tell me that.” You compare that to McCarthy’s 1950 list of Communists on the State Department payroll. You write: “One wonders how many names were on Reid’s McCarthyite ‘tell’ list – were there, as McCarthy used to bluster, 205 names, or perhaps just 57?”
Again, is this an apt historical parallel? Malicious slander against a GOP nominee and allegations about serious security lapses in the State Department? I don’t think so. If the implication in your use of the word “bluster” is that McCarthy had no list of names, I’m sorry, but the evidence laid out in “Blacklisted by History” (Chapter 14) tells us otherwise.
Your column continues: “When asked again to document the slur, Reid echoed McCarthy perfectly: ‘The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes.’”
In what instance has “Reid echoed McCarthy perfectly”? Are you implying that McCarthy’s investigations into Communists in the federal government were based on evidence of no higher caliber or substance than Reid’s wholly unsubstantiated bombast?
Then you ask: “So how does Reid’s reckless career continue with the Senate leader avoiding the sort of congressional censure that finally did in McCarthy? Why is there is no progressive muckraker to take on Reid the way that Edward R. Murrow once exposed McCarthy?”
It would be fun to throw a pop quiz at all historians and journalists who write on this issue to see what they really know about the “congressional censure” that “did in” McCarthy. Would they know that out of the original 46 charges against McCarthy, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy on only one single count? And what was that count? McCarthy’s alleged stonewalling of the Gillette committee, a fishing expedition into the finances of his family and friends during one of multiple witch-hunt-style investigations the Senate initiated against him.
No doubt it’s easier to allude to such events than to explain them. Ditto on how “muckraker” Murrow “exposed” McCarthy. I have a hunch that the punditry’s explanation would closely track the synopsis of the completely ahistorical George Clooney movie on Murrow, “Good Night and Good Luck.” Instead, I suggest Blacklisted by History, pages 538 and 539.
Tragically, the recurring and gratuitous slander of the late, great McCarthy prevents Americans from understanding the enormous debt we owe the man for having had the unflagging courage to bring to light the dangerously lax security practices in the federal government that enabled Soviet agents and agents of influence (American traitors) in their extremely successful – I call it victorious in my book American Betrayal – covert war on this country.
More relevant to our time, so long as we profoundly misunderstand “McCarthyism,” I believe we will be unable to protect our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Meanwhile, it is a plain truth that McCarthy correctly identified more than “a few” Communists in the federal government, as other historians such as Harvey Klehr have written. In fact, McCarthy identified scores of them. In articles for Human Events and Breitbart News, M. Stanton Evans recently tallied up no fewer than 50 (when, for brevity’s sake, he stopped counting).
You conclude: “Part Tammany Hall-style fixer, part pre-civil rights Democrat, and part demagogic Joe McCarthy, Harry Reid is a throwback to a type of American politics better left forgotten.”
I don’t think the demagogy here is McCarthy’s.