Introduction: Definitions, A Précis
The word "McCarthyism" became a public epithet--exactly who invented it is unknown-soon after February 9, 1950, the day U.S. Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, scarcely a household name outside his own state of Wisconsin, delivered a speech to a small Republican gathering in Wheeling, West Virginia. According to the paragraph-long summary carried by newswires--it was unrecorded and those who heard it later gave confused or conflicting versions--he accused the State Department of harboring precisely 205 Communists, i.e., traitors. The rest of his remarks were evidently unexceptional: the customary Lincoln Day Republican attacks on the Truman administration. But instead of disappearing into the void, where such dispatches usually end up, McCarthy's accusation began making headlines, especially when it provoked angry cries of foul from the administration and Democrats in general.
He now had to prove his case, behind which lay the ugly inference that State Department functionaries, perhaps high-ranking ones, were responsible for handing China over to Communism the year before and Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union before that, and were obviously plotting more betrayals. With breathtaking audacity, however, McCarthy offered not proof but fresh accusations, accompanied this time by names. He was thus destroying the reputations of specific individuals, who, in self-defense, could never get the media attention he did; the charges stuck. McCarthy's growing legion of critics, from the president down, responded with savage