In a sense, McCarthyism had been a smashing success. It had contributed mightily to the demise of the Communist movement and popular front liberalism. The liberalism that survived, or rather prevailed, embraced the Cold War and, in the name of aggressive anti-Communism, sought to promote both New Deal type social reforms and a steadily enlarged military-industrial complex. With John F. Kennedy's election Cold War liberalism came fully into its own, marked by a spirit of optimism and rejuvenation that Americans had not seen since the early days of the Roosevelt administration. But then something gigantic and wholly unanticipated arose that changed the course of history, and incidentally gave McCarthyism a new lease on life.
That "something" was the 1960s, an age of protests that America had never experienced. The protests went beyond the tremendous demonstrations that filled streets, campuses, and other public places. They included startling new lifestyles and modes of behavior, openly expressed and proudly affirmed. Never had sanctified norms and values--the family, private property, the work ethic, gender roles, and sexual practices--been so flouted, especially by middle-class youth. A new political left emerged whose attitude toward authority can be measured by the way its votaries treated the House Un-American Activities Committee, or rather mistreated it, making it a laughingstock and an object of ridicule. Thereafter, no one could take it or the other investigative committees seriously, and in a few years they all closed up shop. The old left, Communists and non- Communists alike, were by comparison straitlaced and proper and models of conformity.