The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter

By Michael Paul Rogin | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

In the decade that has elapsed since Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin dominated American politics, the atmosphere of the McCarthy years has tended to fade from the public consciousness. But to forget the impact of McCarthyism is a mistake for two reasons. In the first place, the facts of McCarthy's power over public policy and private life in America bear repeating. Richard Rovere has written,

He held two presidents captive--or as nearly captive as any Presidents of the United States have ever been held; in their conduct of the nation's affairs, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, from early 1950 through late 1954, could never act without weighing the effect of their plans upon McCarthy and the forces he led, and in consequence there were times when, because of this man, they could not act at all. He had enormous impact on American foreign policy at a time when that policy bore heavily on the course of world history, and American diplomacy might bear a different aspect today if McCarthy had never lived. In the senate, his headquarters and his hiding place, he assumed the functions of the Committee of the Whole; he lived in thoroughgoing contempt of the Congress of which he was a member, of the rules it had made for itself, and--whenever they ran contrary to his purposes-- of the laws enacted for the general welfare.1

McCarthy's impact on public policy hardly exhausted his influence. Directly or indirectly he shattered countless lives and seemed to inflict a mood of fear and suspicion on Amer-

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