The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter

By Michael Paul Rogin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
McCARTHYISM
AS MASS POLITICS

From 1950 through 1954, Joseph McCarthy disrupted the normal routine of American politics. But Mc- Carthyism can best be understood as a product of that normal routine. McCarthy capitalized on popular concern over foreign policy, communism, and the Korean War, but the animus of McCarthyism had little to do with any less political or more developed popular anxieties. Instead it reflected the specific traumas of conservative Republican activists--internal Communist subversion, the New Deal, centralized government, left-wing intellectuals, and the corrupting influences of a cosmopolitan society. The resentments of these Republicans and the Senator's own talents were the driving forces behind the McCarthy movement.

Equally important, McCarthy gained the protection of politicians and other authorities uninvolved in or opposed to the politics motivating his ardent supporters. Leaders of the GOP saw in McCarthy a way back to national power after twenty years in the political wilderness. Aside from desiring political power, moderate Republicans feared that an attack on McCarthy would split their party. Eisenhower sought for long months to compromise with the Senator, as one would with any other politician. Senators, jealous of their prerogative, were loath to interfere with a fellow senator. Newspapers,

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