Resurrecting the “Other” Joe
– by David Matthews 2
Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe.
And no he wasn’t a plumber.
Joe was something worse than a plumber. He was a politician. And he was very good at taking opportunity of a situation when it presents itself. That’s how he was able to get into the Senate, and that was how he was able to get himself out of his reputation in the Senate as being a relative wallflower.
Joe made a speech where he held up a piece of paper and said that he had in his hand a list of people that he declared to be a threat to this country that were working for the government. Worse yet, he alleged that the highest official in that government department knew about this list and was doing nothing about it.
The repercussions of that speech were far greater than anything Joe could ever hope for. Joe was able to play off the fear that people had concerning that so-called “list in his hand” and turn it into a nationwide crusade. Soon he became a media sensation, making speeches, going on radio and television, accusing others of being on this “list in his hand”. He became powerful, and he began to associate with powerful people.
But soon his ego got the better of him. He pushed the wrong people, and they started pushing back. Public disapproval rose. The media no longer liked him. The powerful no longer associated with him. Joe lost everything he gained in the Senate, but he was still unrepentant in his cause. He still told anyone who would listen that those people on that “list in his hand” were still there and were still a threat… even if Joe could never produce that “list in his hand” or prove that it was real.
Joe died in office as a miserable drunk, and it was believed that he did in fact drink himself to his early grave, but what he left behind remains to this very day.
Today the media is fixated on a different kind of “Joe”. A “Joe” by the name of Joe Wurzelbacher; an everyman in Ohio who challenged a popular Democratic candidate to explain his tax plan and how it would affect him. “Joe the Plumber” is the new political celebrity for Republicans. Their attempt to paint themselves as the candidate for the average hard-working American.
But while the media has been busy hyping up the “Joe” of 2008, the original “Joe” has made a quiet return of sorts.
“Joe the Plumber” meet “Tail-Gunner Joe”, otherwise known as Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.
The legacy that is Joe McCarthy is one that the Republican Party should never be proud of. It is a legacy of hate and fearmongering for the sake of gaining and holding power.
Joe McCarthy knew how to demagogue an issue. He didn’t need proof. He didn’t need evidence. He just needed to generate fear and hate and hysteria. He knew that as long as people felt scared, they would turn to him to point out “the enemy”.
And while his public targets were seemingly the “elite” in society, namely government bureaucrats, writers, Nobel Laureates, and those in Hollywood, he never let people forget that “the enemy” could even be their next door neighbor.
Fear, distrust, hatred, endless suspicion, they were all part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to keep the masses fearful and thus keep “Tail-Gunner Joe” in power. It probably would be more damnable in society if not for the fact that it has a proven track record of it working.
And while Republican presidential wannabe John McCain is fawning over Joe Wurzelbacher and pledging unending support for him and people like him, the legacy of Joe McCarthy has also been steadily creeping up.
McCain’s running mate, Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin, talked about “pro-America” and “anti-America” parts of the country. McCain himself accused his Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama, of wanting to “lose a war so he could win an election”. The words “treason” and “traitor” are flung at Republican rallies when the subject of Obama comes up.
And then there’s Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who took the “pro-America” and “anti-America” rhetoric up to the next inevitable level by calling for INVESTIGATIONS of WHO is “pro-American” and who is “anti-American”. Yes, you read that correctly. She wants INVESTIGATIONS. She wants the people she deems “anti-American” to be POINTED OUT, with, of course, public enemy numbers one and two being Senator Obama and his wife.
Of course, in all fairness, Congresswoman Bachmann did say that she wanted the NEWSPAPERS to do the investigative digging for her. She didn’t call for CONGRESSIONAL hearings, like the kind that “Tail-Gunner Joe” led fifty years ago that was directly responsible for needlessly ruining so many lives. No, those would be wrong. Plus she knows that she wouldn’t have the political stroke to invoke those kinds of hearings, even if she wasn’t a first-term Republican. Five years ago, such hearing would have been possible, but not today. Certainly not with the Do-Littles in charge of the House.
But perhaps it isn’t the fault of Palin or Bachmann or even of McCain that the legacy of “Tail-Gunner Joe” is making a subtle comeback in the ranks of the GOP. After all, the sentiment of “pro-America” and “anti-America” has been shoved in our collective faces for quite some time, but under the more direct “With-Us or Against-Us” tactic of Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush. If you’re not “with us”, blindly, unquestionably, and without hesitation, then you’re “the enemy.” You’re “against the troops”. You’re “anti-American”. A sentiment that has been stoked by the legions of conservative and neo-conservative talk show hosts that have spent the past eight years basking in the glow of the Bush Imperium and its unchecked powers, much like Walter Winchell basked in the glow of McCarthy in the 50’s. They are the ones that rekindled the demagoguery and the animosity and the hatred and left the fires burning for people like Palin and Bachmann and McCain to pick up and get burnt over.
I would dare suggest, though, that the reason why the legacy of Joe McCarthy continues to come back up like bad take-out food is because there never really wasn’t any JUSTICE over it the first time around!
Let’s look at the major players of that time…
Sure Joe McCarthy died a miserable drunk, but he was merely censured by Congress. He still kept his job and his benefits. He never faced any kind of real accountability for his actions.
Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s hatchet man, was allowed to die in obscure hypocrisy. A Jew who persecuted other Jews; a homosexual who condemned homosexuality and then died of AIDS.
Vice-President Richard Nixon would go on to become President of the United States in 1968, and even though he resigned in disgrace in 1974, he still managed to gain some redemption in retirement.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover managed to stay in power and, until his death in 1972, kept his job despite many attempts to remove him from office. He simply wielded way too much political influence to face any kind of accountability for his actions.
Walter Winchell appears to have been the only major player that truly paid the price for the stain of McCarthyism. He lost his job and his credibility, which wasn’t that strong to begin with since he WAS just a glorified gossip columnist.
Sure there were some people that took the fall over McCarthyism. Private “loyalty checking” organizations like AWARE, Inc suddenly discovered that they were legally liable for the damage that they caused over the blacklisting of groups and individuals. But most people involved with McCarthyism were NEVER brought to justice!
There was never any formal declaration that McCarthyism was WRONG. Sure we had some retorts from President Truman and from Edward R. Murrow, and even a few Supreme Court opinions were changed because of what happened, but there was no actual declaration that the efforts of McCarthy and his cronies and his acolytes and myrmidons were in fact WRONG. There was no outright declaration that they DID WRONG or that there WAS WRONG DONE! There was no attempt at repairing the damage wrought over it. There wasn’t even any attempt to formally APOLOGIZE over what had happened to those accused. It was as if these folks simply turned to the ones that they persecuted and said with a straight face “we’ll let you forgive us now.”
Let’s get brutally honest here… one of the major reasons why the stain of McCarthyism continues to remain in the Republican Party is because there was no repudiation of the actions afterwards! There was no admission of guilt, no admission of doing wrong, no admission of doing harm, and thus no justice done on behalf of those harmed. It was a crime against humanity itself, and those that commit this act have yet to be held accountable.
If McCarthy didn’t drink himself to death in 1958, then he would have probably stayed in office and remained a relatively obscure character, much like Senator Robert Byrd is today. He certainly would have had enough supporters to keep himself in office indefinitely. His accountability in the whole matter essentially ended with the vote of censure. That is how both houses of Congress worked then, and it is still how it works today.
McCarthyism was never condemned, because the tactics and the antagonism are still effective tools in the world of politics. What we consider to be a “stain” is, in the eyes of the GOP, an effective varnish for their political platform.
That’s why Governor Palin was quick to apologize over her “pro-America” and “anti-America” statements. That’s why the Republican Party has cut off all of Congresswoman Bachmann’s federal funding for advertising. You bring up the word “McCarthyism” and you remind them of the darkest period of their party’s existence. That’s like reminding them of that “I (heart) Dictatorships” tramp stamp that they got one night fifty years ago after a lot of drinking.
They can deal with being called Nazis, or fascists, or theocrats. They’ve got elaborate retorts for those labels and they’ve had plenty of experience retorting those labels. But they cannot respond against the tag of McCarthyism because they know that deep down inside their core being, they carry within them the seeds of Joe McCarthy’s legacy. Not only do they carry those seeds within them, but they also know that they are willing to use AND HAVE USED that legacy to their advantage whenever possible. It’s like calling a drunk out for being a drunk.
There once was a guy named Joe, and he was no plumber. He was instead the symbol of everything repugnant and repulsive in politics. And as much as the party officials will deny it, this Joe is and always will be more a member of that body politic than a million plumbers ever could be.