Blogs > HNN > The Ugliest Chapter in the History of the Republican Party (And Why It's Worth Remembering Now)

Mar 15, 2004 1:28 pm

The Ugliest Chapter in the History of the Republican Party (And Why It's Worth Remembering Now)

In 1948, Republicans were confident that they could not lose the presidential election. The polls showed Thomas Dewey easily defeating incumbent Harry S. Truman; indeed, the lead was such that pollsters quit the race weeks before people went to the polls. In November, the G.O.P. suffered shock when Truman pulled off an upset victory. To this day, American history textbooks routinely show the photograph of a jubilant Truman holding up the front page of the reactionary Chicago Tribune reporting his defeat.

What followed the upset was the ugliest chapter in the history of the Republican Party. Intensely frustrated over being denied the White House for fifteen years, and vowing to use any methods at their disposal, G.O.P. leaders employed Cold War frustrations to their advantage and launched an assault upon their political opponents that came to be known as the Second Red Scare. While the roots of the “Reds in high places” campaign can be found in the early Truman years, the full-scale attack upon the administration and upon Democrats and liberals in general burst onto the political scene after the election of 1948. It took Senator Joe McCarthy a while to grasp what was happening and turn it to his advantage. But in early 1950 his sweeping accusations and reckless tactics, soon called"McCarthyism," achieved worldwide attention, and the attack on “Commiecrats” became the major theme in American politics. It helped the G.O.P. win in 1952. So powerful was the vicious slander, however, that even the Eisenhower victory could not immediately stop it. (Yes, there were Reds in high places, but McCarthy and his allies were almost entirely unaware of the genuine articles.) Historians have been arguing ever since about the overall impact of the Second Red Scare, but few deny that it was considerable.

I wonder if in our own time the Left, represented by the Democratic Party, isn’t suffering from the sort of trauma that gripped the G.O.P. in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Millions on the Left were outraged by the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Reexamine some of the wild and almost violent language employed during that crisis. And then came the upset election of 2000 and the near hysterical hatred of George W. Bush that followed. It isn’t that he was merely wrong to go into Iraq, says Senator Ted Kennedy; Bush planned and executed the war for purely political reasons (and thus is a liar and a traitor). Highly active in the John Kerry campaign, Kennedy declared on March 5 that the Republican administration was guilty of “pure unadulterated fear-mongering” and said that “no president who misleads the country on the need for war deserves to be re-elected.”

The Left is extremely agitated about the upcoming election. At a Kerry rally the other day, the audience booed and hissed at the very mention of Vice President Cheney. The sudden drive for homosexual marriage, the fears about confirming conservative judges, the terror about a possible repeal of Roe V. Wade (or constraining any form of sexual license) and the like have fueled the Culture War to a fever pitch. Frustrations over the war in Iraq add to the tension and are being exploited by Democrats throughout the country. John Kerry, who has a long history of voting against defense spending, now contends that the Administration is failing to properly equip our troops. The major media, having moved considerably to the Left since the McCarthy years, are intensifying the tension, routinely demonizing the president and the G.O.P. in general. The 24-hour-a-day news stations threaten to drive the nation, or at least the media moguls themselves, into a frenzy over the next nearly eight months before the election.

The contest appears, at this very early stage, to be a neck and neck race. What if the Democrats lose? Might we not expect an explosion of such irresponsibility as we have not seen since 1948? Can you imagine, say, Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle politely returning to their Senate duties? Would Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi meekly submit to the will of the electorate? Would the Deaniacs and Naderites go quietly about their own business? Would America’s campuses be more tolerant of the politically incorrect? Would Hollywood cheerily acknowledge the strength of American conservatism and begin to make films without obscenity, blasphemy, and national self-hatred? And what about judicial activists, the New York Times and its many wanabees, C.B.S. News, and Newsweek? Would we not see a ferocious attack from all the ranks of the Left that would intensify the Culture War and possibly tear the country apart to a degree that we haven’t seen since the Civil War?

There is, in short, a case for hoping that Democrats win in November. The victory would surely stop a new and perhaps more deadly form of McCarthyism in its tracks. The larger question, however, is whether or not this country can survive a victory of the Left. Now that’s a question that needs some responsible debate.

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Jesse David Lamovsky - 3/28/2004

Mr. Wright,

Well, I certainly didn't mean to imply that the only dirty hands during the War were Republican hands. And certainly not all of the atrocities were on the Union side (Fort Pillow is a good example, as well as the Crater). But the slave issue is not the only factor in the secession of the original seven states (differences on economic policies, tariffs, and the like played a part as well); and the secession of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennesse and Virginia was a direct consequence not of Republican policies on slavery, but of Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops to crush the rebellion (a wholly disproportionate reaction to the capture of Fort Sumter, which took place without a single casualty on either side). And of course, four other slave states remained in the Union. Either way, the presence of slavery in the Confederacy has nothing to do with whether or not the Southern states had a right to leave the Union peacefully (I believe they did). It's not as if the North was a panacea for blacks either. Nor does the presence of slavery justify actions like Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina or Sheridan's destruction of the Shenandoah Valley. These are war crimes, flat-out, by any standard. And it's significant that the prosecution of the war became rougher, more merciless, more oriented toward starving and burning the Southern civilian populace into submission following a Republican purge of "soft-war", mostly Democratic, generals such as George McClellan.

It's also a little disingenious to stress the race/class aspects of the New York riots (which are certainly evident), without pointing out that the draft itself, and the presence of Federal conscription agents in the poor Irish neighborhoods, was the spark that triggered the riot. You can defend the income tax and forced conscription (two Lincolnite innovations) if you want. I sure as hell won't. By the way, Reconstruction ended because the bulk of the American people were sick and tired of it, and who can blame them? And how long should the American people have been made to keep a boot on the necks of the white South, Mr. Wright? Another ten years? Another twenty? Another hundred?

Sorry about being an "idealogue", Mr. Ramburg. I'm sure you're not one.

Johnny Ramburg - 3/24/2004

Thank you sir. I was too lazy to go to that much trouble just to correct one ideologue, but you hit the nail on the head.

Tim Wright - 3/24/2004

"...the Republican Party was the driving force behind the prosecution of a conflict that killed over a half-million Americans, devastated an entire region, nearly destroyed constitutional freedoms in another, and counted among its side-effects the first American military draft, the first American income tax levy, and what is still, to this day, the deadliest riot in U.S. history."

While all those things were certainly happened during the Civil War, I am not so sure all the blame can be laid on the pre-Compromise of 1877 Republican Party. I seem to recall a succession of secession of predominantly Democratically-led states, starting with South Carolina, fueled primarily with their concerns over the North's desire to prohibit the expansion of slavery into Western territories as being the proximate cause of the war. Both sides, if I remember correctly, engaged in a brutal and savage war (does the massacre of black and white Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, by Confederate troops under the command of future KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest ring any bells?). Nor did either side really respect political freedom or embrace dissent. And, as for that riot, it was based more in race and class conflict pitting poor Irish upset over the wealth classes ability to buy their way out of the draft against free blacks who they felt were threatening their livelihoods. Ironically, many place a lot of the blame for those riots on leading Democrats in the North (like NY Gov. Horatio Seymour) for fueling the tensions by publicly insisting that the war had become a crusade to benefit blacks.

That's not to say Republicans can't point to other shameful moments in the past (or present): Their abandonment of Southern Reconstuction which left black prey to Democrats like Nathan Bedford Forrest was certainly shameful, but the scandals of the Harding Administration (as president, Harding joined the KKK in a ceremony conducted at the White House), Hoover's response to the Bonus Marchers, and that whole Nixon-Watergate thing—not to mention the record-setting number of criminal convictions the Reagan Administration officials—certainly rank up there.

But all these distracts from the rather shoddy and thin construction of the original article.

Jesse David Lamovsky - 3/22/2004

I'm not saying present-day Republicans need be ashamed of the Civil War, no. But the Republican Party was the driving force behind the prosecution of a conflict that killed over a half-million Americans, devastated an entire region, nearly destroyed constitutional freedoms in another, and counted among its side-effects the first American military draft, the first American income tax levy, and what is still, to this day, the deadliest riot in U.S. history. If it wasn't the most shameful period in the history of the Republican Party, it was certainly the bloodiest, and the most anti-constitutional.

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 3/22/2004

Are you saying that Safire has lied to support the Bush administration? If so, then so much for his rep for honesty....

And thank you for mentioning Will and his debate coaching of Reagan, and the subsequent "objective" praise of Reagan's performance. You probably know that Will used the Carter debate book which he knew the Republicans had stolen from Carter's people. (Did they steal it from the White House?) I'm so glad someone besides myself remembers the debate coaching and is willing to call offending big media people the liars that they are.

Johnny Ramburg - 3/22/2004

Have you noticed that Safire has repeatedly lied about Saddam's connections with al Queda? I do agree with you about George Will though. He should have been fired after coaching Reagan before a presidential debate and then going on the air and praising his performance without mentioning his status as his coach. Sadly, journalistic standards are just about nonexistent these days, if this is not the case then why do I still see surly Robert Novak on the tube all the time?

Johnny Ramburg - 3/22/2004

"(guess the Civil War doesn't count)"

What do you mean by this? Do you mean to say that the Republicans should be ashamed of the Civil War? I am confused.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/20/2004

Mr. Green is right about Will, whose occasionally elegant and pretentious constructions mask a lot of silliness. I suspect he knows better and is pandering.

The problem--continuing with the example--is that he doesn't get called on it in national media.

I also agree that the Bush administration is dishonest and in fact more than oppressive--the recent Medicare figure uproar is just another blip on the screen.

A corollary of my comment is that we ought to go out and challenge dishonesty and foolishness wherever we find it, even invite it.

I'm a fencer. In my sport there is a great divide between those of us who believe in and maintain traditional skills and technique and Olympic-style yahoos who merely want to turn on a scoring light any way they can. Many "classical" fencers have withdrawn into their own little groups, refusing to engage the "sport fencers" who've deprived fencing of its meaning and whose organized pursuit is, to me, fundamentally dishonest.

But whether in the States or Europe, where I live and compete now, I happen to think that the classical fencers' mantra--"We fence as if they were sharp"--demands that we engage anybody, any time, anywhere, and I do.

And I think that principled aggressiveness, to view a swordfight as a swordfight and a public affair affair of honor and agon, ought to extend to the intellectual and political arena.

Michael Green - 3/19/2004

May I say that I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Leckie. My problem is with intellectual dishonesty. To put it another way, one of my favorite columnists is William Safire--not because I agree with him, because I rarely do, but because I think he reaches his conclusions honestly and does so in an informative and entertaining way. By contrast, while George Will is in theory more moderate than Safire, I find his commentaries dishonest in more ways than I care to name here. It also has struck me that those who claim to believe most in freedom and openness actually are oppressive--a case in point being the current administration. The point is, we can honestly debate the issues in a respectful way. While respectful is a key word, I think honestly is an even more important word in that construct.

And let me thank Mr. Leckie for his comments.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/19/2004

Mr. Green--

I regard Reeves's piece as foolish right-wing stuff, too. On the other hand, my own in print and online has been attacked by the right, and for many reasons.

However, one of the things so terribly crippling to US public discourse, in my view, is the predominance of venues that preach to their choirs.

I may recoil in horror, dismay, or contempt at what someone writes, but please, let's also try to re-establish something of a "public sphere" in which we all can debate, and allow discussion, however imperfectly or sometimes against or opinion, to be at least a simulacrum of one.

Jon Koppenhoefer - 3/19/2004

Perhaps that's why this article is so fitting: it reminds us immediately what was wrong with the McCarthy Era and is now wrong with American public discourse.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/18/2004

No real disagreement from me, though I was a bit taken aback that you were not familiar with the anti-Semitism charges against critics of the neocons.

Indeed, I've been more startled by the co-optation of "liberal" categories from the past--pro-lifers raising the banner of the Civil Rights movement, charges of a "new McCarthyism" by a "left" that doesn't exist.

But I also have been uneasy about the discussion in the US of "Bush-hating." Please understand, I have contempt for the man and make no bones about it. I make it clear here in Europe that one reason I left the States was that I was fed up with Bush and more than dismayed by his regime and the US Right, which I sincerely believe are corrupt and dangerous, and because politics as I hope it to be no longer really exists in the US (a complex matter worth extended discussion, but not here).

While certainly I think that his tenure in office was made possible by questionable means that in my view deprive his administration of legitimacy, at the same time I am also sensitive to the idea--maybe inspired by a superficial notion of "balance"--that the Right never accepted the legitimacy of Bill Clinton's White House, either, and that the two sides are comparable in what passes for a public mind these days. Lurking in this observation are deeper, ethical questions--I truly think Reeves's piece is dishonest, the more so if he isn't aware of it--but I also think what is rather stupidly called the "left" in US politics can be drawn into that ethical failure and has been.

I don't for a minute think that hostility to Clinton, based on some ideological resentment that included a notion that only the Right could legitimately rule--liberals aren't real Americans, that mediocrity Gingrich once asserted--can be compared to what motivates us Bush-haters. We have real--certainly in my case visceral--differences with Bush (heck, I'm a Texan and deep down resent his claim to being one!) over matters of substance, and Clinton, a political manager of great brilliance and opportunism but basically "conservative," was no hero of mine, either.

The danger of rhetorical inversions like Reeves's is, paradoxically, that political differences, the authenticity of differing ideas and feelings, can lose their content and meaning.

Over the years we've tossed around labels like "conservative," "liberal," "racist" "communist," "fascist," "anti-Semite," "big spender," "McCarthyism," a whole lexicon, to the point where they simply have nothing but the effect of Pavlov's bells. Same goes for history, and I happen to think--while we're on the subject--that academic postmodernists have been complicit in making the radical scepticism and will-to-power of 19th century reaction fashionable across a wide and middle-brow spectrum. So too has the "financialization" and consumerism of the US economy, but that's another complex issue!

Same observation about shibboleths applies to "character" and I think Clinton, alas, looks like a gentleman of substance compared to the unspeakable overprivileged and corrupt lout who passes for a president of the United States right now, but what does it "mean" anymore to speak of "character" in politics?

Political discourse can--I think has--become a matter of managed imagery, and because of that dead-end I think real politics is a goner in the US. The fictional world of 1984 was primitive by comparison.

Michael Green - 3/17/2004

If Mr. Reeves wishes to accuse the media of being leftist, or Democrats of "frustration" with the war in Iraq, I would suggest that he write op-ed pieces for the New York Post or appear on the Fox News Channel. If HNN wants historians to take it seriously, it is bad enough that it links to those, like Daniel Pipes, who regularly play fast and loose with the facts about historians and political figures they dislike. But it certainly should not be publishing this kind of silliness under its own name.

Howard N Meyer - 3/17/2004

He so grossly disregards what has been done by Bush or in his name that one must borrow from from their rhetoric: in Bush we at long last have a president one can fairly call THE EVIL ONE..
To call him merely a "bad" president is sad understatement.

Mark S Byrnes - 3/17/2004

Reeves asks: "What if the Democrats lose? Might we not expect an explosion of such irresponsibility as we have not seen since 1948? Can you imagine, say, Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle politely returning to their Senate duties? Would Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi meekly submit to the will of the electorate?"

Of course they would. In 2000, Democrats DID meekly submit, not to the will of the electorate, but to the Supreme Court's partisan majority. What is truly remarkable is not "the near hysterical hatred of George W. Bush that followed" the 2000 election, but the equanimity (and naivete) with which Democrats initially accepted Bush. Can any objective observer honestly say that, if the position of the two parties had been reversed (a liberal majority of the Court had awarded to the Democrats the disputed electoral votes of a state governed by Al Gore's sibling), Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, Rush Limbaugh, et al would have accepted Gore's legitimacy? Preposterous. If anything, up until recently, Democrats had been too meek in their opposition to this radical presidency. There is indeed good reason to fear a Democratic loss in 2004; the rise of "leftist McCarthyism" is not it.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/17/2004

Mr. Leckie,
In response to some of your points.
"I do know that in response to criticism of the neocons, they have cried anti-Semitism opportunistically, in an effort to stifle (if not pison) legitimate debate."

I am not aware of such cries. Although I am certainly no fan of the neo-conservatives and their less-than-humble goals, I have never heard any of them cry anti-Semitism (and certainly not “opportunistically”), despite repeated claims to the contrary by their opponents.

"I also think it is perfectly legitimate to criticize the policies of the State of Israel, and perfectly reasonable to criticize or to explore US interests there."

I agree 100%. I was not referring at all to legitimate criticisms (or even some illegitimate criticisms) of Israel or the US. I was only claiming that those who saw a "commie" in every corner in the 1950's have more in common with those who see "Jewish interests" behind every decision today, rather than comparing the Red Scare with liberal concerns, as the author suggests.

In reality however, there seems to me to be little comparison for the Red Scare today, as nothing has yet garnered the amount of legitimacy (through Congressional hearings, media attention, careers destroyed, etc.) as the hunt for Communists did.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/17/2004

I don't know anyone who promotes a Jewish conspiracy idea who's taken seriously; I do know that in response to criticism of the neocons, they have cried anti-Semitism opportunistically, in an effort to stifle (if not pison) legitimate debate. While I do not see conspiracies thrusting hands out of the walls, I also think it is perfectly legitimate to criticize the policies of the State of Israel, and perfectly reasonable to criticize or to explore US interests there, whether Richard Perle's or those of the Christian Right.

As for our domestic "Red Scares," having read about the first, kicked up by the nationalist hysteria set in motion by the Wilson administration, and having come of political awareness during the McCarthy era--when my family directly experienced an almost hallucinatory attack, the hallucinations being those of the attackers--once again the Right has inverted terms in almost "Orwellian" fashion for opportunistic reasons.

Jesse David Lamovsky - 3/17/2004

To the best of my knowledge (admittedly not much), the Red Scare was, at least to a degree, a bipartisan phenomenon. One of the more notable red-baiters in the Senate, Patrick McCarran of Nevada, was a Democrat. Certainly the Southern Democrats had a fair number of red-baiters among their ranks. And Joseph McCarthy's downfall came about largely at the hands of Republicans.

Frankly, I'm more than a little surprised that Dr. Reeves basically points to the 1948 election as the trigger for the anti-communist campaign that followed, yet never mentions the fall of Nationalist China or the detonation of the Soviet nuke (and the subsequent uncovering of the spy ring that gave the Bomb to Stalin), both of which took place in 1949, and maybe, just maybe, had something to do with the Red Scare that followed. I know Dr. Reeves is trying to set up an analogy here, but...

What's up with Dr. Reeves apologizing for the Red Scare anyway? He states that he's writing from a conservative perspective, yet he is willing to blame the Red Scare totally on Republicans, calling it "the ugliest chapter in the history of the Republican Party" (guess the Civil War doesn't count), even though A.) Republicans (and by extension, conservatives) weren't 100% responsible for the Red Scare, and B.) there really were Communists, and Soviet spies, in positions of influence within the U.S. government. Yet here is Dr. Reeves, the conservative, blaming the Republican Party for "cooking up" the Red Scare because they were ticked off about the 1948 election. Dr. Reeves, it seems, is doing "the conservative shuffle".

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/16/2004

An excellent point Mr. Dresner. The Communists of the 1950's are the Jews (or Zionists, if you will) of today: controlling the country behind the scenes... working for a foreign nation... conspiring to take over the country and perhaps the world. If there is a connection to be made, that seems like a better one than accusing the left of simply not liking Bush.

Beyond that, the author makes a very weak case based on little more than erroneous assumptions and blanket accusations. The only point that the author makes successfully is that, like many other emotionally laden words, "McCarthyism" has been stripped of any relevant meaning as the result of continual misuse.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/16/2004

Actually, if you want to see what kind of a "scare" could become part of a new panic, look around at the conspiratorial discussions of PNAC and the connections between Israel and American Jews in places of power. Reeves misses that entirely, of course, and it doesn't fit his historical model (more of a 1920s Germany than 1940s US) but it's quite troubling.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/16/2004

For what it's worth, he's a historian, and he's writing historical analogies (you think this is bad, you should read the rest of his blog!). I'm not going to argue that they're good analogies, or that he is somehow non-partisan (quite the opposite), but Leckie is right: this stuff has a place here and part of our job as HNN readers/discussants is to place this writing in its proper historical and ideological context.

Daniel B. Larison - 3/16/2004

While I don't quite see the point of this article (except for the tired warning of some new semi-mythical "McCarthyism"), I would be interested to know what Mr. Reeves thinks the Democrats will say about their opponents that would merit the comparison to the "Red Scare". As for the scare itself, it had the merit of having some basis in fact, even if the reality became exaggerated out of all proportion. There were legitimate concerns about infiltration that turned into a sort of mania. In our own time, there is just as much reason to complain about the hysteria among Republicans denouncing their opponents as craven appeasers as there is among Democrats lambasting theirs as liars and thieves.

The very narrow claim that Mr. Bush was dishonest in his presentation of his pre-war arguments has some basis in fact, even if some of his critics generalise about this one issue and attribute nothing but ill-will and evil designs to the man in rather hysterical fashion.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/16/2004

Have fun with this stuff! Take it too seriously, you'll never be the same!

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/16/2004

I'd rather have a fornicator--one of many in DC, I'd guess, both Dems and Reps, heck Harding (a Republican) sired a kid in a White House closet--than a White House that outs a CIA operative for petty political revenge, starts a war that might still turn more than Mesopotamia into chaos, disingenuously saddles future generations with a mountain of debt, has perhaps as poor a record with respect to science as Lynsenko under Stalin, and toadies to corporate interests, and antagonizes most of the rest of the world. Rather have Bill's cigar than George's minions anyday.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/16/2004

Of course one can, I know a few, or more than, but my quarrel is with the political taxonomy, which has been used in an opportunistic and inaccurate--historically andontemporary--way, and the hedge "political center of gravity in the US" doesn't help. I was a bit imprecise and ought to've used St. Paul's as the example, I admit.

But getting my exasperation off my chest felt good, since in the view from here, the US sems quite mad. Greenspan's pronunciamento on deficits and consumer debt--though I guess Ayn Rand'd be right proud of him--greeted me on my monitor right after disembarking from my commuter train, so it's back--the exasperation--but the Exasperation Tank was vented this morning!

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/15/2004

Clinton wasn't a fornicator, don't you remember? Eatin' ain't cheatin".

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 3/15/2004

"Intensely frustrated over being denied the White House for fifteen years, and vowing to use any methods at their disposal, G.O.P. leaders employed Cold War frustrations to their advantage and launched an assault upon their political opponents that came to be known as the Second Red Scare. While the roots of the “Reds in high places” campaign can be found in the early Truman years, the full-scale attack upon the administration and upon Democrats and liberals in general burst onto the political scene after the election of 1948."

Was the late 1940s red scare really intensified so singlehandedly by the Republicans? I thought the red scare was always a bipartisan effort, though it was used especially by conservatives to intimidate liberals. If anyone knows different, please post to that effect. I hadn't been born by the early 1950s and my knowledge of that period is otherwise not as strong as it could be.

His article after the 50s red scare stuff is complete drivel. He uses non-evidence to support a ludicrous analogy as a vehicle for bashing political opponents for their supposed irrationality. While he misrepresents what Democrats and "the Left" are feeling, he isn't above suppressing evidence to hide reasons that sane people oppose GW Bush and his administration. He talks about the Democrats' "hatred" of Bush immediately after Bush's "election" ... and completely omits any discussion of the Florida vote scandal, something a large number of Americans are still angry about. And in a favorite dodge of manipulative conservatives, he talks up the culture war while not mentioning the economy at all.

This is partisan hackwork that didn't require a historian's hand. It is also a good example of the kind of inflammatory garbage that HNN periodically likes to post to stir up comments from board users.

Melissa Ann Macauley - 3/15/2004

Mr. Reeves asks, "Might we not see an explosion of such irresponsibility as we have not seen since 1948?" Answer: we already have seen such an explosion. We saw it in the Republican shut-down of the the United States Government in 1995 during the Gingrich "revolution;" we saw it in the Republican effort to oust a democratically elected President over his sex life in 1998; we saw it in the contrived Whitewater investigations throughout the 1990s. Whenever the Republican party assumes the majority in Congress, they abuse their position to wage war on their ideological enemies. Things really haven't changed much since the McCarthy era. I wouldn't worry about the Democrats adopting the Republican style of political warfare. They lack the particular combination of traits that produces such behavior: a rigid ideological certitude glued to a preening self-sanctification (a combination of traits that enabled an army of Republican fornicators to openly attack a president for his fornication).

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/15/2004

Come on, Bill. One year in a Swiss boarding school (of no great rep) becomes "educated in a Swiss boarding school"? I think it's more significant that he attended St. Paul's, with a per-student endowment greater than Harvard's. I don't think Kerry qualifies as a leftist, though probably to the left of the political center of gravity in the US. And yes, one can go to an elite school and come out a leftist.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/15/2004

Where is it?

Can anyone really think that the Democratic Party, which by trans-Atlantic standards occupies what might be a center-right position on the old-fashioned political spectrum, by any stretch of the imagination be called "the Left?" Is John Kerry, Mayflower descendant, educated in a Swiss boarding school, married to a godawful rich heiress, a "Leftist?" About as much as Bush is an authentic Texas godd ol' boy rancher.

And I must say that the deterioration of US civic rhetoric has in large measure been the consequence of organized and well-funded "conservative" efforts since the 1980s. No "Leftist" I know of has gotten the audience of an Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or that other loud-mouth, Bill O'Reilly...and while we're on the subject, where's the Rupert Murdoch or Sun Yung Moon of the American "Left?" What party has the likes of a Tom DeLay or Newt Gingrich?

What rainbow-loving liberal Episcopalian has the exposure of a right-wing lunatic like Pat Robertson? Whose sadistic, Medieval vision of Gospels has'em crowding the cineplexes?

What leading Democrat blithely says he had "other priorities" (a very liberal attitude) than military service in the 60s?

I have heard nothing, read nothing that even approaches the nastiness and scurrility that's come from patriotic quarter.

Liberals, "progressives," have a perfect reason to loathe Bush and his handlers and promoters, and to somehow put the roughly 50% of the country that wants a court-appointed, blatantly opportunistic, marginally competent adminstration out of power in the same shoes as the early Cold War GOP is an exercise in the same victimology of self that characterizes what Hofstadter called the "paranoid style" in not just American politics.

Reeves is another example of why Garrison Keillor is absolutely right to be up front and say Republicans are swine. Heck, most conservative Europeans I know--hardly Leftists-despise them, largely because the administration is pursuing policies "old Europe" pursued and learned from disaster to eschew. I'm no liberal, heck, not even close to being a "Leftist." I'm a fifth-generation native Texan, not a carbetbagger like the Bush. To me, Bush and Co. have no honor, no shame.

Where I live now I am asked: "Wohnen Sie hier immer?"

And reply: "Ja, oder bis Bush herausgewerfen ist."

"Gut! Gut!"

"You bet, pal."

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/15/2004

We've had speculations in the past concerning patterns in American history -- do I remember Art Schlesinger doing so, and a famous Duke professor specualting on cycles of presidential character?

Certainly frustrations build up, and over-the-top rhetoric and attacks result. But is a single term, or even a double term by Bush going to produce that level? Do we have the concurrent equivalent of a fall of half of Europe to totalitarian hands? Is it necessary to involve the press in this speculation? I doubt we'll have the mess of a McCarthy-like equivalent if Bush retains the presidency, but I wouldn't be surprised if we do get quite a bit nastier rhetoric from his opponents. Many of them despise him with the same passion that many of Clinton's opponents felt.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/15/2004

The problem I have with this article is that it assumes so much without defending any assumptions. For example, the author is trying to compare current liberal rhetoric with McCarthyism, but offers no explanation as to what they have in common. Then, the author makes note of the liberal media, a controversial claim, again with no evidence to back him up. Finally, although I cannot disagree with the hate and rage many liberals feel towards Bush, either justly or unjustly, can anyone deny the fact that conservatives have been just as bad during the 8 years of Clinton (I would argue worse but there is no need to make that claim just yet)?

The right accused Clinton of bombing Iraq right before an impeachment for political reasons, and questioned him repeatedly on other military activities. Clinton was even accused of murder in some conservative circles, if anyone remembers. As a listener of conservative AM radio, I can assure you, from my experiences, the left has no monopoly on partisan attacks. To suggest otherwise would require far more data and evidence than the author offers up here.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2004

I noticed that, too. But there's little point in engaging in a debate where the terms have been predefined to the point that one side can't win. That's not "honest debate": that's a rhetorical trap.

Ed Schmitt - 3/10/2004

What seems to be absent here is is the "honest debate" Professor Reeves calls for. He doesn't seem willing to engage the few comments his blog has generated.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2004

I find this rhetorically fascinating: the implicit assumption that the "Left" is overreacting based on a comparison that most of the Left would find troubling (McCarthy) is in tension with the subtly hidden admission that (as revisionists have argued ad nauseum) there was *some* basis in fact to the Red Scare (though, as Reeves points out, McCarthy didn't really know or care one way or the other).

I could go on and on, but the fact is that the "Left" can't possibly win in this blog, can't be right about anything, can't even contribute anything substantial. Having been dismissed entirely, I think I'll just stop reading this stuff.