Thursday, September 20, 2007

Flashback: Joe McCarthy and His Followers Try to Insist that Gene was Less than Militantly Anti-Communist


[Fifty years plus of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

McCarthy vs. McCarthy vs Kennedy.

Reelected in 1950 without much trouble in heavily Irish Catholic and Democratic St. Paul, Gene McCarthy pursued a second uneventful term. But by 1952 at the behest of House Majority Leader John McCormack (D-Mass.) and with the enthusiastic backing of Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB at St. John’s who was deeply concerned that anti-Communism would unleash an anti-civil liberties crusade that would seriously harm the Democrats, Gene, age 35, agreed to debate Sen. Joe McCarthy on network radio and TV. I saw the debate and while I didn’t rate Gene as a hands-down winner as many liberals emotionally did, I felt he handled himself…as a sophomore congressman, a member of the House Agriculture committee with no experience in foreign policy…at least as a draw.

The mythology since is that in the debate Gene humbled Joe. I am not sure Joe McCarthy was ever humbled in debate—not even by Joseph Welch, the Boston Brahmin attorney representing the Army several years later. What got Joe dethroned was a combination of booze and the general consensus of senators that he had to be coerced as a menace to free debate who whenever he was cornered would imply his adversary was a Red. The Senate as a club met informally and decided to take Joe down. The supposedly famous Welch confrontation (where the high-powered lawyer wiped a tear away and said, “at last, sir, have you no decency?” struck me as effeminate and odd. Thereupon afterward most of the senators on McCarthy’s committee abandoned him to the mores of the time. I am not sure anyone humbled McCarthy in debate, although I will concede that the Edward R. Murrow television program which caught McCarthy snuffling and picking his nose did a lot of damage. But like everything liberals do, the media were engaged in a coalition to do the assassination.

Having said this, on the telecast on June 22, 1952, Gene McCarthy was his calm, cool, practiced self on Theodore Granik’s “American Town Hall of the Air.” The sponsor was Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation which began the half-hour with a commercial that warned “to keep America the way it is, freedom must be protected from the seeds of socialism.” However the moderating was fair. Sen. McCarthy made the pitch: “We know we have lost an average of 100 million people a year to Communism since the shooting part of World War II ended. Not 100,000; 100 millio. Since the shotring part of World War II ended, the total lost has been about 700 million people. Right, Gene?”

Gene responded: “Senator, I don’t think you can say that we have lost them. We never had them. Of course, it is not our policy to have people. I think that we can say that we have saved much of the world from Communism through the sound foreign policy which the Democratic administration did initiate and which was given bipartisan support by the Republicans as long as it seemed to be going along very well.”

Joe: “You said we never had these people. We have had the Chinese people, 450 million of them as our friends for over a hundred years. This present administration has betrayed China.”

Gene: “…I don’t think we have betrayed anyone. If we look back at the American foreign policy it becomes clear that we have not had a consistent foreign policy since 1920.”

Joe: “Since 1930.”

Gene: “Since 1920…Let us go back and reexamine our Far Eastern policy for a minute. The U. S. did support the Most Favored Nation treatment in the Orient and that was the basis of our policy until the year 1900. Actually, all this meant was that if anybody was exploiting the Chinese and Orientals, we insisted that we have the same right to exploit them…”

This is, if I may say so, the most leftwing explanation of the Most Favored Nation policy that I have ever heard. It was early Blame America. Joe didn’t pick up on it.

“…After 1900 we began to talk about the Open Door Policy. This meant we were willing to exploit them in greater degree than anyone else if we could get the advantage.”

I guess Theodore Roosevelt who opened up China to trade was an exploiter. That’s vintage Godfrey Diekmann OSB, imbibed straight, right from the bottle.

Joe: “Let us bring it down to date, if we may. As of tonight there exists one of the most treasonable, traitorous orders that has ever been issued by any nation in war or peacetime. I am sure you will agree, Gene.”

Gene: “I am not sure.

Joe: There exists as of tonight an order to our Seventh Fleet which says that if our friends on Formosa, if they try to stop the Communist shipping, our Seventh Fleet will sink our friends and shoot their planes…If that is not treason, I ask you what is treason?

Gene: “I would deny it is treason unless the words `conspiracy’ and `conspirator’ and `treason’ have been redefined. You have to look at it in relation to the whole problem of the Far East. The question is one of whether we are going to be involved in an all-out war in that area or not.?”

That was a good answer and score one point for Gene.

The debate was a draw but the mythmakers, particularly Harry MacArthur, the TV critic for the Washington “Star” proclaimed that this debate would mark the beginning of Joe’s political decline. Wishful thinking but it did not. But it did boost Gene’s stock among liberals.

The debate stirred some out-of-touch Republican dinosaurs in St. Paul to imagine that if an Irish Republican could be enlisted to run against Gene and fly the bloody shirt in a who-is-more-anti-communist battle, perhaps the Catholics would be moved to vote McCarthy out of office. It was insensate nonsense. No one would possibly buy the thought that Gene McCarthy, former Frater Conan of St. John’s, was a Red. The Republicans…about as stupid as always…found a good looking lad named Roger Kennedy. A very good looking lad. But he was too young, a law student though rich—and he wasn’t Catholic.

It didn’t do the reputation of Roger Kennedy’s campaign strategist much good—Warren Burger. Burger got 36 attorneys to sign an ad charging that McCarthy had claimed a certain amendment granting preferential hiring treatment to those government officials who had been dismissed as possible security risks—a rather stupid amendment in view of the temper of the time…but McCarthy did it to ingratiate himself with the Left. Burger found 36 lawyers to say it was a terrible idea and who signed an ad; McCarthy’s people found 28 attorneys to say it was a good idea and signed an ad. In one debate where Roger Kennedy couldn’t show up, Burger did and stated “a bad security risk shouldn’t be employed by the government anywhere and the congressman is still for a proposal to give job preference to people dismissed as security risks.”

McCarthy answered: “Veterans still come first. And keep[ in mind that these people must be cleared by a board before being eligible for other jobs. Without the amendment, when a security risk was discharged, that was the end of the road for him. Yet the loyalty risk had an appeal.”

Not a very convincing point for those red-hot days but--.

Since Roger Kennedy had been a TV announcer at one point, he made a stir in a debate with Gene, using all the old formulae that Gene was soft on Communism as was the Truman administration. Here Abigail McCarthy responded in true demagogic style telling the media that her daughter Ellen came home from school one day and asked, “Mama, what is a Communist?” Answer: Why do you ask, dear? Ellen: “Because the children are calling Daddy one.”

This has been standard operating procedure used by spouses for any charge, pro-communist or whatever--and may well have been in Alexander Hamilton’s initial strategy book issued to the Federalists in New York state. On cue, the sob-sisters of the St. Paul “Pioneer-Press” went on a wailing binge.

McCarthy was reelected easily by a 34,000-vote majority. Then he began taking bows for “standing up to Joe McCarthy-style witch hunting.” Writing in “Commonweal” magazine, a Catholic periodical, on the subject “A Christian in Politics” Gene knocked off a mysterious theorem that could only have been fostered by Godfrey Diekmann OSB.

What is the line? Curious and improbable as were all of Godfrey’s and most of Gene’s. It goes: “The calling of a Christian is not to judge the world but to save it.”

Get it? But if you don’t make a judgment about the world, how do you save it? I have pondered that one for 40 years and have not come up with the answer yet. But it sounds….good…sounds so preciously non-judgmental and liberal.

McCarthy typically remembered the campaign of Roger Kennedy for the remainder of his life, voting against Burger’s confirmation to the Supreme Court on June 9, 1969 with great satisfaction. No let’s-forget-the-old-days-and-let-bygones-be-bygones for him. By now he and Abigail hds three children—Ellen, 7, Mary, 5, and Michael 4. A fourth child, Margaret would arrive a year later.


  1. Stan Evans was supposed to have a new book out on the Senator. It was referred to in Ann Coulter's book, Treason. It is supposed to be updated by materials from communist archives and so should prove of great interest to those interested in the truth.

  2. Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era by Lauern Kessler a good read on the times just leading up to McCarthy and how Truman knew a great deal about Soviet Spys in the US and the Gov but was hamstrung from saying much about it in large part becuase it would tip off the Soviets about methods.

    It's also the humanity of how the FBI dealt with the known spys... they were far more restrained then Liberal Orthodoxy would have us believe.