Essay, Research Paper: McCarthy's Abuse Of Power


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In 1954 a young junior Senator from the state of Wisconsin held the entire
Senate in the palm of his hand. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy used an aggressive
strategy of lies, personal attacks, and propaganda in an aggressive attempt to
gain power. Was Senator McCarthy a crusader for the common good of the people or
was he the ringleader of a witch-hunt seeking only political power? What tactics
did McCarthy use to gain his power? What brought about his demise? Joseph
McCarthy was a complex man and in order to understand his thinking you must
first look at his history, tactics, and supporters. Joseph McCarthy wasn’t
always the brash and aggressive man that history has made him out to be.
McCarthy was born to a good Irish Catholic family. Neighbors remember Joseph as
being a shy lad, seen-but-not-heard. At nineteen McCarthy left home to fill a
position as a store manager. At about this time the once shy and timid boy began
to change into a sharp and aggressive man. McCarthy went back to school where he
graduated from Marquette University with the title class president and a law
degree. McCarthy began practicing law in a small town and was soon offered a
position with a well-respected law firm, which he snatched up. McCarthy soon
became disenchanted working for someone else and wanted some power of his own.
McCarthy began hobnobbing with the local clubs and organizations McCarthy was so
well liked that he was elected president of the Young Democratic Clubs of
Wisconsin’s Seventh District. With a political backing McCarthy decided to run
for district attorney of Shawano County under the Democratic ticket. McCarthy
came in second losing to a Progressive candidate but beat out the Republican
candidate by about a thousand votes. McCarthy polled in seven times as many
votes as he should have which gave the fresh faced lawyer good hopes for the
future. McCarthy, in his high spirits, than decided to go after the position of
tenth circuit judge. McCarthy faced a tough challenge because in front of his
ambitions was a seasoned Judge of 35 years who most people predicted would be a
sure win. One farmer describes McCarthy, “ He had barely turned thirty; he was
probably the least experienced lawyer in the district, and he lacked the dignity
a judge should have.” McCarthy would not let opinions get in his way and he
ran a furious campaign. Judge Werner was 66 and McCarthy referred to him as
“my 73-year-old Opponent,” because of this McCarthy was able to exploit an
age issue, which he used it in his campaign. McCarthy also ran an aggressive
mailing campaign sending out thousands of letters. All of these factors lead
Joseph R. McCarthy to the courthouse and granted him his first taste of
political power. “Judge McCarthy Breezed into the courtroom full of vim and
vitality, like a strong west wind blowing through the moldering halls of
justice.” McCarthy came to the courtroom with energy, which quickly dealt away
a backlog of nearly 250 cases. McCarthy was not as judicial as he was quick and
was known to grant “quickie divorces” to his political supporters. At one
point the Wisconsin Supreme Court labeled his actions as “highly improper.”
While a judge McCarthy began networking and developed a list of names and
numbers of key political players and media connections, which he could count on
if he ever need support. In 1942 McCarthy waived his judicial deferment and
joined the Marine Corps. The reason for this is shaky at least but his actions
in the Corps give evidence that he needed a good military background if he were
to be successful in politics. “He quickly won a reputation among fellow
officers as an “operator” and a “promoter. On one occasion he sat in the
rear of a grounded dive bomber and fired off 4,700 rounds of ammunition, a
publicity stunt which made the Associated Press wire.” In another instance
McCarthy spread around a rumor that he had been wounded in action, which also
made the papers back home. McCarthy with the rank of Captain went on active
leave and upon return to Wisconsin decided to change his party affiliation to
Republican and divert all his political energies towards running for Senator.
Two things conflicted with this action, one is that servicemen are forbidden to
speak on political issues, and two that he was still a judge and was not allowed
to hold any other office until his term ran out. McCarthy confronted these
issues the same way he confronts all his issues, he ignores them. With the dirt,
which he had acquired while working as a judge, McCarthy outmaneuvered and out
hustled all other opponents to win the Republican nomination. McCarthy’s next
major political challenge was against Democratic nominee Howard McMurray. This
is the first incidence that McCarthy uses the issue of communism. “He told one
audience that McMurray was “communistically inclined,” and another that he
was a megaphone being used by the Communist-controlled P.A.C.” McCarthy did
not press to hard on the communist issue, and when he did use it he was in line
with the rest of his party who were criticizing liberals all over the country.
McCarthy won the Senate race against McMurray, but not by a well ran campaign.
The fact that McCarthy was a Republican in a Republican year made all the
difference and McCarthy rode in on his party’s shoulders. While in the Senate
McCarthy begins to show his real qualities which history has given him. He uses
slander, liable, and all out fabrication of the truth to his credit. His first
year in congress was uneventful and people have labeled him as a substandard
Senator if it were not for his discovery of the communist issue and speech at
Wheeling, West Virginia. McCarthy more than once trampled over the unwritten
rules of seniority, courtesy, and reciprocity which or legislative body enforces
in order to pass legislation. “He had no respect for the spirit of senatorial
courtesy or for the rules of seniority, and he was perfectly willing to make
personal attacks on fellow senators.” McCarthy was an opportunist and one
Senator was quoted as saying of McCarthy that, “ he will run the knife into
you – particularly if the public is going to see it – and he will do it for
no particular reason.” McCarthy when questioned and confronted turned the
table around and attacked the person rather than the idea that was being
debated. “If one was ever approached by another person in a not completely
friendly fashion, one should start kicking at the other person as fast as
possible below the belt until the other person was rendered helpless.”
–McCarthy. McCarthy’s strategy was to go on the offense at all times. Above
all McCarthy’s major contribution to government was his extreme views towards
communism and subsequent branding of people as traitors or communists in order
to gain the spotlight. McCarthy was famous for bringing up the “the communist
issue.” It was the 1950’s and the U.S. was looking at a cold war with
communist Russia. It was in this atmosphere that McCarthy was able to flourish.
He constantly attacked his opponents and accused them of being “communists”
and having “a direct line to the Kremlin.” McCarthy was very critical of
liberals and Democrats in general labeling them as having a “communist
inclination.” When performing cross-examinations of witnesses he would attack
the prosecuting attorneys with information his clerks dug up if he were ever
antagonized. McCarthy used slander to his advantage at every opportune time and
other Senators who got in his way were eliminated from the picture, which was
the case with Senators Benton and Tobey, which McCarthy trampled on early in his
career. Democrats were afraid to confront McCarthy because of his strong support
by other Republicans, and even Republican President Eisenhower was quoted as
saying, “ I refuse to step into a gutter fight with that man.” McCarthy also
used all out lies and arm pulling of the truth to gain power. After McCarthy
gave his first famous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia. In this speech he
claimed the he had a list of 205 members of the Communist Party who were working
in the State Department. The List, which he had received, was over ten years old
and the FBI cleared most of the people on the list of all charges. In actuality
the list was only 57 names long and McCarthy drastically fabricated the actual
content of the Lee List. Take for example Lee case no. 40 and McCarthy case no.
36 that were later discovered to be the same case. “Lee case no. 36: This
employee is with the Office of Information and Educational Exchange in New York
City. His application is very sketchy. There has been no investigation. (C-8) is
a reference. Though he is 43 years of age, his file reflects no history prior to
June 1941 McCarthy case no. 36 This individual is 43 years of age. He is with
the Office of Information and Education. According to the file, he is a known
Communist. I might say that when I refer to someone as being a known Communist,
I am not evaluating the information myself. I am merely giving what is in the
file. This individual also found his way into the Voice of America broadcast.
Apparently the easiest way to get in is to be a Communist.” McCarthy’s cases
were all out fraudulent. The Democrats under the Tydings Committee tried to
investigate McCarthy’s charges but partisan politics got in the way and
McCarthy was able to worm his way out of confrontation by the help of a strong
Republican Congress and a fear of McCarthy. McCarthy continued to look for
communists in government till the end of his power and ultimate censure.
McCarthy would follow up on the slightest hint of left wing involvement in
government. McCarthy’s strategy became known throughout the world as
McCarthyism, which is short for “communism in-government.” McCarthy said
this about his ideology, “it means fighting communism; it means getting tough
with the subversives in Government and outside, and with those who for any
reason seek to protect them to escape the consequences of their own negligence
or worse. That’s what ‘McCarthyism means.” McCarthy would sometimes charge
more than one issue at a time so that his democratic opponents still dazed from
his previous accusations would be caught off their feet when he accused another
organization of “harboring communists.” “From the very outset McCarthy had
the backing of a small but strategically located group of conservative
Republicans to whom the Communist issue had long been important. The one thing
that made McCarthy so powerful was his strong support from other conservatives.
Fear of a conservative backlash kept Democrats hiding in the shadows and allowed
McCarthy to run wild through the Senate. The only way people thought that
McCarthy would be stopped is if he destroyed himself. McCarthy would sooner or
later attack something to big, or the people would just get tired of him. Both
of these eventually happened. McCarthy’s opponents most often than not were
destroyed verbally or at the election booths across the country. “This man,
terribly dangerous in the eyes of sophisticated observers of American politics,
had obtained the backing of millions of American people.” But in early 1954
the opinion of what McCarthy was doing began to change. People were becoming
tired of the same old thing so McCarthy would push harder and make more
audacious attacks which would offend more and more people. In 1954 McCarthy went
after the largest military branch at the time in our nation, the army, looking
for communists. McCarthy attacked the army with trumped up charges and used
circumstantial evidence to support his findings. The Republicans were under
increasing pressure to withdraw support for McCarthy by the president and they
were also losing votes at home. Republicans urged McCarthy to stop and on May
26, 1954 a motion was passed to end the hearings and drop all charges. This was
the last straw for many moderate supporters of McCarthy and the tide was turning
against him. On July 30, 1954 with the help of Ex-senator Benton, The Watkins
Committee, and the Clearing-House Organization, McCarthy was finally censured by
a vote of 67-22. “They’re shooting at me from the other end of the Avenue”
was McCarthy’s reply to the censure. Afterwards McCarthy was given the silent
treatment and was simply ignored for the rest of his term. McCarthy’s quest
for power ultimately destroyed him. McCarthy is a good example of what can go
wrong if people put aside the rules and seek only publicity and power. The
censure ultimately destroyed McCarthy because not soon afterward he died in
obscurity. McCarthy was full of self-contempt, insecurity, and self-doubt, which
eventually created the person history recognized. His tactics of slander, lying,
and liable lead to a witch-hunt which lasted for five years. With strong backing
from a Republican President and Congress, Joseph R. McCarthy was able hold the
Senate hostage as he madly grasped for power.
James Rorty & Moshe Decter, McCarthy and the Communists, The Beacon
Press, Boston, 1954 Robert Griffith, The Polotics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy
and the Senate, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1970 Anderson &
May, McCarthy the Man the Senator the "ism", The Beacon Press, Boston,
1952 Michael Paul Rogin, The Intellectuals and McCarthy the Radical Specter, The
MIT Press, Boston, 1967 Buckley Jr. & Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies,
Arlington House, New Rochelle, 1970

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