Can the Red scares of the ’50s mount a comeback?

Nothing in politics should surprise me anymore.  This, after all, is a country in which, polls suggest, millions of Americans still believe our president was born in another country and practices the Muslim faith.

That said, I was nonetheless surprised today to see this headline on politicalwire.com: “West says nearly half of House Democrats are Communists.”

This particular West would be Rep. Allen West, who represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. His charge was printed in the Palm Beach Post, apparently with no effort on the part of the Post to see whether there is one iota of truth to it (I’ll take odds there is not).

What’s alarming for those unfamiliar with the 1950s is that West appears to be pulling a page from book Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy used to wreck the lives and careers of thousands of Americans whom he labeled as Communists or communist sympathizers.

It all began on Feb. 9, 1950 when McCarthy announced in Wheeling, W. Va., “I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy.”

The speech catapulted him to prominence though he never produced a single name.  And as McCarthy moved forward, trashing the reputations of Americans in the arts, in journalism and in government, the news media made a practice of printing his charges without demanding evidence or proof.

Given that communism is hardly the specter it was back then, West is probably picking the wrong enemy at the wrong time.  But the news media should either ignore the man or force him immediately to provide detailed evidence of this preposterous charge.

The era of Joseph McCarthy was one of the ugliest in American history.  We don’t need so much as an echo of this past.

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About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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