Sunday, July 11, 1999

McCarthy would love the 1990s

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I spent a few vacation days reading The Redhunter, a fun book about Joe McCarthy, by William F. Buckley. And I decided: If Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Worst Nightmare, crawled from the crypt to terrorize America in 1999, he would skip all that folderol about communists and get serious.

        “I have a list of 205 known smokers . . .”'

        Or he could say:

        “I am holding in my hands the names of active members of the NRA . . .”

        He would silence critics with a few more carelessly chosen words:

        “I have in my pocket a list of 57 known racists . . . ”

        That's it, KAPOW, the atomic bomb that ends debate like Hiroshima ended WWII.

        And if Sen. McCarthy is half as scary as we've been brainwashed to believe, he would not hesitate to go nuclear, because calling someone a mere “communist” in the 1990s is like 10 lashes with boiled linguine.

        McCarthy was good at first, but he went too far — contaminating his namesake crusade like radioactive waste.

        “It was one of Joe McCarthy's ironic legacies that it became almost impossible in future years to say that anyone was a Communist, because you'd be hauled up for committing McCarthyism,” Mr. Buckley explains in his historical novel.

        Those who keep an open mind — and a dictionary handy to crack jawbreaker Buckleyisms such as “tatterdemalion” and “recondite” — may learn something else: Joe McCarthy had a point. There were communist who infiltrated our government. Recently uncovered KGB files confirm it.

        McCarthy barked up the wrong tree when he said Ike and the Army were soft on Reds. But that doesn't mean there were no bears in the woods.

        In college, we were taught that the anti-McCarthy crusade was journalism's finest hour. Bushwa. The long, steep slide of respect for the press probably began the day reporters took out a hunting license to shoot down the rabid dog McCarthy.

        Democrats who deplored his slimy tactics now embrace them; newspapers and networks that turned partisan to stop him sold out truth and their own credibility. McCarthy's legacy is a political gang war of drive-by smears and rhetorical arson.

        Recent textbook McCarthyism: The ghost of J. Edgar Hoover sent selected FBI files to the White House basement — and whaddyaknow, Clinton defender Larry Flynt blackmailed Congress with a list of known Republican adulterers. Joe would be proud.

        McCarthy is buried, but his name lives in infamy, and his style of incrimination by insinuation has never been more fashionable.

        Local examples:

        • Neighbors and cops were outraged when the city loaned $159,000 to expand the Parktown Cafe, a nightclub that has plagued the West End with chronic crowd trouble, gunshots, drugs, crime and litter. But they were afraid to speak up because the Parktown caters to blacks.

        • The same thing happened when I wrote about city quotas that have dumbed down and weakened police and firefighter training, to hire women and minorities who can't pull their weight or spel a symple wurd.

        The fire chief responded with a letter so hot I nearly called 911 to put it out (Page B3). But firefighters said I “hit the nail on the head.”

        “Ask yourself,” one veteran wrote, “why so many companies are needed to put out a building fire. Often it's because the officer in charge of the fire has to keep calling for additional companies until he gets people on the scene who are capable of doing the job. Watch TV coverage of a building fire and see how many "firefighters' are standing around outside "selling papers,' as we used to say.”

        A city employee wrote: “Believe me, the problems in the Police and Fire Divisions are merely the tip of the iceberg.” Unqualified employees are promoted because of their race, leaving others to do the work, he wrote. “This may answer some of the questions of why city services are not what they should be and employee morale is at an all-time low.”

        They write and call, but they won't protest publicly, because being branded a racist in the 1990s is as terrifying as being branded a communist was in the 1950s.

        “There's a certain political correctness about these issues,” said councilman Phil Heimlich. “Labels get thrown around. So people are afraid to address them.”

        That's why they need to be raised.

        Quotas that compromise public safety can be fatal. Trying to hide the truth behind phony “racism” is tatterdemalion (shabby) and recondite (beyond the grasp of the ordinary mind or understanding).

        But Joe McCarthy would understand.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.