By Danny R. Johnson
WASHINGTON – Most conservative and liberal media have taken great liberty in postulating U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) as the next contender for the role played by the infamous junior Republican U. S. Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. Nothing could be further from the truth — and the comparisons are without substantial merits or analysis as to how these two men are vastly different.
For those of you who are too young to know who Joseph McCarthy was – just GOOGLE his name and see how much will come up. The junior U.S. Senator from Wisconsin seized upon the public mood in the 1950s to launch a series of inquiries through public Senate committee hearings about possible Communist infiltration of prominent American institutions, particularly the government, the military, and the media. Individuals suspected of Communist ties were called before his subcommittee, aggressively questioned about their involvement in the Communist Party, and pressured to name Communists. While the archives of the former Soviet Union and U.S. intercepts of Soviet spy communications later proved some measure of infiltration, McCarthy’s often savage efforts ruined careers and damaged lives. Always a controversial figure, McCarthy enjoyed considerable popularity for a time. Eventually, though, through the media campaigns of the famous and influential CBS TV news anchor of See It Now, Edward R. Murrow effectively discredited the anti-Communist investigations among many Americans.
In mid-1953, consider the challenges of the times; the coincidence of new administrations in Washington and Moscow creates a host of urgent questions. The Korean truce crisis opens ill-defined opportunities and painful threats in the struggle for Asia; the European alliance creaks with strain; riots and strikes in East Germany call for a sharper U.S. policy toward West Germany; at home, a new defense budget is tossed about in fuzzy controversy; new Government policies toward taxes, business, farming labor are on the national agenda.
Amid this immense pressure for decision, public discussion in the U.S. was dominated by one issue: McCarthyism. Abroad, among its strongest allies, public discussion of the U.S. was almost monopolized by McCarthyism. Compare these obsessions with the singular issue Senator Cruz would like for all of us to focus on and that is — in his own words – “the destructive nature of Obamacare and how it will cost the nation trillions of dollars.”
Senator Cruz, like Senator McCarthy, has Flattering Obsessions with Himself
The recent 16-days government shutdown and the equal threat that the nation came close to defaulting on not paying the debts Congress had accrued, were the dominant subjects in American and world media. Anybody who read newspapers, engaged on social media networks, listened to the radio or talked public affairs with their friends and colleagues in business or politics — does not need to be told how all-pervasive Senator Cruz and his band of Republican Tea Party comrades had become. McCarthy-in-Europe in the 1950s was surprisingly prevalent and well-known. In fact, Senator McCarthy was the second-best known of living Americans at the time and was regarded by many as the most powerful. McCarthyism costed the U.S. billions spent to promote international cooperation and trust and to advance U.S. leadership.
With Senator Cruz, along with the Tea Party in general, the shut-down and debt debate was an obsession-a delightful, self-flattering obsession that salves the bruised American ego with the balm of moral superiority to their cause in the fight to contain big government. The Europeans were not amused nor did they feel threaten by the fanaticism of the ultra-right Republican Tea Party. The Europeans and the Asian powers were mostly amused that a character like Senator Cruz could be taken so seriously by the Americans – and that the nation’s most powerful institutions were helpless in stopping the madness until the very last hour.
Standards and Poors Credit Reporting Agency estimated when it was all over – the Republican Party manufactured shutdown cost American taxpayers $24 billion in lost wages and productivity. What does that say about a political party that prides itself on being fiscal responsible of taxpayer’s money.
Equally important to note like Senator McCarthy who bullied his Senate colleagues to support Un-Constitutional acts of harassment of Americans, Senator Cruz convinced House Speaker Boehner and the House Republican Caucus to travel with him down the inevitable road of economic and political destruction. Lucky for us the U.S. Senate came to the rescue thanks in large part to the superb leadership and steadfastness of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House and Senate.
The specter of the U.S. in the grip of a hysterical demonization of President Barack Obama and the witch hunt of the Affordable Care Act, of Speaker John Boehner cowering before the Tea Party Caucus’ illusionary power, bears only a specter’s relation to reality. But it is the specter of that reality that flashed instantly in the minds of the majority of rational and sensible minded Americans (and less vividly to Tea Part Supporters) when the Tea Party and Senator Cruz is mentioned. Americans can now recognize more clearly the runaway minority caucus of Tea Party zealots who ran amok and embarrassed the nation in the eyes of its foes and friends.
Just as the media created the myth of McCarthyism, we must not allow the myth of the so-called seemingly powerful Senator Cruz to take hold. But the myth itself was first pumped up in the U.S., and in the U.S. today Senator Cruz is more myth than man-but not the less dangerous for that because his campaign and that of the conservative Republican machine to derail or eliminate the Affordable Care Act was unsuccessful, and is still established law. Senator Cruz is the latest of many personalities who has entertained the reputation of power, even an originally false reputation, begets power.
An aura of invincibility that now surrounds Senator Cruz himself, not a man to discourage reports of his own prowess. But the Senator Cruz myth was not created by parthenogenesis. It was busily fertilized not only by Senator Cruz, but by two notable groups of his supports like the Heritage Foundation and FOX News.
Long before McCarthy was a national figure, evidence began to accumulate of how deeply the U.S. government in the 1930s and ’40s had been penetrated by Communists and their sympathizers. The scornful cartoons of the ’30s, showing nervous “reactionaries” looking under the bed for Reds, lost their humor as one ex-Communist after another told his shocking story. There were, in sober truth, Reds under the bed-and not only under it. Emerging and increasing evidence of this was politically embarrassing to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
When the McCarthy evangel began in 1950, the liberals saw in his distortions and exaggerations a chance to divert attention from the bedroom scene. They began to construct the myth of McCarthy’s great power and his menace to liberty.
It was not easy to inflate McCarthy to his present proportions of a national and international figure at the time. Unlike most demagogues, he had no glittering, positive program; he did not deal in promises. He was conspicuously devoid of organizing ability or any flair for latching on to existing organizations. It is still hard to find any significant McCarthy following, either in the Senate, or among political or business leaders, or among the people at the time. A 1953 Gallup Poll indicated that less than 22% of the U.S. public had no opinion or think that he does more harm than good.
The 22% who thought he did more good than harm were indebted to McCarthy for helping them to keep up with the news. The evidence of Communist influence (95% of which was drawn out by investigators other than McCarthy) was not very difficult to understand. But apparently millions did not understand it until McCarthy restated it (and often misstated it) for them.
McCarthy’s dubious service to the 22% who needed his tutelage accounts for less than half the McCarthy myth. The rest of it was supplied by the New and Fair dealers who set out to prove that this cunning opportunist was the reincarnation of Confederate sympathizers, Huey Long and Hitler.
Senator Cruz and Demagogues like Him Should Be Exposed
Now signs appear that even some liberals and conservatives look askance at the myth they helped to create. After the budget standoff ended in crushing defeat last week and the political damage reports began to pile up for Republicans, one longtime party leader after another stepped forward to chastise their less seasoned, Tea Party – inspired colleagues who drove the losing strategy. A recent issue of National Review warns: “It is a mistake…to keep the spotlight focused on Senator Cruz; his is what he wants his opposition to do.”
“Let’s face it: it was not a good maneuver,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Senate Republican and supporter of the deal that ended the showdown, said on Thursday in an interview with Huffington Post from his Capitol Hill office. “And that’s when you’ve got to have the adults running the thing.”
“The business community thought the supply-siders was nuts, and the country club Republicans thought the social conservatives scary,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said of those squabbles. “That all worked out O.K.”
Far from being chastened by the failure to achieve any of the concessions they had sought from President Obama — primarily to roll back his signature health care law — the conservative activists who helped drive the confrontation in Congress and helped fuel support for the 144 House Republicans who voted against ending it are now intensifying their effort to rid the party of the sort of timorous Republicans who they said doomed their effort from the start.
So a start has been made toward cutting the Senator Cruz myth down to size. Before that job is finished, it will need more than rueful second thoughts of liberals and especially the Republican establishment. All of the Republican senators who voted to end the shutdown will have to deal again and again with Senator Cruz in an effort to contain his hysterical radicalism, which is a major liability to the Republican Party’s efforts to take over the Senate in 2014 and ultimately the White House in 2016.
Only an exaggerated fear of the Tea Party’s power could account for such disgraceful episodes as the delay from members of the moderate wings of the Republican House and Senate to stand up to the obstructionists within their party.
The Republican establishment will need to reassert its power and influence in order to eliminate that kind of paralyzing fear from the American political system.
McCarthyism was a parallel in modern history, and it was neither Hitlerism nor Huey Longism. In the late ’20s and early ’30s, Prohibition monopolized public discussion in the U.S. and luridly colored the European view of American life. An overwhelming majority of the U.S. people came to recognize that Prohibition was a mistake-but before Repeal in 1933, the opponents of Prohibition had exaggerated its evil effects as widely as the most fanatic Drys had exaggerated the evils of drink.
Prohibition was such an all-evasive issue that it shut off discussion of problems that turned out to be far more important. Prohibition polarized Congress, dominated the 1928 election, absorbed the White House, obsessed the press and smothered discussion of other grave questions of the Coolidge-Hoover period.
The hoopla over Prohibition died with Repeal. For the remainder of 2013 and hence forward, the American electorate and responsible leaders of the U.S. will not get public discussion back on the most important issues until they extinguish the Republican Party’s band of fanatics debate by an equivalent of Repeal and Repudiation of Senator Ted Cruz and Tea Party radicals who refuse to govern responsibly.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Washington, DC National News Correspondent.