The Daily Beast writer Peter Beinart recently characterized anti-Islamic bigotry--as evidenced, he said, in the controversy over the Muslim cultural center planned for downtown Manhattan, blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center--as "The New McCarthyism." This led Matt Welch, the editor of Reason, not to attack Beinart "but to marvel at the enduring power of 'The New McCarthyism' as a term of opprobrium." All sorts of campaigns by one political faction against another, Welch noted--and sometimes simply political criticisms--have been compared to the original overreaching campaign by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy to expose and expel from public life anyone with a tie to Communism. Nominees for the New McCarthyism have included the following (with the commentator making the charge in parentheses):
--Rep. Barney Frank asking for details on bonuses to AIG executives (Rush Limbaugh, March 2009)
--NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggesting that Rush Limbaugh would not be allowed to purchase a minority stake in the St. Louis Rams (Hugh Hewitt, Townhall.com, October 2009)
--Rep. Henry Waxman requesting that CEOs explain projected health care cost increases to Congress (Erick Erickson, RedState.com, March 2010)
--Karl Rove attacking liberals "as being therapists" (E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, June 2005)
--The "dramatic recent escalation of reckless anti-Google rhetoric" (Lauren Weinstein, September 2010)
Welch makes a persuasive case that "The New McCarthyism" is a rhetorical trope that should be squashed more often by editors. Or would issuing such an edict amount to ... well, you know.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.