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"The New McCarthyism"

Posted by Christopher Shea  September 20, 2010 12:58 PM

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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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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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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.


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