The label rides high again a half-century-plus after its last heinous run.
Republicans: you can't beat the top guy just by stonewalling his policy agenda? Just trash him personally, right? Zap his administration's staff. Use that good ol' standby: call 'em un-American.
McCarthyism is alive and well in the 21st century. I thought the flame had died in the 1950s, but the ember endured and has exploded again in a full-fledged political conflagration. Its rage spreads during the heat of this election season.
Putrid fuel spews from volatile entertainment megalomaniacs like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump, as well as from far-right present and former elected government people.
Limbaugh calls President Barack Obama "a radical ideologue, ruthless politician who despises the country!"
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann says "he is the most dangerous president we have ever had." She wants an investigation of "the extent to which Muslim Brotherhood-tied individuals and entities have helped achieve the adoption of the State Department actions and policies;" she attacks Huma Abedin, Secretary Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff, charging that her family members had those ties.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls Obama "the most radical president in American history."
South Carolina Sen. Jim De Mint calls Obama's "the most anti-business and ... anti-American administration of my lifetime."
Mitt Romney's foreign policy adviser John Bolton says, "this is a president comfortable with the decline of American influence in the world."
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who was born in Cuba and whose father was a Palestinian-American, slurs Obama, who was born in America, attended Columbia and Harvard Universities, is a model family man for all of us - including Republicans who once heralded "family values" - and whose grandfather fought for this country in World War II, by saying, "I wish this president would learn how to be an American!"
Candidate Romney himself, who spent many years living in France, paints Obama as foreign-thinking.
We've been here before. In the mid-20th century, we had an official House Committee on Un-American Activities. Artists, screenwriters and directors were blacklisted, their careers ruined because they exercised a constitutional right by refusing to answer congressional witch-hunting questions. President Truman called the committee "the most un-American thing in the country today."
Meanwhile, the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy charged communist influence in the State Department, the Truman administration and the Army. He mercilessly maligned Gen. George Marshall, chief of staff during World War II, who later served as Truman's Secretaries of State and Defense, and who designed the Marshall Plan for post-war European reconstruction. McCarthy accused this Nobel Peace Prize recipient of treason and of being part of "a conspiracy so immense, an infamy so black, as to dwarf any in the history of man." McCarthy's Republican Senate colleague William Jenner said Gen. George C. Marshall "is eager to play the role of a front man for traitors."
Congressman Allen West's recent unsupported belief that 80 House Democrats are communists mirrors McCarthy's never-proved claim that he had a list of State Department employees who were communists and spies.
This reincarnation of labeling centrist and liberal patriots as "un-American" is vile. Who are we? We beg the question: is "Americanism" really exemplified by these right-wing crazies or by the common decency and respect of American citizens for one another?
McCarthy's methods were challenged by few Republican senators. Not until courageous media icon Edward R. Murrow confronted him directly, building a classic "See It Now" television episode around actual clips of the Wisconsin senator that put his antics on display before a large national audience, did McCarthy's downfall accelerate.
Today's Republican Party has been virtually silent on our time's version of this political vulgarity - until now. In the last two weeks, we have seen the first signs of cracks in that solid wall. Sen. John McCain passionately rejected Bachmann's personal attack on Abedin, saying these attacks "need to stop now." Her former presidential campaign manager Ed Rollins severely rebuked her comments, calling her charges "unsubstantiated," "outrageous" and "false." Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Marco Rubio rendered milder criticisms.
Judging by the Quinnipac/New York Times/CBS poll released Wednesday, Republicans' campaign strategy of portraying President Obama as radical or foreign is boomeranging. Last week Romney, lacking a concrete agenda, attended the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics where the American legend Muhammad Ali briefly appeared. Let's query Romney about his fallback strategy of character maligning with the tease Ali once used to taunt Joe Frazier: "Is that the best you got?"
- Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities.