Joe McCarthy redux | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Joe McCarthy redux

Michael Zucker
Guest Commentary

Last week we were treated to the first official declaration of a 2016 presidential candidacy when Republican Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, charged out of the gate at a Liberty University rally that students were required to attend.

Cruz has been frequently heard declaring "Leading from behind doesn't work. We must reassert American leadership in the world!"

He's a somewhat fascinating reincarnation of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the infamous 1950s witch hunter whose fetish was chasing imaginary communists in government. If you question that, just place head shots of the men next to each other and you'll see the remarkable resemblance.

But the likeness goes way beyond conspicuous similitude. Back then, McCarthy was the darling of right-wing extremists. Cruz is a hero of today's radical conservatives. Their methods are strikingly similar. Rather than intelligently debating the days' great issues, each has excelled in using innuendo instead of proved facts.

McCarthy vigorously attacked the Truman administration, claiming that its State Department was riddled with communists. He impugned the loyalty of Gen. George C. Marshall who had been Army Chief of Staff during World War II, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. He accused Democrats of committing twenty years of treason. He inferred – without evidence – that 1952 Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson was tied to persons committing espionage against the United States.

Using similar tactics, Cruz committed to blocking the confirmation of eminently qualified Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General. Voting against confirming Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, he baselessly suggested that Hagel had received money from foreign governments, telling a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing "It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea." In a February 2013 Politico opinion piece, he falsely claimed "Hagel's nomination has been publicly celebrated by the Iranian government …" Later that month Politifact shredded the claim. Cruz's grandstanding is vintage McCarthy.

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Beyond his image as McCarthy redux, Cruz's statements and policy positions demonstrate a high degree of political extremism.

He denies the reality of climate change and has erroneously called its advocates alarmists whose problem is that science doesn't back them up.

In 2013 he told a Heritage Foundation fundraiser that we needed 100 more senators like Jesse Helms, the southern Democrat turned Republican who called the Civil Rights Act "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress."

In his declaration of candidacy, he repeated a vow "to repeal every word of Obamacare," an action that would force millions to lose their health insurance. Yet the next day he told the Des Moines Register that since his wife was taking a leave from her Goldman Sachs position in order to join his campaign, they would lose their company-provided coverage. "We will presumably go on the (Affordable-Care-Act-sanctioned) exchange and sign up for health care and we're in the process of transitioning over to do that," he said. The extreme policy positions of the guy who calls himself "a man of principle" are exceeded only by his extreme hypocrisy.

To reverse what he calls the consequences of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy in which "our friends no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us," he has retained as a campaign foreign policy adviser John Bolton, a George W. Bush-appointed ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton is a neocon who was wrong on Iraq, wrong on its weapons of mass destruction, and actually wanted to raze the United Nations headquarters in New York! Like many other reckless war hawks, he has persistently pushed for preemptive bombing of Iran.

Joe McCarthy's downfall came from his overextending himself. In a 67-to-22 bipartisan vote, the Senate "condemned" him in December 1954 for "repeatedly (abusing) members who were trying to carry out assigned duties …" We've already seen snippets of bipartisan revulsion against Cruz. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recently referred to Cruz as a wacko bird; Rep. Pete King (R-NY) said after Cruz announced his candidacy that the Texas senator was closer to a "sideshow entertainer" than the "leader of the free world (and that) the Republican Party and the American people have to be able to find a more qualified candidate for president than Ted Cruz."

With today's extreme right wing holding a firmer grip on the institutions of government than that of their McCarthy era cousins, it remains to be seen whether Cruz will similarly self-destruct sooner rather than later.

When he became the first to declare last week, it's noteworthy that in a CNN poll for Republican presidential candidates, Ted Cruz placed ninth. It's called "leading from behind."

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