In 2008, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) made a memorable appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” telling Chris Matthews that she wanted an investigation into members of Congress to “find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.” It was hard not to notice the parallels between the right-wing lawmaker and McCarthyism.
Two years later, one of Bachmann’s closest allies, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), voiced support for the revival of the House Internal Security Committee, the 1960’s-era successor to the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee. “I think that is a good process and I would support it,” King said in 2010.
What’s striking is the degree to which the GOP’s McCarthyite instincts just won’t go away. TPM reported this morning:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed the creation of a new version of the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee to root out American citizens who plan to commit terrorist attacks in the U.S.“We originally created the House Un-American Activities Committee to go after Nazis. We passed several laws in 1938 and 1939 to go after Nazis and we made it illegal to help the Nazis. We’re going to presently have to go take the similar steps here,” Gingrich said in a Monday appearance on “Fox and Friends.” […] In 1959, former President Harry Truman infamously called the committee “the most un-American thing in the country today.”
Occasionally, we’ll hear Democrats accuse Republicans of embracing shades of McCarthyism, and in rare occasions, prominent GOP officials are quite candid while proving Democrats right.
The broader question, meanwhile, is whether Republicans mind. Gingrich is no doubt aware of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s scandalous legacy, so his explicit endorsement of this as a contemporary model is a reminder that, for much of the right, Joseph McCarthy wasn’t necessarily wrong.
On the contrary, though there was a time when Democrats and Republicans agreed that McCarthyism was an ugly stain on history – a mistake that must not be repeated – as GOP politics has become radicalized, McCarthy’s image has been rehabilitated in recent years among many conservatives.
As we discussed a few months ago, a reporter from the Dallas Morning News told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2013 that he’d been compared at times to Joe McCarthy. Cruz said that criticism “may be a sign that perhaps we’re doing something right,” which seemed like a curious response given the context.
Asked specifically, “Is McCarthy someone you admire?” Cruz wouldn’t answer.
This year, however, a Cruz national security adviser said McCarthy was “spot on” about communists infiltrating the United States government in the 1950s.
This is far more common than it should be. Missouri’s Todd Akin, for example, compared himself to McCarthy two years ago, and he meant it in a good way.
In 2010 in Texas, conservative activists rewriting the state’s curriculum recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history. In conservative media, headlines such as “It’s Time to See Joe McCarthy For the Hero He Was” are not uncommon.
Is it any wonder Gingrich is looking to revive HUAC?