In Alabama, state Sen. Scott Beason (R), who’s also currently running for Congress, told his local newspaper over the weekend that he has some concerns about a commonly used high school literature textbook (thanks to reader A.M. for the tip).
Beason put his own flag on “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials. The senator thinks it’s unfair that the textbook attached a sidebar asking students about parallels between the witch trials and Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s, in which numerous writers and others – including Arthur Miller – were accused of having communist sympathies.McCarthy was right about most of the people he accused, Beason claims.“So we’re comparing the McCarthy investigations of the 1950s, in which he turned out to be right, with the Salem witch hunts,” Beason said.
No, Joe McCarthy did not turn out to be right, though it’s alarming how many have come to the same conclusion as Beason.
For quite a while, the American mainstream recognized the fact that McCarthyism was a dangerous mistake – and the Senate was right to censure McCarthy in 1954 – but as Republican politics moved sharply to the right, the former senator’s witch hunt got a second look by much of the conservative movement.
And they decided they liked what they saw.
To be sure, for most of the political world, including many Republicans, McCarthyism is still seen as something of a tragedy. When the word is used, it’s not intended to be complimentary.
But there are exceptions. In Congress, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told msnbc in 2008 that she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America.”
A few years ago in Texas, conservative activists rewriting the state’s curriculum recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.
And one year ago next week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was asked whether McCarthy is someone he personally admired. The senator refused to answer.
When thinking about the differences between the contemporary Republican Party and how much it’s changed over the last generation, look no further than those who’ve decided McCarthyism wasn’t so bad after all.