When his detractors talk about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the one word that seems to come up more than any other is "McCarthyism." The point, of course, is to draw parallels between Cruz's worst habits and those of former Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), who led ruthless and baseless witch hunts against his perceived rivals -- while mastering the art of guilt by association -- before being censured by the Senate in 1954, in an effort led by McCarthy's own Republicans colleagues.
Though Cruz is nowhere near McCarthy's level -- give the Texan time, he only joined the Senate last month -- the accusations are not without merit. We saw repeated examples of this during Cruz's campaign against Chuck Hagel's Defense Secretary nomination, which led Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to recently note, "It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, 'I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,' and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times."
It was a trick Cruz leaned on repeatedly to question Hagel's loyalty and patriotism, going so far as to suggest, without evidence, the former Republican senator may have received unreported funds from foreign enemies of the United States.
But Jane Mayer reports today that it wasn't too long ago that Cruz delivered a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally, sponsored by the Koch brothers' political group, accusing Harvard Law School of harboring secret Communists on its faculty
Cruz greeted the  audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as "the most radical" President "ever to occupy the Oval Office." (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, "would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School." The reason, said Cruz, was that, "There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government."
A Harvard Law spokesperson told Mayer the school is "puzzled" by Cruz's accusations.
Of course, this shouldn't come as too big a surprise. Most Americans look at McCarthy's record as a stain on our political history; Cruz seems to look at McCarthy's record as a how-to guide.
Postscript: Long-time readers may recall that I've been fascinated for several years with the right's willingness to re-embrace Joe McCarthy and his brand of politics.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are "pro-America or anti-America"; and in Texas, right-wing activists rewriting the state's curriculum have recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, "vindicated" by history.
If I thought they'd appreciate it, I'd gladly chip in to buy copies of "Good Night, and Good Luck" for Cruz and his allies.