"Liberal McCarthyism" is a phrase I've seen popping up every now and again, especially recently in the context of the healthcare debate in America. If it means nothing to you, Senator Joseph McCarthy was heavily involved in what is known as the "Second Red Scare" in America in the 1940's and 50's, becoming the figurehead in rooting out Communist espionage in America. While the goal was certainly a true and noble one, McCarthy became more and more aggressive, putting accused through intensive hearings, and it encouraged an atmosphere of fear where unsubstantiated accusations were rife, and taken seriously. McCarthyism is therefore known as the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence (thanks Wiki!) "Liberal McCarthyism" is simply the modern equivalent, used by liberals in recent years.
The most common form of Liberal McCarthyism is usually aimed at tarring people with some form of bias or discrimination. So for instance, if you are against gay marriage, that isn't because you have strong beliefs in the role and institution of marriage, but simply because you are 'homophobic.' However, the common beating stick of Liberal McCarthyism is the issue of race and racism.
In England we have seen this ugly side of politics rear its head on a number of occasions, the most famous example being the Stephen Lawrence case and the resulting MacPherson report. It would take too long to go into the exact details and it has been summed up better than I ever could by Theodore Dalrymple in his article and critique in the City Journal this year.
He shows excellently exactly how the death of an innocent young black man was used in the most shocking manner by agenda driven liberals to attack the police, and accuse them of 'institutional racism.' This accusation made fifteen years ago, still taints the police and affects its performance and the morale of its officers each and every day. The Report's recommendation that a racist incident be defined as "any incident which is perceived as racist by the victim or any other person” has damaged race relations, both by increasing suspicion amongst minorities that there are a significant number of people (including the police force as a whole) out to get them, and by encouraging a 'cry-wolf' attitude to racism so that when a real case of racism occurs, it is sometimes met with skepticism by a defensive and weary population living in fear of someone pointing the race finger at them. While I agree with Dalrymple on most points, I disagree with him that the history of the MacPherson report can be written at the present time. I believe that the effects of this brand of Liberal McCarthyism will reach far into the future, and it will be left to historians in the distant future to assess the seismic damage it has caused to British society.
Now we turn to the present situation in America. Obama was supposed to bring a new era of post-racial America, yet the temptation for liberals to turn into present day McCarthyites was just too much. We have seen it in the President himself, he made a handful of pops at the Republican party during his campaign ("They'll tell you that I don't look like them, and that I have a funny name.") and Obama's McCarthyite streak was revealed in July when he called police stupid and threw the race card at them for having the audacity to arrest an old Prof friend of his, even though he had no idea what had actually happened (it turns out the officer in question had acted impeccably.) Poll numbers dropped and beers were drank in front of cameras to get the numbers up, but the damage was done, America was shown to have a President not scared to play the race card when it suits him.
Then came the town hall debates over healthcare, and since they have started, the racism accusations have come thick and fast, and are getting louder. Even Obama cuddling up to Letterman and making a forced joke that he was black before the election can't stop this hurricane of McCarthyism that has been unleashed by Obama's drop in popularity and the defeat of the summer healthcare push by the Dem's. With Obama's poll numbers dropping faster than the charges against Skip Gates, liberals are in panic, and after their first weapon - cries of 'incivility' and 'nastiness' - were brushed off, they have chosen to well and truly hit the panic button, which is to instigate an all-out war against free speech. Now liberal media pundits are talking of 'unsettling atmospheres' of race, saying that race 'is definitely a factor' despite not being able to provide any evidence for it. Talk of 'undeniable trends' or 'racist tones' crops up more and more, the goal being either the dismissal of people with legitimate grievances, or the quashing of opposition, or both. Even ex-pres Jimmy Carter popped his head up to tell us that all this opposition to the President was definitely because of racism. Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar was again put down to racism (as opposed to the fact that Obama was lying about healthcare of course), after all Wilson comes from the South so it must be racism! Signs portraying Obama as the joker were labelled as 'disturbingly reminiscent of minstrels and other such racist imagery', despite the fact that images of Bush as the Joker had been in abundance when he was President as well. The examples are endless, and only within a few months.
It is tempting to laugh off these attempts to create a McCarthyite atmosphere, but its important to take them seriously. It can work in creating pockets of fear amongst people who don't want to be labelled racist in their environments, and as we have seen in England, even something as poorly argued as the MacPherson report, can have devastating effects of society at large. Just as the McCarthyite period in the 1950's caused an atmosphere of fear in which people became scared of criticising American foreign policy for fear of being called a communist, Americans need to guard against a second McCarthyite period in which people would be scared of criticising any area of Obama's policies for fear of being labelled a racist. The movement to put such a period into action is already well under way.