Thursday, November 21, 2002

I'm not sure if it's because the site popped up when I was on my little hiatus or whether I had just missed it, but Prof. Thomas Spencer's History News Network is an interesting read. Check out this piece on neo-McCarthyism (linked above):

I just taught about McCarthyism last week in my survey course and it was amazing -- and a bit disquieting -- the amount of plausible connections I could draw to the present. In 1952, Republicans used McCarthyist scare tactics to sweep to power despite the fact that there were no major economic problems at the time....

...Like their counterparts in the 1950s, Republicans today have also shown that, despite what they say about protecting America and securing freedom, they are not very serious about this at all. As in the 1950s, the policies they pursue actually threaten the freedom that you and I currently have instead of protecting it.

Republicans apparently haven't learned the most important historical lesson of the 1950s. While McCarthyism allowed Republicans to achieve certain political ends, the central historical lesson of the era is that the U.S. government actually curtailed freedom in the name of protecting it. The Bush administration's policies threaten to repeat that major mistake.

If the administration's policies continue to go down the path of curtailing the basic freedoms of Americans, W and the boys should be prepared for the rather harsh verdict of history that is surely to come.

And that's one thing I am certain about -- historians won't let this one get by them at all.
While Prof. Spencer does acknowledge that there isn't a 1-1 comparison between McCarthy and the current Republicans (like there ever is), the basic point is sound. Franklin's dictum about freedom and security weighs heavily here, and I don't know whether it's more tragic that these sorts of things are happening or that they're happening under the watch of the party that was at one point (theoretically) all about individual civil rights.

Come to think of it, if the Democrats jumped on this issue and if it became a serious one, I wonder if we could see another realignment? Tie together economic rights and civil rights and you've got a somewhat classically left-liberal rights based party in the Democrats, whereas the emphasis on security (and inevitable reemergence of the religious right) would suit a Republican party that returns to a somewhat more traditional conservatism.

The key, I suppose, is where small "l" libertarians will come down on this if this becomes a hallmark of the Republican party. While I'm sure they like those Republican tax cuts, the prospect of an agency whose members are politically appointed, socially conservative and damned near omniscient has got to be somewhat alarming.

Then again, the Dems might not want to touch this issue, and might have good reasons. Still, they need new ideas, and the first step towards rehabilitating the term "liberal" (besides a real, unapologetically liberal media outlet to match Faux or the radio ranters) is to connect the rights that Americans take for granted with the liberal tradition that gave them to them.

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