With the McCarthyite antics of newly elected tea party Senator Ted Cruz from Texas, we see an increase in right-wing efforts to smear liberal opponents as Communists, as supporters of terrorism, as un-American. Apparently, several years ago, Cruz falsely proclaimed that there were 12 Communists on the faculty of the Harvard Law School, of which he was a graduate.
Last year, Allen West, since-defeated congressman from Florida, accused the entire Congressional Progressive Caucus of being Communists, declaring that he “knew” of 80 or 81 members of the Communist Party currently in Congress.
Michele Bachman famously told Chris Matthews on Hardball that congresspeople should be investigated for “anti-Americanism.” They want the public to think of any opposition to their right-wing ideology as being allied with Communists, terrorists, or both.
We also see this in tea party fulminations against Obama as a socialist, fascist, communist, Marxist, foreign tyrant, based on nothing but their own nightmare visions.
Such moves are drawing condemnation, from other senators, from some editorial pages, from the New Yorker blog, and many others. This is a welcome development, when mainstream politicians, including some Republicans, publicly reject such attacks.
Most liberal condemnation of Cruz, West, and their ilk, however, points out the ridiculousness of these false claims. However they often also implicitly accept the premise-that Communists are to be condemned, just for being Communists.
Several decades ago in Seattle, there was a horrific murder of the Goldmark family. The father was a prominent liberal Democrat. A demented individual, goaded on by the propaganda of a fringe right-wing group then known as the “Duck Club,” murdered him, his wife, and their two children on Christmas Eve.
The entire community was properly outraged; the perpetrator was arrested and convicted. The Duck Club had to disband. In the process, the editorial page of the Seattle Times opined that this crime was particularly vicious and idiotic because the delusion that Goldmark was a Communist was so egregiously phony.
However, the way they discussed this, it seemed as if, had the accusation been true, the crime would have been less horrific. This liberal acceptance of the terms of anti-communism betrays a second form of anti-communist smear.
Yes, the right-wingers sling around stupidity and ignorance when they accuse liberals of being Communists. Yes, they are vicious and malicious, creating false issues to bash their liberal opponents, now even bashing staunchly conservative former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel during the hearings on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense, because he eventually rejected the Bush invasion of Iraq.
But too many take for granted that if the accusation were true, then the tactics of these right-wing foaming-at-the-mouth reactionaries would be more acceptable.
No, these attacks are wrong, no matter who they are aimed at. In part, the problem with McCarthyism was that he (and his allies) falsely and publicly attacked people for being Communists who were not, even by the loose standards of congressional rhetoric. But these accusations were also wrong when they attacked actual Communists.
After many years of legal and political struggle, many of the anti-communist laws of the period, or portions of them, were rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Smith Act, the McCarran Act (which authorized the government to set up concentration camps for radicals, among other things), and the congressional witch-hunt House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Subversive Control Committee, all eventually had to retreat, though the anti-communism they promoted never went away.
The Communist Party USA is a legal party (in spite of efforts to criminalize membership) and a valid participant in the political life of our country. We have just as much right as any other citizen to hold and state our views on issues of the day, on the nature of our political and economic systems, and anything else we actually want to say (not what reactionaries use their fevered imaginations to dream up what they claim we advocate).
The right wing is wrong. Wrong when it falsely accuses mainstream liberals of being Communists. Also wrong when they falsely accuse Communists of conspiracy, of trying to “overthrow” democracy, of advocating violence. None of those accusations are true.
They lie because they want to avoid engaging with our actual ideas and policies. They lie because they want a convenient cudgel to beat their opponents with. They lie because they want to divide liberals, progressives, and radicals from each other, much as McCarthy and others wanted to do in the late 1940s and 1950s. They lie because it draws attention away from the hollow and anti-human policies they are trying to impose on the country.
Allen West and Ted Cruz are wrong. They have proven themselves to be capable of public idiocy, of propagating lies and false implications, of ignoring common decency. But they are also wrong when they accuse the Communist Party USA, either explicitly or implicitly, of not being a legitimate part of U.S. political life. They are wrong when they claim, without proof, without logic, without sense, that we advocate anything other than what we feel is the best path for the majority of people. They lie about what we advocate, and then use those lies to swing wildly at everyone who disagrees with them.