American Democracy and the New McCarthyism

Basil Wilson's picture

American politics began taking a nasty turn in the post-Reagan years.  From the late 1960s, Kevin Phillips, the American historian, had indentefied trends that he predicted would lead to a Republican majority at the federal level.  Phillips depicted the shift in money from the Northeast to the Southwest which he argued reflected a burgeoning conservative tendency.  Phillips also identified the population increase in the south-west as pivotal demographic shifts and that the civil rights movement had alienated whites who had bolted the Democratic Party and found refuge in the more conservative Republican Party.

At this juncture in his writings, Kevin Phillips articulated and embraced an American populism which simply did not exist.  As Phillips would soon discover, the Reagan revolution had nothing to do with populism but in enacting policies that would be beneficial to the greedy.

Republican ideology had a limited appeal to the majority of people who work for a living and that is why Bill Clinton emerged in the 1990s as a populist Democrat. It is during the Clinton years that we began to see the right wing pursue the naked pursuit of power and the politics of personal destruction.  We also see the bankrolling of this kind of dastardly politics by right wing billionaires.

In the 1990s, Republicans in Congress resuscitated Mc McCarthyism and used Congressional hearings to institutionalize a new kind of politics. 

Wealthy right wing donors in Pittsburg funded reporters to drudge up dirt on the Clintons.  It first began with the appointment of Special Prosecutors who were convinced that Hillary Clinton’s law firm was involved in a Whitewater development scheme in Arkansas.  When the initial Prosecutor could not unearth anything damning, the right wing fanatics in the Congress kept appointing Special Prosecutors until it led to the House indicting Bill Clinton for lying under oath about his extramarital affairs.  The Senate rejected the impeachment over-reach but that did not end the new McCarthyism.  Incidentally, the vicious nature of the new McCarthyism was too much for Vincent Foster, the Chief Counsel in the White House who was driven to suicide.

The new McCarthyism became even more ferocious with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency and even though he was re-elected in 2012, the politics of destruction have continued and taken on new forms which could do long term damage to American democracy.

Republicans in the House have emulated the witch-hunting practices that were apparent during the Clinton years.  They have no program that can be beneficial to the majority of the American people and thus they stir false consciousness and play on the fears of white America.  This means an endless search for concocted scandals such as the Benghazi Affair, the IRS-targeting of the Tea Party and one that has petered out, Fast and Furious, which led to the censuring of Eric Holder, the first black Attorney General.

The Benghazi Affair is an illustration of how demagoguery has seeped into the American body-politic.  Under normal circumstance, the death of an American Ambassador and three other Americans would lead to the closing of ranks and a concerted effort to apprehend those responsible for the deaths.  But the Republicans have used the Benghazi incident during the waning months of the 2012 Presidential campaign to make the case that the then United Nations Ambassador, Susan Rice, appeared on television Sunday morning programs to cover up what had occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

Benghazi classically demonstrates that critical thinking in the Republican Party and in parts of the media has become non-existent.  What is there to cover up?  The fact of the matter is that four Americans were killed in Benghazi by Islamic militia triggered by hatred for America.  The State Department has made a study of what occurred, the Senate has made a study and the New York Times has done an investigative piece of what occurred in the lawless citadel of Benghazi but demagogues inside and outside of the House, like Whitewater, keep fanning the flames of this American tragedy.

The IRS “scandal” is another incident that has led to infinite hearings. This is a matter that can be easily resolved.  Political organizations, left or right, should not use the 501 (C4) non-profit status to engage in quintessential political pursuits.  The regulation needs to be clarified and the ambiguity removed.  Political organizations should not hide under the bushel that they are social welfare entities.

Rand Paul in his quest for the Republican Presidential nomination has embarked on his version of the politics of destruction. It serves as a substitute for not running on ideas.  He has started attacking Bill Clinton for his transgressions which occurred over twenty years ago.  The bankruptcy of ideas afflicting the Republican Party has triggered a civil war within the Party which has led to an inability of the present Congress to tackle some of the critical issues facing the country.

For democracy to work effectively requires some level of intellectual honesty.  The Republican Party has abandoned intellectual honesty and has embarked on the politics of personal destruction which will have a long term impact on American democracy.

Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: