Friday, July 04, 2003

Three problems with Ann

So I caught Ann Coulter's appearance on "Hannity & Colmes" the other night. Fox, as usual, doesn't post the transcripts to shows on which their conservative friends look like asses, so I can't link you to the info, but here's the upshot of one exchange between Ann and Ellis Henican. Henican pointed out that it was Republicans, not Democrats, who brought down Ann's idol, Joseph McCarthy. As "Mighty" Joe Conason puts it in an absolutely must-read article:

"His targets were Soviet sympathizers and Soviet spies," Coulter proclaims without qualification. But elsewhere she says that he wasn't even really trying to find either communists or spies, but only seeking to expose "security risks" in government jobs. Whatever his mission, it was noble and succeeding admirably until 1954, when "liberals immobilized him with their Army-McCarthy hearings and censure investigation."

Actually, McCarthy was brought down by his own televised misconduct during those hearings -- and by the outrage not of Democrats but of Republicans, including President Eisenhower and a caucus of courageous GOP senators. (Among the latter was the current president's grandfather, Prescott Bush of Connecticut, whose vote to censure McCarthy is another little fact that Coulter forgets to mention.)

When Henican presented Coulter with the uncomfortable fact that it was Republicans who censured McCarthy, she said (to the best of my memory), that "they were so sick of liberals whining that they just did it to shut them up."

I want you to let that soak in for a minute. Republicans put an end to the McCarthy hearings because they were sick of liberals whining.

OK. Let's say that Ann (as impossible as it may seem) takes herself seriously. She really believes that liberals, simply because they differ with Republicans "are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant." Then what does that say about the Republicans who voted down McCarthy? If liberals were either traitors or fools for opposing McCarthy, then the Republicans were apparently the only people who must have known better, but censured their man out of cowardice or an unwillingness to fight. Therefore, liberals may just be too stupid to know that they are helping America's enemies with their beliefs, but Republicans, in shutting down McCarthy, committed "treason" (as defined by Ann) because they were weak, even though they knew what they were doing.

Now, we know that Ann can't possibly take herself seriously, so it's all kind of a moot point, but there are greater issues to be argued about Coulter's book. What stands out to me is something that I'll never understand about conservatives. If they really believed in their ideals, that their standpoint is stronger, then why would they fear dissent? You see it today. Bill Frist seems so afraid of homosexuality that he feels it's going to ruin "the family." Is the family so weak that someone outside its purview gaining a right or benefit is going to destroy it? It was the same with communism. For example, Ronald Reagan, as biographical fellator Peter Schweizer wrote in Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph over Communism, believed that communism should be fought but wasn't strong enough to win. "What separated Reagan from McCarthy and some of the other anti-Communists at the time was his belief in the profound weakness of communism," he writes. If communism was the obviously worse system, wouldn't it have failed simply by being pitted against the robust exercise of capitalism? (Which, Schweizer and other pro-Republican ideologues aside, is exactly what happened. The Soviet system didn't fail because of the Cold War of the arms race, but failed because they couldn't devise a way to get beets to Belarus.)

The other problem I have with Republicans and this book is that I wonder if any of them will squirm up out of the woodwork and scream "Revisonist historian!" Watch closely, because I doubt very few Democrats will, either. Why? Because we understand that the role of the historian is to look at the past and see if our perception of it is correct. Now, if you read the Conason article above, you know that Ann isn't seriously trying to write a history here, because she leaves so much out (McCarthy's defense of Nazi prison guards, for example) that would make her new view in any way complicated. However, if Coulter wanted to honestly address the issue of McCarthy's views and argue that he was right, I would listen. What she has offered, instead, are bleatings and half-truths.

Anyone who has looked into that period knows that it's much more complicated than a one-sided view could appreciate. There were as many liberals as conservatives who spoke out against communism and tried to fight it in terrible ways. As Howard Zinn put it:

In the spring of 1954 he began hearings to investigate supposed subversives in the military. When he began attacking generals for not being hard enough on suspected Communists, he antagonized Republicans as well as Democrats, and in December 1954, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to censure him for "conduct . . .unbecoming a Member of the United States Senate." The censure resolution avoided criticizing McCarthy's anti-Communist lies and exaggerations; it concentrated on minor matters on his refusal to appear before a Senate Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections, and his abuse of an army general at his hearings.

At the very time the Senate was censuring McCarthy, Congress was putting through a whole series of anti-Communist bills. Liberal Hubert Humphrey introduced an amendment to one of them to make the Communist party illegal, saying: "I do not intend to be a half patriot. . . . Either Senators are for recognizing the Communist Party for what it is, or they will continue to trip over the niceties of legal technicalities and details."

The liberals in the government were themselves acting to exclude, persecute, fire, and even imprison Communists. It was just that McCarthy had gone too far, attacking not only Communists but liberals, endangering that broad liberal-conservative coalition which was considered essential. For instance, Lyndon Johnson, as Senate minority leader, worked not only to pass the censure resolution on McCarthy but also to keep it within the narrow bounds of "conduct . . . unbecoming a Member of the United States Senate" rather than questioning McCarthy's anti-Communism.

The real issue, then, isn't whether liberals or conservatives were at fault for the spread of communism, but whether the fight against communism as practiced at the time was effective, appropriate and/or just. There are real issues to be dealt with in the history of this country and its political decisions vis-a-vis communism, but dealing with those complicated issues wouldn't allow Coulter to slander half the nation, so they are simply ignored.


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