Tuesday, November 01, 2005
The New McCarthyism and Scare Tactics
McCarthy’s Cold War anti-Communist zealotry is legendary. The memorable image of him waving a sheaf of paper and claiming to have a list of pro-Communist sympathizers working in government positions was effective in raising public fears. Of course, many people at the time didn’t pay much attention to the fact that his claimed number of names fluctuated erratically from proclamation to proclamation. This is a classic tactic of the “red scare.”
With the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, Communists aren’t the bugaboo they once were. You still see the occasional Red-baiting in relation to Cuba or some South American countries but it’s a less powerful enemy in the American psyche than previously. However, there is always a use for a scary enemy, one to point to and say “Oo, bad, bad people. Attack or be attacked!”
Currently, the central idée fixe of our new McCarthyism is terrorism and “radical Islam.” Anti-Semitism is also often used as a tarring accusation to denounce opponents, particularly anyone with objections to the methodology and tactics of the Israeli military or Israeli policy toward the occupied Palestinian areas. Juan Cole has a good example of this in his article The New McCarthyism.
There will always be people willing to find scapegoats, to focus the public’s attention on an “enemy.” Often it’s a simple magician’s trick of misdirection, diverting our attention away from important matters to allow the thieves of government to steal and cheat the public. These are the lies of politicians, corporations, and the military. The trick is to learn to look for the issue or topic that is being shoved aside in the clamor.
When I first started reading newspapers regularly (around 8th or 9th grade), I always skimmed the front page of the New York Times. What really interested me was the small news items tucked at the ends of the inside stories. They were usually only a few paragraphs long but I always had the sense that they were more important than the flashy front page stories with their headlines. Even then, I didn’t trust the editors to accurately assess what was truly important to my world, to prioritize the right stories. Despite their experience and skill, I didn’t trust their judgment. I still don’t.
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