I’m not usually friendly to revisionist history, but in all honesty I have to confess that the right-wing attempts to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy have a solid factual basis. Brad DeLong quotes from one of McCarthy’s most famous speeches:
How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this Government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.
Admittedly, if we think of this as a description of the situation in McCarthy’s own time, outlining a “conspiracy of infamy” led by George C. Marshall and Dean Acheson, with Harry Truman as their puppet and dupe, it’s not only absurdly wrong but disgustingly and maliciously wrong. After all, those three men, more than any others, devised and put in place the strategy that defeated Stalin’s drive for world empire and eventually produced the Soviet collapse for which the Reaganoids and neocons, like roosters boasting that they made the sun rise, loudly claim credit.
But if instead we think of McCarthy’s rant as a prediction of our current predicament, with Cheney as Marshall, Rumsfeld as Acheson, and Bush as Truman, it seems instead eerily prescient. Evaluated as a statesman, or as a human being, McCarthy comes up short. But he shines with a pure and steady light if we consider him as a prophet.