“Though he’s been dead and gone since 1957,” M. Stanton Evans begins his prodigious 600-plus page apologia for one of the most hated political figures in American history, “Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy lives on in American legend with remarkable staying power… Not that Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, two eminent critics of McCarthy in the 1950s, are forgotten. It’s just that they don’t come up all the time in squabbles of the modern era. Joe McCarthy does, and then some.”
If you studied postwar history in college, chances are you’ve come across the name of Senator Joe McCarthy once or twice. But as Robert Novak explained in his review of Blacklisted by History for The Weekly Standard, one need not attend college or study history to know about Joe McCarthy’s bad deeds. All you have to do is turn on the T.V. or pick up a reference book.
“McCarthyism,” Novak writes, “ is ingrained in the contemporary political lexicon, used so frequently – by conservatives as well as liberals – that it is no longer necessary to define its meaning.”
For all he does to Joe McCarthy from history’s “blacklist,” M. Stanton Evans wouldn’t assume to argue that McCarthy’s importance in the post World War II order has been overstated, so much as it’s been misunderstood.
“McCarthy was a drunk, a crook, and a liar who maintained his waning political career by willfully attacking individuals and organizations that posed no threat to the United States,” writes The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, a publication McCarthy once referred to as “the Pravda of the Prairie” after it opposed both of his bids to the U.S. Senate.
That the type of sentiment is precisely what Evans attempts to address.
Anyone who’s had to do a project that necessitated reliance upon grandparents or those elderly enough to be grandparents knows our elders can offer the type of perspective no dry, detached history book can offer. That “I remember where I was when…” perspective of is so different in its insight than books myopically focused on the top of the top figures in national politics.
Evans not only “remembers were he was” when history was happening around him – and, at 73, he’s seen a lot – but he was the one writing the news as it happened, not to mention training young writers in the craft.
Writes Novak, “The jacket blurb says it took over six years to write Blacklisted, but… Evans has spent his whole career thinking about Joe.”
Evans, founder and longtime director of the National Journalism Center – since assumed by Young America’s Foundation and on the tail end of its 30th year training upstart conservative journalists – is a consummate researcher and fluid writer, and something of a legend in conservative Washington. He’s one of the few people who writes like he talks and talks like he writes – with flair, depth, and necessarily at length.
Evans is that rare person whose knowledge will never be fully shared with the world. No matter how much he writes, or how many writers he trains, or how many tall tales he tells, there’s just too much there to truly take full advantage. That’s a real shame.
It also works in his favor because Evans took on a decidedly uphill battle. After all, you’re not “playing” Devil’s Advocate when you’re defending El Diablo and there’s no shortage of people willing to brand McCarthy with that scarlet letter.
In the end, it is with the Capital Times of the world that Evans’ painstakingly-crafted arguments will get the least traction. Having felt McCarthy’s power in a way only someone who “remembers where they were” could, there’s no amount of documents the FBI could ever declassify that would cause them to view the man differently or his work as necessary, let alone laudable.
Even if you are swayed by Evans’ evidence that many of the “names named” were demonstrably employed by the Soviet Union concurrently with their service to the federal government – and how can you not? – that still leaves you with an arguably alcoholic self-appointed Town Crier, a finger-pointing Puritan content to drag whomever necessary through the mud if it suited his purposes.
It’s no coincidence that “McCarthyism” is a four-letter word in American politics. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Even if McCarthy’s aim was true, his tactics weren’t, and his willingness to tell The Big Lie cost McCarthy his own career in the end. Much like Ernesto Miranda, freed from prison for not being read the “Miranda Warning”, only to have his eventual killer released without charges 10 years later for a procedural problem regarding his Miranda Rights, perhaps the person most undone by McCarthyism was the man himself.
Luckily he has a worthy and thorough advocate like Evans to defend him. Blacklisted may draw fire for challenging – convincingly – many peoples’ long-settled impressions of Joe McCarthy, but, before long, it’ll make its way onto postwar American History reading lists.
Soon enough, those who think there’s two ways to feel about McCarthy won’t be laughed out of the classroom anymore, now that Evans has provided them the firepower to go citation for citation with their professors. Eventually, someone will write that groundbreaking dissertation that will, for a time, “debunk” the concept of McCarthyism, and at that point the floodgates will open.
Who McCarthy is and what McCarthy did have been a “closed case” for so long that to send professors back to the drawing boards might lead them into exactly what Stan Evans found: proof that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.