Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SEX AND COMMUNISM....Yes, I know that writing about Ann Coulter is a waste of time, but her latest book excerpt reminds me of something that's been tickling the back of my brain for a while.

I have this vague notion that about two-thirds of what motivates hardcore conservatives is sex and communism. On the sex (and gender) side, we have porn, homosexuality, "family values," abortion, the pill, sex education in schools, and so forth. Dig a little bit below the surface of social issues that are important to strong conservatives, and you quickly hit on the bedrock of sex and gender.

Then there's communism. Since I've started blogging and paying attention to this kind of thing, I've been surprised that anti-communism is still such a living, breathing topic for so many conservatives. I naively figured that when the wall came down in 1989 and capitalism won, that was pretty much the end of it.

But no. I see article after article reliving the 30s and 50s and castigating "liberals" for being weak on communism. When I write about human rights, I always get comments (or emails) saying, essentially, that liberals supported Stalin and therefore have no credibility on human rights at all.

Well, sure, some liberals did support Stalin during the Depression, but that was three generations ago and a very different era. And the 50s? As in all times and places, there was a small band of extreme lefties around saying the kinds of things that extreme lefties say, but Truman and his gang were pretty staunch anti-communists, as were the vast majority of even hardcore liberals.

But along comes Coulter to write this about Joe McCarthy:

Despite the lefts creation of a myth to defeat legitimate charges of treason, McCarthy had so badly stigmatized Communism, his victory survived him. In his brief fiery ride across the landscape, Joe McCarthy bought America another thirty years. For this, he sacrificed his life, his reputation, his name. The left cut down a brave man, but not before the American people heard the truth.

Who's next? Hitler was a brave man and France would be a better place if we hadn't all let FDR talk us into kicking him out?

The right wing's attempted rehabilitation of McCarthy is surely one of the most peculiar of their jihads of the past decade or so. (I blogged about Jonah Goldberg's contribution to this a few months ago.) It's especially peculiar because anti-communism was in full swing well before McCarthy picked it up and it's almost dead certain that all he really accomplished was to stigmatize anti-communism, not the other way around. In fact, although he smeared innocent people and ruined lives with abandon, McCarthy himself rather famously never found a single communist. So why the newfound love affair?

I dunno. There were plenty of people during the 50s, both Democrats and Republicans, who really did root out communists, but McCarthy wasn't one of them. And let's face it: unearthing old lefties in Hollywood might have made good theater, but it didn't really accomplish anything.

I suppose there's a strain among extremist conservatives and liberals alike that simply doesn't understand the difference between means and ends. Joe McCarthy was anti-communist, so he's OK. Fidel Castro claims to be an agrarian reformer, so he's OK. But it's not so. You can be strongly anti-communist as virtually all Americans were during the 50s and still believe that McCarthy was a lunatic bully and that loyalty oaths and blacklisting were unAmerican. In fact, I'd say all those things go together. If you want to be truly anti-communist, you should also be opposed to the methods of the communists. McCarthy would have been right at home in Stalin's politburo, and that's why he remains vilified by most decent people today.

But not by Ann Coulter. You may draw your own conclusions about her decency.

Kevin Drum 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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