Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

JOHN KERRY, COMMUNIST DUPE....Back in the 50s and 60s a favorite trope of conservatives was the charge that some poor sad sack was an unwitting commie dupe. The charge was usually laid out in the most melodramatic way possible and conveniently required no proof, merely a vague nexus of associations demonstrating that the dupe's actions were surely approved of by the gray suited men in the Kremlin who were plotting world domination. Evidence to support the charges was inevitably labyrinthine, sinister, and based on the testimony of ex-commies who explained to a credulous audience how the movement really worked, most likely in their own neighborhood!

Besides being easier and more fun, it was in many ways actually more effective than accusing someone of genuine communist activity. Aside from being impossible to defend against, it also suggested that the chosen liberal was not just a traitor to American values, but also impossibly weak, stupid, and naive. What's more, the conspiratorial tone and "can it be possible?" flavor of these charges appealed mightily to the conspiracy theorists who were already convinced that there was a commie under every bedsheet.

This kind of thing went out of favor about the same time that Mickey Spillane novels did, largely because everyone eventually realized that Harry Truman and George Marshall weren't commie dupes after all, and neither were all the other liberals routinely accused of treachery. It scratched out a precarious existence for a few more years within groups of true believers like the John Birch Society but had pretty much died out by the 70s.

Why the pop culture history lesson? Because apparently the genre has made a comeback: today National Review digs up an actual commie spy master (!) to write a classic updating of the story aimed at none other than John Kerry. And I have to tell you, his renditions of Soviet disinformation tactics, counterfeit documents, gullible reporters lapping up the party line, and grandiose pronouncements of his own importance ("As far as I'm concerned, the KGB gave birth to the antiwar movement in America") really bring back memories. It's like reliving air raid drills, fallout shelters, COINTELPRO, and the Army-McCarthy hearings. It's great stuff, it really is.

So go read the article and enjoy. It's a real stroll down the dark recesses of memory lane.

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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