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Joe McCarthy Would Have Loved Scott Walker's GOP

Berry Craig: Joe McCarthy turned the First Amendment into a bird cage liner. The GOP’s labor-haters are doing the same thing with their email dragnet.
william cronon

Professor William Cronon

The union-haters in the modern GOP are giving the late Sen. Joe McCarthy a run for his money in the demagoguery department.

History records that McCarthy, a reactionary Wisconsin Republican, pandered to widespread public fear of communism in the 1950s and orchestrated a second Red Scare. (The first one was after World War I.)

McCarthy ended up on the trash heap of history, ultimately censured by the senate and disavowed by many of his fellow Republicans.

The term “McCarthyism” is synonymous with witch hunting and character assassination. It means stopping at nothing – including flat-out lying -- to smear your political foes.

Seeking “proof” of disloyalty, McCarthy sometimes ordered people he targeted as communists or “fellow travelers” to turn over their private papers.

McCarthy and the “Red Menace” are long gone. But the GOP has invented a new bogeyman: the “Public Employee Union Menace.”

Resurrecting the spirit of McCarthyism, some of the GOP’s anti-union bird dogs are now demanding to see emails sent by college professors.

Some college profs were high on McCarthy’s hit list, too.

Sen. Joe McCarthy and aide Roy Cohn

Sen. Joe McCarthy and aide Roy Cohn

Meanwhile, McCarthy’s home state has become the front line in the Republicans’ holy war against organized labor. GOP Gov. Scott Walker is commander-in-chief in the Dairy State .

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“…Not content with roiling the legislative waters, Republicans have extended their attacks on labor into the groves of academe…,” writes Michael Winship on

They want a peek at emails sent by Professor William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin . He is “the incoming president of the American Historical Association who just happened to write blog entries and a New York Times op-ed piece critical of Walker's anti-union tactics,” explained Winship in his post titled “Labor Pains and the GOP.”

Winship adds that Michigan Republicans are likewise “seeking from the labor relations departments at three in-state universities any and all emails that mention anything having to do with the union fight in neighboring Wisconsin , Gov. Walker or – wait for it – Rachel Maddow.”

It’s not uncommon for interested parties to ask to see emails sent by professors. But those requests typically are connected to campus issues such as disputes about faculty promotions or student grades.

The Republicans are after the emails because they don’t like the professors’ politics. McCarthy would be proud.

Winship reveals who is interested in the emails in Michigan: the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an uber-right-wing think tank and Republican front group bankrolled by the union-despising Walton Family (as in Wal-Mart), and the Republican Koch brothers, Walker allies and big-time tea party sugar daddies.

Berry Craig

Joe McCarthy turned the First Amendment into a bird cage liner. The GOP’s labor-haters are doing the same thing with their email dragnet.

Winship thinks the GOP’s multi-phase assault on unions could backfire. Evidence suggests he might be right.

And there’s plenty of room on history’s refuse pile for the bare-knucks union-busters who have turned the proud party of Lincoln and Liberty into the tea party-tilting party of Paranoia and Pandering.

Berry Craig

Author Spotlight: Berry Craig