During the height of the Red Scare, Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy reportedly said, "I have here in my hand a list of 205 -- a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."
McCarthy never shared the list of names, which was largely the point -- "McCarthyism" was about creating fears and sowing seeds of suspicion based on nothing. The resulting hysteria led to blacklisting, ruined lives, and a witch-trial atmosphere, motivated by little more than paranoia.
McCarthy was disgraced, but his tactics live on. Consider, for example, what Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) told constituents last night (via Jennifer Bendery). [Update: here's the video, posted by our pal James Carter.]
The audio is a little tough to make out, but the right-wing Floridian says between 78 and 81 members of the "Democrat Party" in Congress are "members of the Communist Party." Though the crowd gasps, West didn't name names.
For all the talk about McCarthyism in politics, we don't usually come across literal examples like these. Here's an unhinged congressman who's "heard" that roughly half of the House Democratic caucus are secretly members of the Communist Party, and though he's not prepared to say who's on the alleged list, the federal lawmaker feels comfortable sharing this in public.
I don't expect much from West, but even by his standards, this reckless, irresponsible rhetoric is beyond the pale.
It's worth noting, though, that West isn't alone in his embrace of McCarthyism. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are "pro-America or anti-America"; and in Texas, right-wing activists rewriting the state's curriculum have recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, "vindicated" by history.
If I thought they'd appreciate it, I'd gladly chip in to buy copies of "Good Night, and Good Luck" for West, King, and Bachmann.
Second Update: West has posted a longer clip, suggesting he was taken out of context, and was referring to members of the House Progressive Caucus as communists. But that doesn't help his case -- even going by West's video, he's still arguing that nearly half the House Democrats are, in fact, members of the Communist Party, which is still stark raving mad.