McCarthyism is a term in use by 1954 to refer to the campaign against communism, which was started by a senator man from Wisconsin, called Senator Joe McCarthy. There are many key features of McCarthyism; the main ones are malpractices, fabricated evidence and unfair accusations in order to suppress the opposition.
Senator McCarthy was crude and boorish. McCarthy was a heavy drinker and was intellectually lazy. However, he was extremely ambitious and his unscrupulous behaviour allowed him to exploit the fears of the American public. McCarthy said that “The government is full of communists. We can hammer away at them;” and with this he began his outrageous accusations, ruining the lives of hundreds.
One of the most infamous features of McCarthyism is the methods used by McCarthy. McCarthy deliberately played on the fears of the American people about Communism. He used the media to spread his ideas and create widespread fear across the nation. McCarthy made people’s fears seem realistic. He used examples such as the Rosenbergs to show how freedom in the US could be undermined. McCarthy had undermined freedom itself.
McCarthy also made use of institutions such as HUAC to further his cause. He became Chair of the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations, which he used to investigate the government. The HUAC trials were televised, which gave McCarthyism a great deal of publicity. McCarthy’s main method was that of ‘bluff and bluster.’ McCarthy made wild accusations of the number of communists in the government, and his figures would constantly fluctuate. He claimed to have a ‘list’ of all the communists working in the government but never backed up his accusations with any evidence. These fluctuating numbers later became known as the ‘Heinz variety,’ due to the ridiculous fluctuations. The public and the press were only too eager to follow up his wild accusations.
McCarthy was able to use the fears of the American public. McCarthy demonstrated the susceptibility of the American people to demagogic appeals. His strong delivery of his speeches, and his confident tone enabled him to fool the American public. His rampage also appealed to people who held hostility to the elites in society, especially in the government. Many Americans believed that McCarthy was defending the country, and saw him as a crusader against Communism. The fear of communism at the time was incredible, and McCarthy took advantage of this fact. Very few people were able to stand against McCarthy because they feared what he could do to them. When Eisenhower agreed to an investigation of the civil service in 1953, nearly 7,000 people lost their jobs.
McCarthy ruined many lives, including those of famous Hollywood stars such as Charlie Chaplin who was blacklisted; the Hollywood 10 found it hard to find work. The main legacy left behind was where tolerance had been completely forgotten; people were afraid to put forward their opinions. McCarthyism was known to be an embarrassing and shameful episode of American history in the long term.