This popular post was first published on October 7 here.
I’ve been called a McCarthyite an awful lot since abandoning the Noam Chomsky Left.
It’s mostly from my friend Pat — a Ralph Nader supporter, Ed Schultz fan, and committed Union man. When he does it I always ask him if he’s ever read a single book on American communism, Soviet espionage, and the little that Senator Joe McCarthy actually did. I ask him why the central collective memory he’s managed to embrace of the period is that anti-communists were evil, crazy, anti-Americans who unfairly persecuted decent “progressives.”
And then he tells me proudly that he’s seen George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.” That film is the sum total of everything that Pat knows about McCarthyism.
I suggest the books of Cold War historian Ron Radosh to him. But I know Pat won’t read them. It’s easier to pop in a Blu-Ray. And — I’m sorry Ron — George Clooney is just cooler than you are.
As a junior or senior in college I remember one of the first dates with my then-girlfriend (now wife) April. We watched the fantastic HBO miniseries Angels in America, based off Tony Kushner’s play. One of the work’s many narratives depicts the ghost of executed communist Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep) taunting Roy Cohn (Al Pacino,) the lawyer most responsible for her getting the death penalty instead of life in prison. The antagonist of the whole production is Cohn who is made symbolic of America. It’s a tremendously entertaining, well-made series that’s a joy to watch.
It’s also a Big Lie with a nauseating political vision.
Here’s a question: how many people who have seen some version of “Angels in America” know that the Rosenbergs really were communist spies serving a totalitarian government responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler? Yet finish up “Angels” and you’ll think that it’s actually the Conservative Movement who decent people should want to fight.
Stalinism has basically won the popular narrative. The 1950s communist Left in America has been immortalized as pure and noble. All those who stood against it have been giving the unattractive faces of the repugnant Cohn and McCarthy. And the true lessons of the period have been forgotten
A recent play whitewashing a terrorist and demonizing Radosh/Horowitz intellectuals clings to the same pattern as “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Angels in America”…