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Kristol, McCarthy, Liberals—and Coulter


I have been wondering whether anyone on The Corner might take up the thread of Ann Coulter’s over-the-top argument in her latest book (especially after David Horowitz, or all people, disavowed her on his site—see) and Jonah finally did, however obliquely, in his comment on the Kuznet-Kristol-Gephardt business.

Coulter’s attempt to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy wholesale is likely to give McCarthyism a bad name. Her style is not suited to it. While we await M. Stanton Evans’ major book on McCarthy, we would do well to recall a passage contemporaneous with Kristol the Elder on McCarthy that gets the problem with McCarthy just right from a conservative perspective. It is from one of Whittaker Chambers’ letters to Bill Buckley, collected in Odyssey of a Friend (must reading if you’ve never seen it—you understand Witness and Chambers a lot better from these remarkable letters).

In February 1954—just a few months before McCarthy’s Waterloo in the Army hearings, Chambers wrote this to WFB:

“It is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long time to come.”

This pretty much has it right on. Even before I ever saw The Manchurian Candidate, it occurred to me that a clever KGB disinformation officer would dream up someone like McCarthy in order to sully anti-Communism.

Chambers returned to the problem of McCarthy in an April 1954 letter that gilds this point:

“Senator McCarthy was almost made to order. He is a man, fighting almost wholly by instinct and intuition, against forces for the most part coldly conscious of their ways, means, and ends. In other words, he scarcely knows what he is doing. He simply knows that somebody threw a tomato and the general direction from which it came. His general tactic might be epitomized in Samson’s bright thought of setting fire to the foxes’ tails and sending them helter-skelter against the enemy. A tactic not altogether ruled out in a minor skirmish in a guerrilla war—but it is not a strategy; and repetition dooms it, not only to defeat, but to boredom.”

Come to think of it, this critique may apply to Coulter’s technique as well.