Commentary Magazine


Topic: McCarthyism

The Clinton War Room Jumps the Shark

By the end of last week, the Hillary Clinton camp was acting as if they had weathered the worst of the Clinton Cash scandal and emerged unscathed. While polls showed that trust in Hillary and belief in her truthfulness was heading south, support from the overwhelming majority of Democrats remained strong. She also maintained leads in head-to-head matchups against possible Republican opponents. But in spite of these reasons for confidence that the Clinton brand can survive — as it has before — virtually anything, their bold talk about no one believing the book isn’t convincing anyone. The drip, drip, drip of scandal stories from a variety of news outlets inspired by Peter Schweizer’s muckraking book has kept the allegations in the news rather than it fading away. As a result, the Clinton “War Room” that has been assembled to trash Schweitzer and dismiss the book is starting to show the initial signs of panic. When longtime Clinton family retainer Lanny Davis called the book and those exploring its charges an example of “McCarthyism” during an appearance on C-Span, it was clear that Hillary’s friends have officially jumped the shark in their efforts to silence the nation’s unease about the former First Family’s conduct.

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By the end of last week, the Hillary Clinton camp was acting as if they had weathered the worst of the Clinton Cash scandal and emerged unscathed. While polls showed that trust in Hillary and belief in her truthfulness was heading south, support from the overwhelming majority of Democrats remained strong. She also maintained leads in head-to-head matchups against possible Republican opponents. But in spite of these reasons for confidence that the Clinton brand can survive — as it has before — virtually anything, their bold talk about no one believing the book isn’t convincing anyone. The drip, drip, drip of scandal stories from a variety of news outlets inspired by Peter Schweizer’s muckraking book has kept the allegations in the news rather than it fading away. As a result, the Clinton “War Room” that has been assembled to trash Schweitzer and dismiss the book is starting to show the initial signs of panic. When longtime Clinton family retainer Lanny Davis called the book and those exploring its charges an example of “McCarthyism” during an appearance on C-Span, it was clear that Hillary’s friends have officially jumped the shark in their efforts to silence the nation’s unease about the former First Family’s conduct.

The context of Davis’s rant is the fact that even after weeks of news organizations seeking new Clinton Cash angles to explore, it appears they aren’t close to running out of material. Over the weekend, Politico began to unravel the complicated ties between Bill Clinton’s speechmaking business and Hillary Clinton’s State Department. According to their reporting, State Department officials vetted some of the former president’s speeches. While that isn’t evidence of criminal conduct, it does show how closely connected Hillary’s staff was to Bill’s fundraising and speaking business affairs, something her defenders routinely deny. And while questions remain about the Clinton’s involvement in the egregious sale of 20 percent of the country’s uranium reserves to Russia, a lot of reporting about their dubious role in vetting disaster relief for Haiti and the way Hillary’s brother profited from their work was being dug up by both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Just as bad for the Clintons is the reporting that the liberal New York magazine is doing about their foundation’s unsuccessful attempt to get the watchdog group Charity Navigator to endorse their efforts. The group has refused to rate the Clinton Foundation as trustworthy because of its “unique business model” which has it raising hundreds of millions of dollars but only spending about ten percent of it on actual charity. The foundation works as a middle man that spends most of the vast fortune placed at its disposal paying for people to consult about helping the poor but never doing much of it itself. It can’t be called a scam because donors know they are paying for influence not charity. But the more people find out about how the foundation is less of an actual charity and more of a slush fund to pay for the Clintons to crisscross the globe talking about poverty the lower Hillary’s trust poll numbers will go.

But faced with these hits to the Clintons’ image, their defenders are predictably escalating their rhetoric. But just for a moment, let’s unpack the charges Davis has lodged against Schweitzer. Like other Clinton Cash critics, Davis kept repeating that there are no “facts” in the book. But this is absurd. The book is full of facts about the suspicious donations to the foundation and huge honorariums paid to Bill Clinton from foreign donors who had business before the State Department while Hillary was running it. What Schweitzer doesn’t have is a smoking gun memo or email that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Clintons colluded to give the people funding their family business the advantages they were seeking. Of course, Clinton opponents might say that such evidence might be in those emails that were on the server she had wiped clean. But even if we assume that they were too smart to ever commit anything like that to an email, let alone paper, that leaves critics with a circumstantial case to make against the pair that might get other politicians in trouble with the law (like Senator Robert Menendez whose favors for a wealthy friend look fishy and earned him an indictment but for which there is a similar lack of a smoking gun memo).

Davis claims that the fact that one cannot connect some very suspicious dots with the sort of certainty you could use in court is McCarthyism. But this makes no sense. It is true that Senator Joseph McCarthy was often irresponsible and made false charges that some public figures were communists. But the presumption of innocence on official charges of corruption does not mean that it is impermissible to note the tremendous conflicts of interest that were a daily affair while Hillary was at the State Department. Nor does it vindicate the questionable behavior of the foundation and the former president. Suffice it to say that were any Republican to be caught exposed in this manner, Davis and every other Democrats would be screaming bloody murder and demanding special prosecutors and indictments.

If Hillary and Bill want to put this to rest they can try answering some tough questions from the press instead of merely dismissing the issue as another invention of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” they have always hated (even though much of the reporting about this has come from the New York Times and other liberal bastions). Until then, they should tell their mouthpieces to stop foaming at the mouth. It’s only making them look guiltier.

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The Odious Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

Can you imagine the media (and Hollywood) firestorm if Senator Ted Cruz went to the Senate floor and repeatedly accused, say, Jeffrey Katzenberg of being “un-American”–and Mike Lee echoed the charge?

It’s worth considering, too, the corrupting effect on language these charges have. If advocating cuts in record-high federal spending and running ads opposing the Affordable Care Act are deemed to be “un-American,” where exactly does this all end? Allowing powerful senators like Reid and Schumer to smear private citizens in this way further undermines our political and civic life. You might think members of the political class would speak out against such things. But you would be wrong (apart from honorable exceptions like Scarborough).

For the record, the definition of McCarthyism is “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” Speaking of which, here is what Edward R. Murrow said of Senator Joseph McCarthy:

His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind … We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.

Senators Reid and Schumer, small and mean men, are trying to usher in a new age of unreason. This is no time for those who oppose them to keep silent. Because we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

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Pete Seeger and the Judgment of History

How do you separate musical icons from the politics that either ennobled or besmirched their reputations? The answer is that you can’t. And there’s no better example of this than singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at the age of 94. Seeger is being lionized in the mainstream liberal media as the troubadour of social activism whose songs were the soundtrack of the struggle for civil rights, social equality, and against the Vietnam War. Seeger had, by the time he died, ascended to the status of a secular saint and was considered great not just because of his music but because of his left-wing politics and his struggles during the McCarthy period, when he was blacklisted.

In this retelling of his story, Seeger’s actual beliefs were beside the point. Any criticism of his actions and affiliations was branded as intolerant or worse, a revival of anti-Communist fear-mongering. It is this Pete Seeger that America celebrated in recent decades. Though he could often be seen at left-wing demonstrations, even showing up at the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, the man who sang at Barack Obama’s first inaugural with Bruce Springsteen was no longer controversial. If he was not quite the Rosa Parks of folk song, he had become something fairly close.

But the complete truth about Seeger is not as simple as that. Seeger wasn’t merely affiliated with left-wing groups in his youth. He was an active member of the Communist Party (CP) and a loyal Stalinist who put his talent in the service of that conspiratorial and murderous movement.

So who was Pete Seeger? Was he the hero or the villain? The answer is that he was both. Or more to the point, he was a great musician who sometimes put himself on the right side of history and sometimes on the wrong one. Which is why the unalloyed tributes to Seeger being broadcast today on the networks and published in the mainstream media have it wrong. But the same judgment applies to some on the right who can’t see past his sins.

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How do you separate musical icons from the politics that either ennobled or besmirched their reputations? The answer is that you can’t. And there’s no better example of this than singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at the age of 94. Seeger is being lionized in the mainstream liberal media as the troubadour of social activism whose songs were the soundtrack of the struggle for civil rights, social equality, and against the Vietnam War. Seeger had, by the time he died, ascended to the status of a secular saint and was considered great not just because of his music but because of his left-wing politics and his struggles during the McCarthy period, when he was blacklisted.

In this retelling of his story, Seeger’s actual beliefs were beside the point. Any criticism of his actions and affiliations was branded as intolerant or worse, a revival of anti-Communist fear-mongering. It is this Pete Seeger that America celebrated in recent decades. Though he could often be seen at left-wing demonstrations, even showing up at the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, the man who sang at Barack Obama’s first inaugural with Bruce Springsteen was no longer controversial. If he was not quite the Rosa Parks of folk song, he had become something fairly close.

But the complete truth about Seeger is not as simple as that. Seeger wasn’t merely affiliated with left-wing groups in his youth. He was an active member of the Communist Party (CP) and a loyal Stalinist who put his talent in the service of that conspiratorial and murderous movement.

So who was Pete Seeger? Was he the hero or the villain? The answer is that he was both. Or more to the point, he was a great musician who sometimes put himself on the right side of history and sometimes on the wrong one. Which is why the unalloyed tributes to Seeger being broadcast today on the networks and published in the mainstream media have it wrong. But the same judgment applies to some on the right who can’t see past his sins.

It should be understood that his youthful infatuation with Stalinism was neither superficial nor a passing fancy. To his shame, he toured the country singing protest songs from 1939 to 1941. But he was not protesting the Nazis nor did he support those fighting them. Rather, he was part of the CP campaign conducted at Moscow’s behest that sought to combat any effort to involve the United States in World War Two. The Hitler-Stalin Pact had made the Soviets Germany’s ally until the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union brought them into the war. Seeger remained a party member until the 1950s and even long after he abandoned it, he continued to refer to himself as a communist with a small “c” rather than an upper-case one.

To many liberals as well as the stalwarts of the old left, this is nothing for which he should apologize. Liberal revisionism has transformed the vicious Communism of this era from an anti-American and anti-democratic conspiracy into a romantic expression of support for human rights. As such, Seeger and many of his comrades were able to bask in the applause of subsequent generations rather than having to atone for having been a proud apologist for one of the worst criminals in history as well as for the mass murder and anti-Semitism that was integral to Soviet communism. While isolationists like Charles Lindberg and other apologists for Hitler never lived down that association, Stalinists like Seeger had a rough time in the 1950s but were ultimately honored for their disgraceful behavior.

That is infuriating, and for many conservatives like Pajama Media’s Ed Driscoll, unforgivable. The honors showered on the elderly Seeger serve only to deepen the bitterness of those who not unreasonably believe the adamant refusal to tell the truth about this chapter of Seeger’s life—both in the news media and in documentary films about him—undermines our ability to take a full measure of the man, and is an insult to all those who take seriously the eternal struggle against the enemies of freedom.

And yet there is more to Seeger than these two inconsistent narratives. As historian Ron Radosh, a former banjo student of the singer as well as an indispensable chronicler of Communism, movingly wrote in 2007 in the New York Sun, Seeger had, by the end of his life, finally understood the magnitude of some of his earlier errors. As Radosh wrote, Seeger admitted that he was wrong never to have protested Stalin’s tyranny and atoned in part by belatedly writing a song denouncing the gulag.

Ultimately, as with all artists of every stripe, history will judge Seeger more for the quality of his music than his politics. As Paul Berman wrote today in the New Republic, songs like If I Had a Hammer or Where Have All the Flowers Gone, not to mention We Shall Overcome, will deserve to be sung a hundred years from now no matter what Seeger believed about communism. His legacy is far messier than most of the tributes will admit. But to listen to his vintage recordings or those of the groundbreaking folk group “The Weavers” to which he lent his tenor voice and banjo is to hear a great artist and a genuine voice of American culture. It is that Pete Seeger, and the not the sanitized liberal icon or the Stalinist front man, who will be remembered.

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The Casual Smearing of a Conservative

Anyone who follows the criticism of the “Israel Lobby” hears the constant refrain that the worst thing about these pro-Israel groups is that they supposedly seek to silence their critics, hurt them financially, and ruin their careers. Longtime Israel critic and former Media Matters staffer M.J. Rosenberg is one such complainant, who took the accusation far enough to compare the Jewish Federations of North America—a philanthropic group primarily concerned with getting food and medicine to Jews in need here and around the world—to the worst tendencies of Joe McCarthy.

But it turns out that Rosenberg is actually a full-throated supporter of using people’s political opinions to render them silenced and unemployed–as long as it’s not anyone Rosenberg is friends with. Rosenberg has initiated a movement to get the Guardian to fire new columnist Josh Treviño before Treviño’s first column appears. (The Guardian’s decision to hire Treviño in the first place was one of the smartest decisions the paper has made.) That is, Rosenberg disagrees with Treviño’s views (more on that in a moment), and would like to be responsible for doing to Treviño what he has always regarded as reprehensible and undemocratic (Rosenberg usually uses slightly less diplomatic language, of course). This morning, Rosenberg tweeted this:

PROTEST Guardian hiring of White Supremacist Josh Treviño. Email woman who hired him. [email protected]

Now, Treviño is Hispanic, a vocal supporter of Latino immigration to the U.S., a critic of anti-immigration politicians, and was recently vice president of communications at a free-market-oriented think tank, so it’s safe to say he has worked pretty hard make the conservative movement more—not less—open to and inclusive toward racial minorities. So the casual smear from Rosenberg is quite clearly the opposite of the truth. (Treviño’s only geographical bias, as anyone who follows him on Twitter is aware, is in favor of the great state of Texas.)

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Anyone who follows the criticism of the “Israel Lobby” hears the constant refrain that the worst thing about these pro-Israel groups is that they supposedly seek to silence their critics, hurt them financially, and ruin their careers. Longtime Israel critic and former Media Matters staffer M.J. Rosenberg is one such complainant, who took the accusation far enough to compare the Jewish Federations of North America—a philanthropic group primarily concerned with getting food and medicine to Jews in need here and around the world—to the worst tendencies of Joe McCarthy.

But it turns out that Rosenberg is actually a full-throated supporter of using people’s political opinions to render them silenced and unemployed–as long as it’s not anyone Rosenberg is friends with. Rosenberg has initiated a movement to get the Guardian to fire new columnist Josh Treviño before Treviño’s first column appears. (The Guardian’s decision to hire Treviño in the first place was one of the smartest decisions the paper has made.) That is, Rosenberg disagrees with Treviño’s views (more on that in a moment), and would like to be responsible for doing to Treviño what he has always regarded as reprehensible and undemocratic (Rosenberg usually uses slightly less diplomatic language, of course). This morning, Rosenberg tweeted this:

PROTEST Guardian hiring of White Supremacist Josh Treviño. Email woman who hired him. [email protected]

Now, Treviño is Hispanic, a vocal supporter of Latino immigration to the U.S., a critic of anti-immigration politicians, and was recently vice president of communications at a free-market-oriented think tank, so it’s safe to say he has worked pretty hard make the conservative movement more—not less—open to and inclusive toward racial minorities. So the casual smear from Rosenberg is quite clearly the opposite of the truth. (Treviño’s only geographical bias, as anyone who follows him on Twitter is aware, is in favor of the great state of Texas.)

Rosenberg also tweeted this: “Treviño is every Jew’s nightmare.Protest to Guardian. Creepy white racist.” In fact, one of the reasons people like Rosenberg and some of his more viciously anti-Zionist allies in this crusade against Treviño—like Ali Abunimah, whose site has gleefully compared Jews to Nazis—is that Treviño is not only an admirer, though not a practitioner, of the Jewish faith, but he’s also a staunch, unapologetic defender of Israel. And here we get to the crux of the “fire Treviño” bandwagon.

Treviño was among the vast majority of Americans to stand up for Israel’s right of self-defense against the “flotilla” movement seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Since the first such flotilla included a terrorist-funded boat full of armed extremists who tried to kill Israeli soldiers, Treviño was on fairly solid ground here—and most Americans felt the same way.

You can agree or disagree with Israel’s blockade—which even the United Nations declared was legal—but Treviño held a majority opinion (at least in the United States) and has nothing to apologize for. The totalitarian-minded mob that wants Treviño blacklisted for expressing conservative views on politics and broadly mainstream views on Israel has been gaining steam on Twitter and other social media platforms.

It is a movement that seeks to do harm to the Guardian and its reputation by bullying one of the most widely read newspapers in the world into submission. The Guardian, one hopes, will stand on principle even if they do not agree with all of Treviño’s views. That is the purpose of a free press in a free society. Based on the overall reaction to Treviño’s addition to the Guardian, the paper has already earned many new readers simply by signaling it would be a more inclusive newspaper with a wider range of opinion. As for Rosenberg and Co., they have finally unmasked themselves not as McCarthy’s foils, but as his heirs.

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