Today, the Tea Party has revitalized McCarthy’s playbook. Based largely in small towns and rural areas of the United States, Tea Party supporters have broken most assumptions of civil discourse, attacking their opponents, often denying that their opponents are even “American.” They have exploited the modern media with simple catchy phrases, distorted images, and intentional distortions of the truth. Most of all, they have targeted vulnerable groups with weak local ties, groups that resemble those attacked by McCarthy: unions, mainstream celebrities, intellectuals, and civil servants. Sometimes they even lapse into their accusations against Jews and communists – such as when they attack Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel as un-American and condemn health care reform as socialism. The rhetorical extremism of the Tea Party is McCarthyite in tone and substance.
Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.I disagree, to various extents, with both of these men -- but with one, I feel I could at least have a decent and productive conversation. Can you guess which?
And for bonus points, what is the degree of irony for accusing the Tea Party of Jew-baiting while decrying rhetorical extremism?