Ethics & Public Policy Center

McCarthyism Is Back. This Time, It’s Woke.

Published in The Washington Post on July 15, 2020


The intellectually intolerant mob claimed two high-profile victims Tuesday with the resignations of New York Times editor Bari Weiss and New York Magazine journalist Andrew Sullivan. These are just two examples of the deadly virus spreading through our public life: McCarthyism of the woke.

McCarthyism is the pejorative term liberals gave to the anti-communist crusades of 1950s-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. From his perch as chair of the Government Operations Committee, McCarthy launched a wave of investigations to ferret out supposed communist subversion of government agencies. Armed with his favorite question — “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” — McCarthy terrorized his targets and silenced his critics. Thousands of people lost their jobs as a result, often based on nothing more than innuendo or chance associations.

The mob fervor extended to the state governments and the private sector, too. States enacted “loyalty oaths” requiring people employed by the government, including tenured university faculty members, to disavow “radical beliefs” or lose their jobs. Many refused and were fired. Hollywood notoriously rooted out real and suspected communists, creating the infamous “blacklist” of people who were informally barred from any work with Hollywood studios. The “red scare” even nearly toppled America’s favorite television star, Lucille Ball, who had registered to vote as a communist in the 1930s.

Click here to read the rest of this piece at the Washington Post’s website.

Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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