Monday, March 08, 2010

GOP Caught Plotting Joe McCarthy-Style Fear Campaign Against Obama, Democrats

Leaked Plans by Republican National Committee Show Intent to Aggressively Capitalize on Fears of 'Socialism' Under Obama to Raise Money for GOP in 2010 Election Cycle; Meanwhile, Group Led by Ex-VP Cheney's Daughter Comes Under Fire for Web Ad That Attacks Patriotism of Justice Department Lawyers Handling Terrorism Cases

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"I have here in my hand a list of 205 people that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party, and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department!" With those words, Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) plunged the nation into a near-panic with his infamous anti-communist "Red Scare" campaign from 1950 to 1954, when McCarthy was ultimately exposed as the fearmongering demagogue he really was. Now, 60 years later, The Republicans have been caught plotting a McCarthy-style "Red Scare" of the 21st century, with revelations of GOP National Committee plans to launch an aggressive fundraising campaign by stoking fears of "socialism" under President Obama and the majority Democrats in Congress. (Archive Photo courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, March 8, 2010)


Having lost control of both the White House and the Congress -- and under mounting pressure from the Far Right -- the Republican Party has been caught plotting to launch an aggressive campaign of stoking fears of the country moving toward "socialism" under President Obama and the majority Democrats in Congress to raise money for the upcoming midterm election cycle.

At the same time, a conservative group with ties to former Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Liz has come under fire for launching a blistering Web ad that questions the patriotism of seven Justice Department lawyers assigned to handle the cases of terrorism suspects -- branding the unnamed attorneys "the al-Qaida 7" and mocking the DOJ as the "Department of Jihad."

These two developments have prompted fierce accusations by liberals -- and even some former Bush administration attorneys -- that the GOP is stooping to outright fearmongering reminiscent of the infamous "Red Scare" whipped up in the early 1950s by late Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin).


The Republican National Committee was forced into damage-control mode after plans to raise money for the upcoming midterm election campaign by aggressively pursuing a drive to "save the country from trending toward socialism" under Obama were exposed by, which obtained a copy of the plans.

Incredibly, the confidential 72-page document, which was prepared by the party’s finance staff, was left behind at the conclusion of a February 18 party retreat in Boca Grande, Florida. It was picked up by a Democratic operative, who furnished it to

"What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House, or the Senate...?" the document asks. "Save the country from trending toward Socialism!" comes the reply.

Several of the document's pages include crude caricatures of top Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) as Cruella DeVille from the Disney movie "101 Dalmatians" and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) as the cartoon character Scooby-Doo.

Most controversial of all, however, was a caricature of Obama as the Joker, the psychopathic nemesis of Batman in "The Dark Knight." That caricature of the nation's first black president in whiteface -- employed frequently by Tea Party movement activists -- has been denounced by critics of the Tea Party movement as racially offensive.


Revelation of the RNC fundraising document on Wednesday forced the GOP into full-scale damage-control mode, with RNC Communications Director Douglas Heye frantically issuing an e-mail to major Republican donors and to the media to downplay its significance and seeking to distance GOP National Chairman Michael Steele from it.

"The document was used for a fundraising presentation Chairman Steele did not attend, nor had he seen the document," Heye wrote in his e-mail. "Fundraising documents are often controversial. Obviously, the Chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable. It will not be used by the Republican National Committee -- in any capacity -- in the future."

By Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), confronted with the controversy, acknowledged that the fundraising presentation "was not helpful" to the party. Appearing on ABC's "This Week," McConnell said that he "can’t imagine why anybody would have thought that was helpful."

McConnell refused to say whether he thought that Chairman Steele and others at the RNC should be held accountable for the document. "I don't run the RNC. That's up to them. But I don't like it, and I don't know anybody who does," he said.


For Steele, the leak of the controversial fundraising document could not have come at a worse time. The GOP national chairman has come under fire from major party donors unhappy with what they say is Steele's lavish spending habits since he was elected party chairman 14 months ago.

The feud has led to major donors turning away from the RNC and toward other GOP committees. reported February 23 that the RNC has raised $24 million since Steele took over as chairman -- down significantly from the $46 million it raised in 2005.

To make matters worse, according to campaign finance reports, a $23 million RNC surplus that Steele inherited when he took over has shrunk dramatically to $8.4 million a year later.


Meanwhile, a growing number of critics on both the left and the right have denounced a vicious Web ad that attacks the Justice Department for its handling of terrorism cases.

The ad, posted by the right-wing group Keep America Safe -- which is led by Liz Cheney and Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Bill Kristol -- openly brands as "The al-Qaida 7" seven lawyers hired by the Justice Department to handle terrorism-related cases who previously did pro bono work for Guantánamo detainees.

The ad demands that the identities of the seven lawyers be disclosed -- and even goes so far as to refer to the Justice Department's initials, DOJ, as the "Department of Jihad."

Posted on YouTube on March 1, the ad has triggered a torrent of angry phone calls to Justice Department headquarters. It came just days after Liz Cheney, appearing at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, unleashed a blistering attack on the Obama administration, openly accusing the president of pursuing a dangerously misguided and ineffective approach to national security.

"We've learned he [Obama] wants to go around the world and apologize for this great country of ours," the daughter of the former vice president said. "We've learned he wants to give rights to terrorists, including the right to remain silent. We've learned he wants to move dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo onto the American homeland while he investigates and possibly prosecutes the CIA officers who interrogated them. That is not change we can believe in."


Such attacks by Cheney drew an equally blistering counterattack by Ken Gude, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. "It's not kind of like McCarthyism," wrote Gude in an e-mail to, "it is exactly what Joe McCarthy did with his anti-communist witchhunts. Cheney accuses the Attorney General of the United States of being a supporter of al-Qaida and running the 'Department of Jihad.'"

But Gude isn't alone. Several prominent lawyers who worked for the Bush administration also blasted Cheney. Former Solicitor General Ted Olson called Cheney's attacks "outrageous" and fiercely defended the DOJ lawyers handling the terror-related cases, saying they were acting "consistent with the finest traditions of the legal profession."


Devoid of fresh ideas to compete with the Democrats and to restore their own credibility, the Republicans -- under growing pressure from Tea Party activists and others to move even farther to the right -- appear to have decided to go "back to the future" sort to speak -- only in this case, back nearly 60 years to the fear-plagued 1950s.

That the new GOP aggressiveness would evoke memories of McCarthy's demagoguery should surprise no one who is well-versed in American history. The Wisconsin Republican's career had been marked by making accusations without providing a shred of proof to back them up, according to author Arthur Herman's 1999 book, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator.

Even before his infamous anti-communist witchhunts, McCarthy came under sharp criticism in the late 1940s when he lobbied for the commutation of death sentences given to a group of Nazi soldiers convicted of war crimes for carrying out the 1944 Malmedy massacre of American prisoners of war.

McCarthy was critical of the convictions because of allegations of torture during the interrogations that led to the German soldiers' confessions. He charged that the U.S. Army was engaged in a cover-up of judicial misconduct, but never presented any evidence to support his accusations. Shortly after this, a poll of the Senate press corps voted McCarthy "the worst U.S. senator" in office.

McCarthy shot to national prominence on February 9, 1950, when, while delivering a speech to the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, he produced a piece of paper that he claimed contained a list of known communists working for the State Department.


From 1950 until he was censured by the Senate in 1954, McCarthy continued to exploit the fear of communism and to press his accusations that the Truman and later Eisenhower administrations were failing to deal with communists within its ranks. These accusations were made without McCarthy furnishing a shred of evidence to back them up, yet they received wide publicity, increased his approval rating, and gained him a powerful national following.

It was Herbert Block, the longtime editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post, who coined the term "McCarthyism" as a synonym for demagoguery, baseless defamation, and mudslinging. Later, it would be embraced by McCarthy himself and some of his supporters. "McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled," McCarthy said in a 1952 speech, and later that year he published a book titled McCarthyism: The Fight For America.

By 1954 -- his demagoguery exposed by the legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and the televised Army-McCarthy hearings that same year -- many of McCarthy's fellow senators had had enough. On June 1, Senator Ralph Flanders (R-Vermont) blasted McCarthy, comparing him to Adolf Hitler and accusing him of spreading division and confusion. "Were the junior senator from Wisconsin in the pay of the Communists," said Flanders, "he could not have done a better job for them."

It was Flanders who introduced the Senate resolution that called for McCarthy's censure. The resolution passed on December 2, 1954 by a vote of 67 to 22, a greater-than-two-thirds majority in the then-96-member Senate (Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been admitted to the Union). McCarthy never recovered from his rebuke, either politically or physically. He plunged into alcoholism and died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1957.

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Volume V, Number 14
Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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