Democrats Launch New McCarthyism

Unwilling to examine the real reasons why Democrats did so poorly on Election Day, party leaders in Congress are scapegoating Russia and setting in motion a new McCarthyism, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

On Tuesday, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and six ranking members of major House committees sent President Obama a letter declaring, “We are deeply concerned by Russian efforts to undermine, interfere with, and even influence the outcome of our recent election.”

A prominent signer of the letter — Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee — is among the Democrats most eager to denounce Russian subversion.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California

A week ago, when the House approved by a 390-30 margin and sent to the Senate the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2017, Schiff praised “important provisions aimed at countering Russia’s destabilizing efforts — including those targeting our elections.” One of those “important provisions,” Section 501, sets up in the executive branch “an interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence.”

This high-level committee could easily morph into a protracted real-life nightmare.

While lacking public accountability, the committee is mandated to ferret out such ambiguous phenomena as Russian “media manipulation” and “disinformation.” Along the way, the committee could target an array of activists, political opponents or irksome journalists. In any event, its power to fulfill “such other duties as the president may designate” would be ready-made for abuse.

The committee is to be selected by presidential appointees, including the director of the FBI — an agency with leadership that has all too often pursued covert and overt political agendas, from the times of J. Edgar Hoover to James Comey.

All in all, the provision is a gift for the next president, tied up in a bow by congressional Democrats.

This country went through protracted witch hunts during the McCarthy era. A lot of citizens — including many government workers — had their lives damaged or even destroyed. The chill on the First Amendment became frosty, then icy. Democracy was on the ropes.

Joe McCarthy rose to corrosive prominence at the midpoint of the Twentieth Century by riding hysteria and spurring it on. The demagoguery was fueled not only by opportunistic politicians but also by media outlets all too eager to damage the First Amendment and other civil liberties in the name of Americanism and anti-communism.

Today, congressional leaders of both parties seem glad to pretend that Section 501 of the Intelligence Authorization Act is just fine, rather than an odious and dangerous threat to precious constitutional freedoms. On automatic pilot, many senators will vote aye without a second thought.

Yet by rights, with growing grassroots opposition, this terrible provision should be blocked by legislators in both parties, whether calling themselves progressives, liberals, libertarians, Tea Partyers or whatever, who don’t want to chip away at cornerstones of the Bill of Rights.

Scapegoating Russia

Most Democratic leaders, for their part, seem determined to implicitly — or even explicitly — scapegoat the Russian government for the presidential election results. Rather than clearly assess the impacts of Hillary Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street, or even the role of the FBI director just before the election, the Democratic line seems bent on playing an anti-Russia card.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, March 21, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, March 21, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Perhaps in the mistaken belief that they can gain some kind of competitive advantage over the GOP by charging Russian intervention for Donald Trump’s victory, the Democrats are playing with fire. The likely burn victims are the First Amendment and other precious freedoms.

When liberals have helped to launch a witch hunt, Republican politicians have been pleased to boost it into the stratosphere. That’s what happened after Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government.

Truman may have thought he was tossing GOP extremists a bone that they would stop to gnaw on. But he actually supplied them with red meat for an all-out assault on civil liberties. An ambitious new arrival in the House named Richard Nixon did his part to escalate the witch hunting. So did other Republican lawmakers, like Sens. Karl Mundt of South Dakota and Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Some Democrats, like Nevada’s Sen. Pat McCarran, were pleased to join in. The rest is disgraceful and tragic history.

Now, most lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem inclined to let it happen again. Of course the upcoming era won’t be the same as the one that bears the name of McCarthy. History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it can rhyme an awful lot.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org, which has 750,000 members. He is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. [This article originally appeared as a blog post at The Hill newspaper.]

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28 comments for “Democrats Launch New McCarthyism

  1. Annie
    December 8, 2016 at 3:08 am

    Basically the democratic party is using the Russians as a scapegoat to explain Clinton’s loss, and their loss in both houses of Congress. There’re saving face, and they certainly have a audience of sore losers to engage who voted for Clinton and think Trump is the devil himself. Blaming Russia was used as a diversionary tactic when they were caught red handed by the e-mail dump that showed they deliberately sabotaged Sander’s campaign, a progressive, while their commitment was to a wall street hustler. The Russians rigged the election so that Trump could win and the Republicans are going to run with it? I don’t think so.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 8, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Good comment Annie, you pointed to the source of this anti-Russian surge, let’s all hope we may retain our first amendment rights…if not then, I didn’t write this!

    • Call A Spade
      December 11, 2016 at 2:45 am

      A country like the US should focus on internal policy not their empire building in an election. To me all must be hunky dory inside the good old USA for the election to be swayed by foreign policy. Time the educated free healthy citizens of the US learnt how to vote and then use their brains not what the TV tells them.

  2. Mark Thomason
    December 8, 2016 at 8:44 am

    It is not “the Democrats” doing this. Not all of them.

    It is the discredited Clinton machine of right wing Democrats doing this. They are trying to survive Hillary’s loss, to keep their power over the party against renewed challenge from Bernie and Warren and the whole Progressive wing of the party.

    This is part of a fight for the future of the party. Once again, the McCarthy types are the bad guys. That’s Hillary. That is a big part of why she lost.

    • Dennis Rice
      December 8, 2016 at 10:08 am

      Excellent insight. Well said.

      Hillary was simply “the wrong woman at the wrong time” and the “Dims” of the Democratic party don’t get it.
      Nor will their manipulation of who will be the Democratic nominee but forgotten anytime soon, either. Bernie
      Sanders was shafted by the party heads, and the fact that Hillary is now ahead of Trump in the popular vote
      means nothing.

      Unfortunately, for us, and for them, the “Dims” do not read such news/sites as this one.

    • Dennis Rice
      December 8, 2016 at 10:09 am

      Excellent insight. Well said.

      Hillary was simply “the wrong woman at the wrong time” and the “Dims” of the Democratic party don’t get it.
      Nor will their manipulation of who will be the Democratic nominee but forgotten anytime soon, either. Bernie Sanders
      was shafted by the party heads, and the fact that Hillary is now ahead of Trump in the popular vote
      means nothing.

      Unfortunately, for us, and for them, the “Dims” do not read such news/sites as this one.

    • Bill Bodden
      December 8, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      It is not “the Democrats” doing this. Not all of them.

      149 Democrats voted for this undemocratic bill. 24 voted “Nay.” One voted “present.” Fourteen didn’t vote. With the Yeas and Nays voting six to one saying “the Democrats” voted for this is valid. It is also valid to say the Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans.

  3. Junior
    December 8, 2016 at 9:26 am

    wow.

    Talk about evidence of the end.

    The masses need to rise up.

    And yet so many mainstream buffoons are desperate to think it’s business as usual.

    https://therulingclassobserver.com/2016/12/04/15019/

    • Dennis Rice
      December 8, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      The fact that Homeland Security has equipped many policing departments with tanks, etc, is no accident.
      It is hoped that these “departments” will protect the status quo if and when “the masses rise up.”

      In fact, sadly, it has been shown that the policing departments WILL use these heavy weapons on their
      fellow Americans. The Dakota pipe line affair is the most, but not the only, example.

  4. Zachary Smith
    December 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    A google headline this morning has another fellow talking about “fake news”.

    “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into — no offense intended — the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said. “And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.”

    http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment/4687460-155/sean-p-means-headline-here

    I really do hope Pope Francis has been misquoted on this one, for if he hasn’t, he looks mighty bad. The US Army murders at My Lai were surely ugly scandals and the news media of the day covered those “nasty” killings. This shouldn’t have been news? IMO this latest prohibition would have extended to the police beating up Black people during the Sixties.

    The Catholic Church has spent centuries covering up the sins and crimes of the perverts within the church. I suspect this exposure is what has him so agitated about the “even if they are true” part.

    My non-Catholic opinion of this Pope just dropped a few notches.

  5. Vera
    December 8, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Admit shortcomings only as a very last resource.

  6. Ragnar Ragnarsson
    December 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    This whole blame the Russians scenario is so bizarre I can hardly believe it’s happening. Of course it’s so similar to Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and being a state sponsor of terrorism that it’s absolutely frightening. Hilary may have lost, but the faction that wants a war with Russia is still actively pursuing their goals while at the same time trying to undermine the legitimacy of president elect Trump.

    I certainly hope enough people have woken up to the fact that the MSM is a total propaganda machine and this gets little traction. I also hope that Trump breaks the near monopoly ownership of news outlets.

  7. SteveK9
    December 8, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Schiff was on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News (never thought I would say anything positive them), and was selling this preposterous, despicable and dangerous lie. Carlson took him apart after Schiff got pretty insulting, calling him a Kremlin agent for asking Schiff to look straight at the camera and say he knows for a fact that Russia ‘hacked’ the Podesta emails. Carlson’s last comment, given with a laugh, was: ‘I have to put you on hold for a minute, while I take a call from Vladimir Putin’. Schiff looked stunned that anyone would actually ridicule him on this nonsense. I guess he thought the ‘Russia did it’ crap was accepted by everyone.

    • Zachary Smith
      December 8, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      I just finished watching that on youtube because of all the references I kept seeing about it. That Schiff fellow was pitiful. His district in California surely picks its Representative for reasons other than honesty. Or brains, for that matter.

      Of course I can’t get on my high horse too much because Indiana has a grand tradition of sending comparable weasels to Washington.

      • Bill Bodden
        December 8, 2016 at 10:03 pm

        Of course I can’t get on my high horse too much because Indiana has a grand tradition of sending comparable weasels to Washington.

        It isn’t only California and Indiana. The oligarchs in both major parties work the same scam in all 50 states if necessary for their own power.

  8. Abe
    December 8, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    How to understand Norman Solomon’s solicitude about “scapegoating Russia” when his previous article gave major props to Russia scapegoater and “professional” propaganda stenographer Adrian Chen of the New Yorker and New York Times, who himself gave major props to leading Russia scapegoater and “professional” fake “citizen investigative journalist” Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat?

    Several “progressive” journalists, quick to take the bait proffered by the Washington Post / PropOrNot debacle, have been less than vigilant with regard to “media manipulation” and “disinformation”.

    A case in point: https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/05/wpost-wont-retract-mccarthyistic-smear/

    The propaganda about the propaganda about “Russian propaganda” has been vigorously exploited by both Democratic and Republican extremists, who share the same Israel Lobby paymaster.

    Uncritical “progressive” journalists have helped spread the propaganda about the propaganda. Those who stand to profit from the next war could not be more pleased.

  9. Cal
    December 8, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    What is most scary is —-how stupid are the Dims who might actually believe their own ‘Russia did it’ shit?

  10. Bill Bodden
    December 8, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Another act of betrayal by the Democratic Party: The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told? by John Stauber – http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/08/the-rise-and-fall-of-obamacare-will-the-inside-story-ever-be-told/

  11. Abe
    December 9, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Schiff’s role is very interesting.

    Schiff formed the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press in 2006.

    The Caucus proposed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act and it was originally introduced to Congress by Schiff and Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) and by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) on October 1, 2009 in response to the murder of Daniel Pearl by terrorists in Pakistan.

    The legislation requires the United States Department of State to expand its scrutiny of news media intimidation and freedom of the press restrictions during its annual report on human rights in each country.

    After its introduction, the act passed through the House of Representatives with a vote of 403 to 12 and passed unanimously in the Senate; however, a provision requiring the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in consultation with the Undersecretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy, to establish a grant program aiming to promote freedom of the press worldwide.

    On May 17, 2010 President Barack Obama, accompanied by the Pearl family, signed into law the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act. The act amends the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act to include provisions to spotlight governments that seek to silence any media opposition by calling upon the Secretary of State to greatly expand the examination of the status of freedom of the press worldwide in the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. As such, the legislation requires that the State Department identify countries in which there were violations of press freedom, determine whether the government authorities of those countries participate in, facilitate, or condone the violations, and report such actions to preserve the safety and independence of the media and ensure the prosecution of individuals who attack journalists.

    Schiff has subsequently discovered that “Freedom Is Slavery” and 2 + 2 = 5.

    • Zachary Smith
      December 10, 2016 at 2:18 am

      “Schiff’s role is very interesting.”

      It really is! The little weasel is working hard to demonize anybody who disagrees with his world view. And look at what the US Senate just passed – a law which will make it illegal to practice what those fine Senators define as “anti-semitism”.

      Anti-antisemitism, Thought-control Bill moves through Congress

      Eight years of legislative constipation suddenly ends when it comes to Congress’ preferred constituency

      Here is the text of the bill – cut and paste the link.

      http://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/10/text

      The bill appears to be a very short one until you get to the “definition” section. Notice how it references extra “examples”. Two I found and am pasting here:

      http://www.osce.org/cio/68921?download=true

      That’s 94 pages! I’d hate to go to jail because some judge concluded I was acting like one of those “examples”.

      http://www.osce.org/cio/68921?download=true

      Now this is only two pages, but it’s cute. Real cute. You can’t “demonize” Israel. You can’t hold a “double standard” for Israel. And you can’t “delegitimize” Israel.

      The first link author was right. This really is Thought Control stuff. And it was passed by a unanimous vote.

      Fake news legislation and thought control laws. Holy Israel is cracking down on the big dumb money-bags nation with the big army it uses to destroy countries like Iraq, Libya, and Syria. On to Iran!

      And if all the above stuff comes to pass, don’t even think about objecting to the next War-For-Israel on the internet.

      EDIT: I tried leaving off the http// part of three of the links. Unfortunately the forum software restored it in each case so this post goes to “moderation” because of too many lnks. (I’ve found that sticking to one actual link keeps things much simpler.)

    • Abe
      December 10, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      The “fake news” imbroglio is one big Hasbara operation.

  12. exiled off mainstreet
    December 9, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    The democrats have really jumped the shark in the last 25 years or so since the Clintons effected their hostile takeover. It is hard to muster any sympathy for the now right-wing corporate thug squad. In the end there is no real alternative remaining, because now the traditional rightwing party is in power due to the fact their candidate seemed less irrational on nuclear war issues. This usage of redbaiting to defame the traditional rightwing party reduces the parvenu nouveau rightwing party to the status of inverted fascism (loosely after the late Sheldon Wolin’s discussions) Hopefully this fact situation will enable more independence from other western countries to develop alternatives. I don’t see the US as anything but a major drag and source of negativity for the foreseeable future.

  13. Secret Agent
    December 10, 2016 at 5:17 am

    The Democrats knew that Bernie would beat Trump but that Trump would beat Hillary, yet they conspired to fix the primaries and give the nomination to Clinton, in the knowledge that Trump would beat Clinton.

    Based on this assessment, I have a high degree of confidence that the Democrats were colluding with Putin to hand the Presidency to Trump.

    Furthermore, Congressman Schiff has been leading the attempt to pin the blame on a bunch of shiftless bloggers and away from the Democrats making me very confident that HE is a Russian agent.

    • December 10, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      : )

    • Realist
      December 10, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Russia expert Prof. Stephen F. Cohen says that is exactly the nature and strength of the “evidence” that the U.S. government has to prove Russian involvement in disrupting our elections. It is oft “cited” as irrefutable but yet not a shred of it can ever be shown. Obama knows that a guy like you is too smart to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from him, but he’ll sell you shares in the consortium that owns it. And, if you’re a Democrat, he’ll give you a 10% discount available only to fellow party members.

  14. Dube
    December 13, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Should it be mentioned that the “Russian hack” meme might be useful for influencing the Electoral College decision?

  15. Alan Kobrin
    December 16, 2016 at 12:21 am

    Just LOOK at all these WORDS!
    How many of them have to DO with what Democrats DID to subvert their Primary??
    NONE.
    … and THAT, friends, is the whole GOAL of this SICK OPERATION about fixating on Russia. It is designed to DECEIVE the American People and HIDE the fact that Establishment Dems preferred to have TRUMP, than to have SANDERS!!

  16. Alan Kobrin
    December 20, 2016 at 11:10 am

    By the way …
    … I believe Democrats, with their policies on unions here, including wages, internal elections, pushing AIFLD (The American Institute for Free Labor Development), and their positions supporting trade agreements like NAFTA, … never really ended the OLD McCarthyism.

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