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The Forgotten McCarthyite By: Ron Capshaw
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, July 02, 2007


Liberal pundit recollections of the McCarthy era promote a dividing line based, with a few allowances made for Margaret Chase Smith and Ralph Flanders, almost exclusively on Party affiliation.  Hence, his oppponents are liberal democrats like Adlai Stevenson and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., while his supporters are conservative Republicans like William F. Buckley Jr., Robert Taft, and scores of Texas oil men.

Lumped into this history lesson is also the conservatives who paved the way for McCarthyism, specifically HUAC and its ex-communist witnesses.  Forgotten in this hasty rewrite, however, is the complicated figure of Whittaker Chambers and his criticism, however covert and within the anticommunist family of McCarthy.

Always the strategist, with his eye on the long view of history, whether as a Party man or a Republican Party man, Chambers based his initial opposition on the Senator's recklessness.  "He is a raven of disaster," Chambers wrote to William F. Buckley.  Aware that the Hiss case was "the heart of the anticommunist fight here, and that by it most of the rest stands or falls," he refused to allow Hiss pundits to confuse him with the Senator.  Chambers refused to write a review of William F. Buckley and L. Brent Bozell's largely sympathetic treatment of the Senator.  Always an excellent reader of history, he largely foretold the Senator's fall and after-effects of it on anticommunism: 

"...we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anticommunist effort for a long time."

Chambers put these fears into effect in his relationship with McCarthy. He refused to endorse any effort by McCarthy to validate his charges such as the senator's well-publicized trip to the Westminister farm, the field of which once contained the Pumpkin Papers, to "consult" with Chambers on the Chip Bolen nomination. 

In a period when the Left was comparing McCarthy to Hitler, Chambers did not join many others by refusing the comparison.  He saw it as potentially valid.

As with other issues on the Right, such as not seeking to roll back the New Deal, Chambers urged his fellow ideological brethren to take the long range view of history, to see how emotionally satisfying gestures for the moment could ultimately damage the cause for posterity.  In the ultimate view of history, Chambers' vision won out, with no matter how much damage McCarthy did do to anticommunism, the sober, patient testimony of Chambers, backed up with irrefutable facts, and now decrypted Russian documents, still stands.  Hence it makes sense for liberals and the Left to lump Chambers in carelessly with McCarthy; for if Chambers can be discredited, so too can the reminder of valid anticommunism from that period.


Ron Capshaw has written for National Review, the New York Sun, Partisan Review and the Weekly Standard. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and is currently writing a biography of Alger Hiss.


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