A Modern-Day Joe McCarthy

Joe McCarthy: "I hold here in my hands ... "

I just finished reading an excellent article entitled “The Last Days of Joe McCarthy,” by Richard Rovere, and published by Esquire magazine in its August 1958 edition. At the time, Rovere was the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker. As such, he had a ringside seat at McCarthy’s 1954 Senate censure and the inglorious public denouement of the politician that followed. Rovere continued to cover McCarthy until his death in 1957 due to cirrhosis of the liver. The Wisconsin senator drank himself to death.

What stands out in Rovere’s on-the-scenes print portrayal of this dangerous demagogue, a malevolent frightener and bully from the paranoid, anti-communist, early 1950s (the “McCarthy Era”), is how closely he resembles another modern-day demagogue from the Midwest, Missourian Rush Limbaugh. One notable difference: McCarthy (“Tail Gunner Joe”) actually served in the military during his generation’s war (World War II) while Limbaugh remained safely on the sidelines during that of his generation (the Vietnam War), due to a cyst on his butt (so appropriate). Other than this discrepancy, however, the picture that Rovere paints of McCarthy could quite easily be that of Limbaugh.

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