In his essay, Irving Kristol chides Sen. Joseph McCarthy for erasing the distinction between liberals and Soviet agents – of treating every “New Dealer as being by nature an embryonic Communist.” McCarthy and other anti-communists deserve to be called to account for their recklessness when they fail to distinguish between their political opponents and communist traitors. But we must also note that in the years since the “Red Scare” an equally wrong-headed idea has taken hold: that McCarthy, et. al. had no reason to criticize the FDR/HST administrations and had no evidence to back any of their charges.
In 1940, FDR himself told Martin Dies of the newly reconstituted House Committee on UnAmerican Activities:
This attitude permeated his administration and even his family. Eleanor, for example, intervened in 1944 to prevent the deportation of Raissa Browder – the Russian-born wife of the head of the CPUSA and a Stalinist operative in her own right. Son James happily rubbed shoulders with communists in Hollywood and China.
I do not agree with you. I do not regard the Communists as any present or future threat to our country. In fact, I look upon Russia as our strongest ally in the years to come. As I told you when you began your investigation, you should confine yourself to Nazis and Fascists. While I do not believe in Communism, Russia is far better off and the world is safer with Russia under Communism than under the tsars. Stalin is a great leader, and although I deplore some of his methods, it is the only way he can safeguard his government.Gary Kerr, A Death in Washington
FDR and his administration actively covered up the Soviet's responsibility for the Katyn Massacre. The president himself colluded with Stalin to hide from the voters that the dictator was to have a free hand in post-war Poland.
It must be said that when McCarthy accused the New Dealers of being “soft on communism” he did not know the half of it. The VENONA files were still top secret. The soviet documents were still locked away in Moscow.
That's the thing that is often overlooked in the historiography of McCarthyism. The senator may have selected the wrong targets, but he was addressing a real problem. His critics, on the other hand, often defended the wrong targets and denied that there was or ever had been a real problem.