Monday, January 15, 2024

McCarthyism: No sauce for the gander (part 2)

One McCarthy opponent deserves special consideration. Sen. Millward Tydings (D-MD) tried to put an end to McCarthy's career right at the beginning of his crusade. He chaired the committee which investigated the Wheeling speech and the veracity of Joe's charges (Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees ). Its report is still routinely cited as proof that McCarthy lied and had no basis for accusing the Truman administration of being soft on subversion.

Tydings was a segregationist Democrat who voted with the Southern bloc that obstructed civil rights legislation for decades. In defense of the fillibuster Tydings declared that “It was cloture that crucified Christ on the cross.” All this is rarely mentioned by those who portray his campaign against McCarthy as a battle for civil liberties.

The Tydings committee also set the template for many of the “McCarthy hearings”. The Senator was the one called to face accusations, not the one making them. Far from having unchallenged power, he was challenged at every turn.

Tydings is specifically interesting for his peronal connections to the pro-Stalin elements in the FDR administration.

Tydings married the daughter of Joseph E. Davies, who FDR appointed ambassador to Moscow. While there he vouched for the fairness of the purge trials during Stalin's Great Terror.

After he returned he wrote a memoir, Mission to Moscow that even Soviet propagandists thought overdid it in its praise of Stalin. He was part of the clique which tried to purge long-time Russia experts like Loy Henderson and George Kennan from the State Department because they were insufficiently pro-Stalin. He also sought to deny asylum to Soviets agents who defected to the US.

Davies and his wife (Marjorie Merriweather Post) became great collectors of Russian art. They were able to acquire plenty of first rate pieces thanks to their friends in the Kremlin who had looted Russia (and Russians) on behalf of the Revolution and the Party.

After the Wheeling speech Tydings saw the danger that the “soft on communism” charge represented to the Democratic party in the upcoming election. He wrote Truman to warn him:

I strongly recommend for your own welfare, for the welfare of the country and lastly for the Welfare of the Democratic party that the present Communist inquiry not be allowed to worsen, but that you take bold, forthright and courageous action which I presume to say will do as much as anything I can think of to give you and your administration and party a tremendous advantage in the coming elections.
As Klehr and Radosh noted:

Senator McCarthy cynically used the Amerasia affair even though he was indifferent to the facts of the case. But so too did Senator Tydings, who preferred to find convenient scapegoats rather than be embarrassed by the truth.
Tydings, as chairman of the committee tasked with investigating communist infiltration of the State Department, instead used the committee to attack and discredit McCarthy. Its report was nakedly partisan. Tydings himself had strong personal and political reasons to see that the anti-communist issue was dead and buried before the 1950 election.

Yet the Tydings committee report is still used as conclusive evidence that McCarthy never had evidence for his charges. Hence, he was just a drunken demagogue stoking populst paranoia.

Note the legerdemain at work to maintain the narrative. McCarthy's crusade must be viewed through the lense of his political opportunism, personal faults, and tactical missteps. The political motives, personal interests, and repellant beliefs of his opponents are carefully excluded from the analysis.

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