The definitive biography of the most dangerous demagogue in American history, based on exclusive access to his papers and recently unsealed transcripts of his closed-door Congressional hearings
In the long history of American demagogues, from Huey Long to Donald Trump, never has one man caused so much damage in such a short time as Senator Joseph McCarthy. We still use “McCarthyism” to stand for outrageous charges of guilt by association, a weapon of polarizing slander. From 1950 to 1954, McCarthy destroyed many careers and even entire lives, whipping the nation into a frenzy of paranoia, accusation, loyalty oaths, and terror. His chaotic, meteoric rise is a gripping and terrifying object lesson for us all. Yet his equally sudden fall from fame offers hope that, given the rope, most American demagogues eventually hang themselves. Only now, through best-selling author Larry Tye’s look at the senator’s records, can the full story be told.
Biographer Tye (Bobby Kennedy) delivers a sure-handed account of the rise and fall of Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy. Drawing from a previously unavailable archive of McCarthy's "unscripted writings and correspondence," Tye looks to correct misconceptions large and small, including what actually took place behind closed doors of the 1953 1954 Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and how McCarthy could be "incongruously generous to those he had just publicly upbraided." Analyzing the origins of McCarthyism, Tye describes McCarthy's "last-minute" decision in 1950 to substitute a talk on housing policy for a speech alleging communist infiltration of the U.S. state department, and President Truman's 1947 Loyalty Order, which "mandated checks on nearly 5 million federal employees and applicants" and identified 299 "subversive organizations," including the Jewish Culture Society. (Some historians, Tye notes, believe that 1950s anti-Communism should have been called "Trumanism.") The book's most provocative sections, including a posthumous diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a roundup of "lurid" claims that noted homophobe McCarthy was gay, add color but lack definitive proof. Though Tye occasionally veers into minutiae (as with the recipe for McCarthy's venison meatballs), he maintains a brisk pace throughout. The result is a searing and informative portrait of the man and his specific brand of self-aggrandizing demagoguery.