Republican strategists have unleashed a one-two punch in the closing fortnight of a tight campaign. First came the dramatic announcement of a Korean Plan, vague enough to evade criticism but material enough to raise hopes. Then came the rabbit punch last Monday night. And while playing on the Korean war may be a defensible stratagem, Senator McCarthy's speech was not.
The attack illustrated McCarthy's technique to perfection. He opened with a series of unsupported statements about "our Kremlin directed policies" and "the planned retreat from victory." Some out-of-context quotations provided "documentation" for attacks on Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Archibald MacLeish. Then in the last twelve minutes, McCarthy got to work on Governor Stevenson.
Where he did quote some document, the Senator lifted a short passage from context and then changed its meaning by paraphrasing it. Citing the Governor's membership in a group which supports state conformity to international law, McCarthy paraphrased this to mean surrender to a super world government. The irrelevant issue of Reds in the U.N. was mixed in for good measure. In tying Stevenson to the I.P.R. he used phrases like "hidden files," "money from Moscow," "recommended by Alger Hiss" but refrained from quoting his "documentation." He referred to Stevenson as "Alger, I mean Adlai" etc., etc. The obvious attempt was to create a series of insinuations and inferences which might not stand individual examination but would combine to plant the Lingering Doubt in the mind of a listener.
It is not enough to show that this was a despicable speech, or that its author has never uncovered a Communist spy. The problem of "McCarthyism" is more serious, and has been blurred by Presidential campaign blasts. For the crucial domestic issues are not which pressure group will milk the Government driest, or how many tax collectors will get fired. The real issue is whether we can hold onto that handful of political and civil freedoms which make our system worth preserving.
This is why "McCarthyism" is important; it represents a brand of political gangsterism that directly threatens these freedoms. McCarthy's use of non-judicial suspicion and fear for political purposes infringes freedom of expression and association, his shifting barrages of inferences and charges have helped to create a national climate of intolerance and persecution. His use of Congressional immunity to put pressure on radio advertisers and publications strikes at the basis of a free press. "McCarthyism" has justifiably become a symbol for the whole wave of loyalty oaths, arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement, banning and picketing of plays and movies, and political blacklists that has splashed over us.
It is no wonder that some Republicans are trying to disassociate their candidate from such a movement, and from such a speech as that of last Monday. But unfortunately it was Eisenhower's closest political advisor, Senator Frank Carlson, who announced the strategy of using McCarthy back in September. And if that plan works, if McCarthy's speech does provide a final boost to the Republican campaign, it will put General Eisenhower in a position of obligation to the Senator. We hope, though little expect, that the General will have the courage to disavow this connection before it binds him.
This is the first in a series of editorials on important national issues.