1946 November 5

Joe McCarthy Elected to Senate – “McCarthyism” Just Ahead


Joe McCarthy (R–Wisconsin), elected to the U.S. Senate on this day, became the most notorious anti-Communist leader during the Cold War. His tactic of making reckless and baseless charges about Communists in the U.S. government gave the English language a new word, “McCarthyism.” Go to February 9, 1950, for the famous speech that launched his anti-Communist crusade. The noted cartoonist Herblock (for Herbert Block) is credited with coining the term “McCarthysim” in a cartoon published in the Washington Post on March 29, 1950.

After dominating American politics, and introducing a style of reckless accusations based on guilt-by-association, McCarthy’s downfall began on March 9, 1954 when Edward R. Murrow devoted an entire news program to him, exposing his tactics by mainly relying on McCarthy’s own words. The Senate finally censured McCarthy for his reckless conduct on December 2, 1954, and his influence quickly waned. “McCarthyism,” however, outlasted the man by many years.

The term “McCarthyism” has become a popular shorthand for the anti-Communist crusade of the Cold War years. In fact, however, President Harry Truman launched the domestic Cold War with his federal loyalty program on March 21, 1947. Senator McCarthy was simply more reckless and irrational than Truman’s program and other anti-Communist measures of the period.

Read: Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (1982)

Learn more: David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (1983)

Watch Senator McCarthy in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJHsur3HqcI

Learn more about McCarthyism: http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/joseph-mccarthy

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