Joseph McCarthy

Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of PowerBy Robert A. Caro (Knopf, 712 pp., $35) I. MANY LIBERAL Democrats have yet to come to terms with Lyndon Johnson.

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Eisenhower in War and Peace By Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 950 pp., $40) The histories we write say as much about our own times as about those we study. The current polarization in Washington has prompted a nostalgia for parties that were less ideologically uniform and more prone to compromise. Fashionable “pragmatism” has similarly infected thinking about foreign policy, as the fallout from the Iraq war lingers in the air a decade on.

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A significant milestone in the history of American conservatism passed largely unnoticed last month: the fiftieth anniversary of William F. Buckley Jr.’s editorial attack on Robert Welch, the head of the John Birch Society. Buckley’s successful effort to read the conspiracy-minded anti-Communist organization out of the conservative movement deserves to be remembered by the Republican Party. Indeed, the fact that today’s GOP has paid the anniversary little heed is a telling indictment of a party gone seriously astray.

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The 2012 GOP nominating contest has witnessed the final triumph of an unlikely figure. I say “unlikely” because his name hasn’t been invoked much (if at all) by any of the candidates, nor has he been mentioned frequently by the press in its campaign coverage. What’s more, he died in 2007.

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The conditions haven’t been this ripe for populism for decades. From coast to coast, left to right, an authentic grassroots resentment of our current economic instability is roiling the country. But whether it’s the Tea Party on the right or the Occupy Wall Street protests on the left, we have yet to see the most predictable symptom of such movements—a recognizable populist leader. Last year, the Tea Party auditioned both Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin for this role, but they both sputtered.

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It was not so long ago that George W. Bush seemed to embody the future of conservatism. He had entered office amid doubts about his rightful place there, but pressed ahead nonetheless with grand ambitions, conducting an ideologically potent foreign war while also promising much at home. Which led some to wonder: Was this lavish spender really a conservative? Bush’s champions rushed in to explain.

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Trump Talk

Watching Donald Trump’s interview the other week with CNN’s John King about the release of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, one couldn’t help but notice something novel about the way he spoke: Trump’s talk was almost pathologically first-person-focused, with his “I’m proud of myself” and “I’ve done a great job” a near constant refrain. What kind of person speaks like that?

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Unless you live under a rock, you know Donald Trump is thinking about running for president. His sensational public endeavors—pushing the White House to release President Obama’s long-form birth certificate and, most recently, questioning the authenticity of the president’s academic record—have met with astonishment, outrage, and dismay.

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Everyone was expecting the Pete King hearings on Muslim radicalization to be the second coming of Joseph McCarthy. Yesterday, an hour before they began, a line already snaked around the third floor of the Cannon Office Building, as reporters queued to catch a glimpse of demagoguery. Dozens of cameras lit up the hallway, bulbs on or flashing; and the press seemed to far outnumber any protestors or concerned citizens on hand. As it turned out, though, while the hearings were certainly controversial, they were, in terms of substance, fundamentally anticlimactic.

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On Thursday, Peter King, the Republican chair of the House Homeland Security committee, kicks off a series of hearings on domestic terrorism that are being heralded as the second coming of Joseph McCarthy, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Spanish Inquisition. Such comparisons may err (a little) on the side of exaggeration, but it’s certainly fair to say that King, a one-time IRA supporter, cares only about Islamic incidents of terror, and he has declined to invite representatives of mainstream American Muslim groups to defend their faith.

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