martes, 18 de agosto de 2009

Historical ignorance disguised as conventional wisdom

Richard Cohen, NYT pundit, uses his ignorance of history to preach conventional wisdom to the choir. In the end he shoots himself in the foot and ends up showing the opposite of what he purports to show, i.e., that Palin is a nutjob. Try this on for size:

Palinism. What is it? It is an updated version of McCarthyism, which takes it name from the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin liar, demagogue and drunk, and means, according to Wikipedia, "reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries." As far as we know, Sarah Palin is not a drunk.

Whatever Wikipedia has to say, McCarthy's "reckless, unsubstantiated accusations" have turned out to be quite substantiated by now. At the time (early 1950s), it was not possible to substantiate them because to do so would have ruined US intelligence sources, etc etc. Take the famous example Cohen cites:
For sheer disregard of the facts, her statement about President Obama's "death panel" has to rank with McCarthy's announcement that "I have here in my hand a list of 205" (or 57 or 72 or whatever) names of communists in the State Department. They were both false -- McCarthy's by commission, Palin's probably by omission. She rarely knows her facts. [...] As with McCarthyism, Palinism is a product of its times. McCarthy exploited the public's fear of communism and communists. Not only were they abroad, but they were here in America -- spies, fellow travelers, pinkos, apologists, intellectuals and short, bespectacled minorities. It was their very ubiquity and invisibility that made them so dangerous.

We don't know if McCarthy had a real list in his hand or if that was just a rhetorical device but the Communists in the State Department accusation has been shown to be quite accurate after ex Soviet/Communist Party archives were opened up to researchers under Yeltsin. See for example, Hayes and Klehr. They document the KGB/GRU status of the most famous cases, including that of Alger Hiss, such that there can no longer be any reasonable debate about it. As for the "fellow travelers, pinkos, apologists, intellectuals and short, bespectacled minorities," that Cohen cites, the Hayes and Klehr book (among others) is full of info about journalists, union leaders, Hollywood types, etc etc, who were on the Communist Party/KGB/GRU payroll. This includes leftist icon IF Stone.

With this in mind, let's deconstruct Cohen's argument: McCarthy was tarred and feathered by the leftist intelligentsia of the day/Palin is being tarred and feathered by the leftist intelligentsia of the day--for example, by Richard Cohen. McCarthy's accusations were accurate according to the latest historical research/Palin's accusations will be shown to have been accurate... etc etc.

Therefore, to anyone aware of the historical debate over "McCarthyism," Cohen's comparison of Palin to McCarthy favors Palin with the "truthteller-to-power" image. Not what he had in mind at all.

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