We are regressing to the nutty mean-spirited days of the ,'5os, '60s and early '7os when Joe McCarthy, a dangerous Republican senator from Wisconsin, and the John Birch Society, among others, took wide liberties in destroying the reputations of individuals. Fearful university professors defensively made references to Karl Marx in their philosophy classes. Ohio State University barred suspected Communist speakers from the campus with a ridiculous Speakers Rule. Americans were challenged on whether it would be better to be dead than red. President Eisenhower was commonly called a "comsymp." Books were stripped from libraries.
A particularly glaring example of how the Radical Right schemes worked drove an all-American guy from his job at Miami Trace High School in Ohio. A few details: Dan O'Brien was an ex-Marine, Korean War veteran and football coach who sinned by defending the United Nations. Anonymous hate-mail campaigns and various other pressures on the family prompted O'Brien to finally quit his job and spare his wife and children of further despair. It is one of the ugliest stories in Buckeye history.
All the while, Sen. Frank Lausche was trying to salvage his primary campaign against John Gilligan in speeches to small-town audiences warning that unnamed Communists were freely operating in the federal government. (When I asked him to name one, he flared with nasty shouts and left the room, my question still unanswered.) History will show that he lost the election anyway.
That is the upside of today's Radical Right attempts to scare us with rants about socialism and the ogre of a totalitarian Barack Obama, a mere couple of months into a four-year term. The Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of an earlier generation lost decisively. Is there anything to be learned from history for the current crop of air-wave comedians?