Red Scare Tactics: They Just Do Not Work Anymore

Red Scare Tactics: They Just Do Not Work Anymore

In a recent Q & A event at a political event on April 10, an audience member asked Congressman Allen West (R) of Florida’s 22nd District if there were “Marxists” in the current congress. Although the crowd made it clear vocally that there was a consensus of displeasure with the question, West missed his “McCain” moment (“no mam, Obama is not a Muslim”). Not only did West not repudiate such an irrational inquiry, he humored the inquirer and made a startling statement. In response, West said that “I believe there is [sic] about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.” West then dug deeper and clarified that he meant the 76 members of the Democratic Progressive Caucus.

To enforce the absurdity of the comment, West’s campaign manager, Tim Edson, tried to justify the point by saying that some Democrats have traveled to China in the recent past. Of course Edson conveniently omitted that Republicans in Congress have also made envoy jaunts to China, never mind the fact that it was a Republican president who opened up trade with Red China in the first place.

Pundits on the left will rail about how West is goading us into divisive fear politics to gain tea party votes. They will remind us of Michelle Bachmann’s claims that there should be a congressional investigation on Un-American activities. They will also charge full steam ahead about McCarthyism and the lives ruined by one senator from Wisconsin. And the pundits on the right will defend Allen West and exaggerate the claim or whine about how the liberal media is “taking this out of context.”

I would like to pose an alternate argument on why Congressman West should refrain from Red Scare tactics of days gone by in the second decade of the 21st century; it does not work anymore.

Most of us know and understand the history behind McCarthyism and the damage done by the Red Scare of the 1950s. For those unfamiliar, there are plenty of scholarly books on the subject, or for a quick synapse, I highly recommend the movie Good Night and Good Luck. The interesting fact on the historiography of the Red Scare was that it lost some of its meaning to most Americans by the middle to late 1960s. Sure the New Right was organizing in white suburban America in places like Orange Country California, and Communist infiltration was a central concern to their politics. But the elections of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, along with congressional Democratic victories showed the electorate was not buying the Democratic Party equals Communist leanings scare rhetoric deployed by McCarthyites, long after McCarthy’s censure in 1954.

For those who were born between 1946 and before the early 1980s, the Cold War was real and, hence , the propaganda of “godless commies” in our government was ever present. Everything about growing up in such an environment reinforced the perception that subversives were at work everywhere. As noted earlier, the power of the red scare waned in later years as America turned inward to domestic issues such as civil rights. Yet, the red scare was still prevalent.

Historically, the Cold War ended shortly after the Berlin Wall was deconstructed. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev met in Malta for a summit. At the end of the Malta Summit, on December 3, 1989, both Bush and Gorbachev declared a new peace between the two former adversaries. With that joint declaration, the Cold War was over.

However, and this is the main point, there is a more contemporary political reason to refrain from old school Cold War fear tactics. The younger voters don’t care about the Communist label.

Politically, such red scare tactics are aimed at the aforementioned age Demographics. But what about those Americans born in the late 1970s and after? Those 30 and younger were not indoctrinated into the vitriol of Cold War Communist accusations at the turn of every corner of Washington D.C. For them, calling someone a Communist is perceived as “meh.” China is Communist, but most people under 30 do not see that as a bad thing, unlike those who were bombarded with anti-Communist propaganda in their lifetime. The reason is because China is an economic adversary and economic trading partner at the same time.

Calling someone a Communist to the ears of the youth generation of the 1990s and beyond has no weight. One might as well call another politician a witch or a Tory; neither terms hold contemporary relevance to the under 30 electorate. Quite frankly, the same thesis can be applied to the term “socialist.” Ask most people under 30 what countries they associate socialism with, most will cite either a Western European ally or Canada. Very few would think of China and actually do not see socialism as an evil thing. They may not adhere to the concept or support the theory for America, but there’s not the same “scare” effect as those who were indoctrinated by Cold War vitriol. For those under 30, such terms as Communist, socialist, Tory or witch are nothing more than historical language relics.

I submit to the fact that Congressman West was appealing to the older voters of his district who lived through McCarthyism and other “scares” of the 1950s. Electorate pandering is indisputable. The reality is that, as we chronologically distance ourselves from the Cold War era, GOP fear tactic politicians are running out of bogeyman to hold up to crowds feverishly willing to accept a new percieved enemy of the state. This is not to say that new red herrings will be served up to these crowds, but eventually, as humanity progresses, they will run out of “them” in the “us versus them” dynamic of fear mongering politics. At that point, what will be left for politicians like Allen West?


Congressman Allen West’s claim

Michelle Bachmann on Hardball with Chris Matthews, circa October, 2008–Ed9Oe8Gvs&feature=related

Link to the 2005 movie “Good Night and Good Luck”

Link to the Progressive Congressional Caucus