GOP response to Bergdahl is the new McCarthyism

Many commentators — not enough, so far — say we’ve entered a new era of despicable politics with the attacks on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his family. In one sense, that’s true. But it’s also a throwback to the knee-jerk reactions of the 1950s, embodied by GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.

You all remember Sen. McCarthy, who shamed the nation when he basically made stuff up as he went along in Senate hearings, smearing everything and everyone to the left of the John Birch Society by calling them Communists. It didn’t matter who they were or what line of work they were in, or whether they were in the military. In his role as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for Communist Activities, old “Tail-Gunner Joe,” a failed lawyer, chronic gambler, and alcoholic, was there to discredit their good names. He rarely had evidence, and his claims were dubious, but oh, how he loved the spotlight. Blazing his way into TV and feeding the anti-Communism frenzy was his way of saving his moribund political career.

It wasn’t long before the U.S. House started its own investigations with HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which only continued the witch-hunts. It also trickled down to states and even local school boards. Communists were not welcome. Even if you weren’t a Communist at all. And it was all done to build up political careers.

Television became McCarthy’s undoing, because too many Americans saw his constant attacks as too mean-spirited and unscrupulous, especially when he started attacking the U.S. military. “At long last, have you no sense of decency left?” asked Joseph Welch, counsel to the Army, during one hearing. The Senate censured McCarthy in 1954, and he died in poor health of alcoholism in 1957.

So what is different today? Today, unfortunately, McCarthy would be a regular guest on Fox News. He might go for the bigger audience and the bigger paycheck and get his own show. Consider the half-truths and lies that have been told in less than a week since the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap:

* Six soldiers died trying to rescue him. No, it was SEVEN. Make up your minds, already, GOP operatives who are scheduling these interviews with various news agencies. According to a New York Times story, nothing is cut and dried. And Defense Dept. data on when Bergdahl left his unit and was captured and when those soldiers actually died put those claims further in doubt.

* The Obama administration told us nothing, NOTHING, claim the GOP, specifically Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.). Then why did he know the details of a Bergdahl swap during a February interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN? He even mentioned five high-level members of the Taliban.

* Bergdahl’s family must be Muslims — just look at his father’s beard. As so many have said, most humorously by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, scraggly beards are only OK when they’re on the cast of Duck Dynasty.

* The Senate got a classified briefing about the details of the prisoner swap. So what did GOP senators do? They left the hearing and rushed right to the cameras, still claiming outrage.

The town of Hailey, Idaho, had planned welcome-home festivities for when Bergdahl finally gets home to see his family again. They were forced to cancel those events because of “security concerns.” Hey, with the way the fright-wing (I saw this recently and decided it was so obvious that we all need to use it) lunatics are sending hate mails to the town and posting hate messages on fright-wing websites, I would cancel, too. Some of those militia guys down on Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada might be looking for something else to do, since the cameras have left.

Bowe Bergdahl enlisted in the Army to serve his country. Whatever he thought about a war that most Americans stopped thinking about long ago is beside the point. He spent five years being held by the Taliban, and he’s free now — that’s something to celebrate. When the U.S. Army investigates what happened, there will be more answers. He went, and many of us didn’t. And neither did many of the Republicans and hosts on the Fake News Channel who are now expressing faux outrage. One GOP House member went so far as to say that Bergdahl deserted his post, “just like John Kerry did in Vietnam.” It’s Swift-boating all over again.

Historians describe McCarthy as “one of the least qualified, most corrupt politicians of his time,” according to an article from the Cold War Museum. Given the lies and the low level of discourse we’re hearing from many in the Republican Party, we may not be doing much better today.

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