Note: In case you missed the 10th Biggest Asshole in American History or the Runner-Up list, go back and check it out first.
Joseph McCarthy is probably not a huge shock to most people, and may be one of the few names in this countdown that doesn’t need much of an explanation…Who Is He? The senate’s biggest witch hunt leader, who near single-handedly brought progressivism in the United States to a standstill while hunting “Communists,” the definition of which seemed to be pretty elastic depending on who McCarthy didn’t like at the time…Why Him? You may notice that American movies from “Good Night, Good Luck” to “Trumbo” have not portrayed McCarthy very kindly, and even though there were a lot of folks fanning the flames of “the red scare” at the time, McCarthy was undoubtedly the most notorious. Just as dubious but less known, he was leading “the lavendar scare” where homosexuals were persecuted too. It was supposedly to find “who would be vulnerable to Soviet blackmail” but it was actually used to smear political opponents. McCarthy’s “Red Hunt” was inarguably used to make liberals afraid of appearing too liberal and stifling any real progressivism in that era.
McCarthy’s Greatest Hits…
3. Defeating Robert M. LaFollette Jr. for the Senate. How did Wisconsin go from LaFollette Jr. (the leader of progressivism at that time and son of a liberal icon routinely voted the best progressive senator of all-time) to McCarthy, his exact opposite number?
2. Giving rise to an ultra-conservatism at odds with “The Republican Establishment.” At one point or another, Eisenhower, Prescott Bush, and even ultra-conservative FDR opponent Robert A. Taft told McCarthy to tone down his rhetoric. You could almost call him the spiritual Godfather of the Tea Party, and perhaps the actual father of Ted Cruz if you see their eerie resemblance.
1. Ruining dozens of lives in the biggest witch hunt since Salem Witch Trials. Even worse, he trivialized the political investigation process so that now it all looks partisan even when it isn’t. Hillary’s emails and Trump bemoaning his “mistreatment” in a congressional “witch hunt” now look equally valid because McCarthy primed the partisan pump. “McCarthyism” is now an actual term people use to describe partisan investigations, like Trump’s “investigation” of radical Islam.
Why Isn’t He Ranked Higher? In a way, it’s because of the stiff competition, and also because I don’t believe McCarthy truly had the power of a Prescott Bush or some politicians we’ll see later on. He was eventually isolated in his own party, and the difference between him and more powerful conservatives of the time may be the difference between Ted Cruz and Trump. One is not necessarily “better” than the other, but one definitely has a grander scale to do damage.
Adjacent Assholes: Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s co-hort and lawyer who helped “out” political opponents despite himself being gay and eventually dying of AIDs. Cohn has been linked to so many assholes, he was even a lawyer for Trump early on in his business career.