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Tuesday, Apr 22, 2008, 7:18 pm

ABC’s McCarthyism

By Jarrett Dapier
Hendrik Hertzberg, on his blog at The New Yorker, assails ABC for their McCarthyism towards Obama during last week's debate. This is in reference to ABC's efforts to establish "guilt by association" for Obama's dubious "relationship" with former Weatherman Bill Ayers. What makes this piece so good is the care Hertzberg takes to define the term McCarthyism so that we know he's not using the term lightly or irresponsibly, and the way he lays out "the facts" of Obama's connection to Ayers:

The central feature of McCarthyism, however, was accusing people of being Communists or Communist sympathizers who were not, in fact, either. And one of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s favorite evidentiary techniques for carrying out this particular form of character assassination was “guilt by association.”

Guilt by association is another tricky term. The Communist Party is an association, and being a member of that association does indeed makes you guilty of being a Communist. A garden club is also an association. But being in a garden club with a Communist doesn’t make you a Communist. And being in a garden club with an ex-Communist doesn’t even make you an ex-Communist.

Which brings us to William Ayers.


Another salient point Hertzberg makes is that while ABC went after Obama for serving on an anti-poverty organization's board with Ayers, they didn't use the same flimsy logic to implicate Clinton for her "associations" and actions while serving on a more infamous board:

Obama has never served on any corporate boards. Hillary Clinton, however, was a member of the board of Wal-Mart for six years, ending in 1992, when her husband ran for President. Her service on the board coincided with that of John Tate, who summed up his views on labor relations as follows: “Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off of the productive labor of people who work for a living.” These views were not youthful follies, left behind long before Tate joined the board. On the contrary, they reflected the long-held attitudes of Wal-Mart itself, which has been credibly accused of fighting unionization with such nominally illegal tactics as firing union supporters and spying on employees.

Although, according to the New York Times, Clinton “largely sat on the sidelines when it came to Wal-Mart and unions,” she did use her position to push for the advancement of women employees and for the company to improve its environmental profile. These facts are in keeping with her reputation as a moderate reformer. Unlike the Ayers-Obama “association,” they are at least arguably relevant to what sort of President we might end up with.


Why not read the whole thing?

Jarrett Dapier is a former assistant publisher at In These Times. Previous work for ITT includes interviews with playwright Christopher Shinn and Fugazi guitarist, Ian Mackaye. He currently works with teens at the Evanston Public Library where he runs a recycled drumming program and directs stage adaptations of young adult literature. He lives in Evanston, IL.

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