The Ideological Record of Joseph McCarthy

Joseph McCarthy

At some point I will write a grand post on Joseph McCarthy. I really, really want to get it right and paint a complete picture of his anti-communist crusade. For now, however, I will focus on his ideology based on votes. A lot of people would think of him as being ultra-conservative, so placing him on my scale at between 90-100%. However, his actual MC-Index score is an 83%. His lifetime modified Americans for Democratic Action score is a 16%, and his DW-Nominate score is a 0.287. By contrast, John McCain gets a 0.381, Bob Dole a 0.322, and Mitt Romney (as of writing) a 0.294. This makes me wonder how much McCarthy was not merely defined by his own beliefs and actions but also by his more extreme supporters.

McCarthy attracted support for his investigations from both mainstream and fringe right. Some of the latter supporters included Gerald L.K. Smith, Willis Carto, and Gerald Winrod, all staunch bigots. The support of such bigots contributed to accusations that he was anti-Semitic, but McCarthy’s voting record seems to contradict this as he voted for the unsuccessful Ferguson Amendment to the Displaced Persons bill in 1948 and the successful Kilgore substitute to the Displaced Persons bill in 1950, both which served to increase admission of Jewish refugees into the United States. Some of the mainstream conservatives included Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Bourke Hickenlooper of Iowa, Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, and William F. Buckley Jr. of National Review. His most devoted Senate supporters were Herman Welker of Idaho, William Jenner of Indiana, and George Malone of Nevada. McCarthy’s domestic record was mostly mainstream Republican conservatism. He, for instance, opposed the continuation of price controls, particularly sugar. This would provoke controversy as McCarthy had accepted a loan (which he repaid) from a Pepsi-Cola executive, which got him the nickname “the Pepsi-Cola kid”. He supported most of the domestic agenda of the conservative 80th Congress such as tax reduction and the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, and opposed the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Housing Act. He was, however, more concerned about countering monopolies than many other Republicans, opposing basing point pricing legislation. Joseph McCarthy’s record on civil rights was primarily positive. In 1950, he voted against an effort spearheaded by Senator Richard Russell (D-Ga.) to weaken army desegregation and voted to end debate on the Fair Employment Practices Committee. As you might expect, McCarthy was among the strongest backers of domestic anti-communist legislation, such as the McCarran Internal Security Act.

McCarthy not only focused on anti-communism at home, but also abroad. He voted for the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and for the Marshall Plan. On the latter he was reluctant, did only after he had voted to cut the program, and subsequently he became a critic. One McCarthy push that really made clear who his closest allies were was his opposition to President Eisenhower’s nomination of Chip Bohlen as Ambassador to Russia. Bohlen had disagreed with the containment strategy of George F. Kennan and called for letting the USSR have its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. However, Eisenhower easily prevailed over McCarthy on this one, Bohlen being confirmed 74-13. Joining McCarthy in dissent were ten Republicans and Democrats Edwin Johnson of Colorado and Pat McCarran of Nevada, both who had been staunchly non-interventionist before World War II. A more broadly supported effort was his proposal to cut aid to nations that traded with Communist China, but this proposal failed too 34-50, with majorities of Republicans and Democrats again voting against. McCarthy abstained from voting on his censure as did his Wisconsin colleague Alexander Wiley and John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who deliberately scheduled his back surgery so he would miss the vote. McCarthy was a friend of the Kennedy family, had employed Robert F. Kennedy on his staff, and had not campaigned for Henry Cabot Lodge’s (R-Mass.) reelection in 1952. After McCarthy’s censure, his stature fell and support for his proposals was minimal, but with his closest friends sticking by him.

In 1956, McCarthy was one of only four Republicans to vote against Eisenhower’s nomination of his Solicitor General Simon Sobeloff to the 4th Circuit Court. The other three were Welker, Jenner, and John J. Williams of Delaware. McCarthy, Welker, and Jenner voted against him for his opposition to use of informants in national security cases while Williams, who voted for McCarthy’s censure, may have done so over his support for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), a decision he thought was judicial overreach. His record ended with his death, with most of the subsequent narratives surrounding him being pushed by those who had opposed him.


HR 4567. Substitute Amend. Govtrack.

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HR 6391. McCarthy motion to suspend the rules for the purpose of proposing an amend. to reduce assistance to any recipient nation by $1 million for each cargo of communist goods shipped prior to date on which communist China becomes party to final Korean peace. Govtrack.

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HR 6826. Extension of Selective Service. Russell amend. giving option to enlistee to serve in a unit the personnel of which are of his own race. Govtrack.

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Nomination of Charles Bohlen to be Ambassador to Russia. Govtrack.

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Prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Motion for cloture. Govtrack.

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S. 2242. Ferguson amend. Govtrack.

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2 thoughts on “The Ideological Record of Joseph McCarthy

  1. I’ve noticed that leftists have charged McCarthy with being a racist/anti-Semite, though these arguments are primarily guilt by association talking points. His vote to enact cloture on Taft’s “voluntary FEPC” bill, which I remember picking up in your previous “Ideology and Civil Rights: 1950 Edition” entry, is often ignored by most. Now, I believe he voted “present” related to the Russell amendment pertaining to army desegregation, or did I stumble across the wrong roll call when browsing through GovTrack?

    In addition, this article I found ( ) highlights McCarthy’s messages that championed Jews as defenders of liberty against communism.

  2. Yes, they conflate McCarthy with others who investigated communist subversion like segregationist Senators John McClellan (D-Ark.) (who succeeded McCarthy as chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee) and James Eastland (D-Miss.) (chairman of the Internal Security Subcommittee). They also look at the case of Annie Lee Moss, who feigned ignorance and simplicity to play on Democratic senators and was indeed a member of CPUSA. I’ve read sources that examine the matter that claim he used some anti-Semitic slurs (such as “sheeny” to describe a Jewish businessman he thought was cheating him), but in addition to McCarthy’s public statements on Jews you provided, its’ hard to square an anti-Semite supporting more Jews entering the United States. No confirmed anti-Semites I know of did save for General George Van Horn Moseley, but this was for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and he did so on the condition that they be sterilized first.

    There were two roll calls on army desegregation. McCarthy was absent on the vote on Majority Leader Scott Lucas’s (D-Ill.) proposal to strike the committee amendment that permitted soldiers to enlist with units exclusively with members of their own race and voted against Senator Russell’s effort to resurrect it. Interestingly enough, Senator Millard Tydings (D-Md.), President Truman’s designated point man against McCarthy, voted “nay” on both proposals.

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