The Religious Left, J.B. Matthews and the Censure of Senator McCarthy
While the term “Religious Right” is one of the most frequently used terms in the political lexicon, notably since the rise of what is usually referred to as the Evangelical Churches, the Political Left is alive and well and a strong crutch for the Democratic Party calling for “social justice.” During the first term of the Eisenhower administration, the role of American churches in politics became a major issue and helped precipitate the campaign to defame and censure Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
His authorship of the controversial article “Reds in Our Churches" exposed sophisticated communist manipulation to promote religious dissension in the United States. McCarthy’s critics seized the opportunity to label his efforts as a “Crusade against all Protestant ministers,” a view that Matthew certainly had not intended.
Ironically, Matthews was regarded by many in the clergy at the end of World War II as the Communists "No. 1 fellow traveler." A major change in his political outlook occurred soon afterward as a result of an industrial dispute and strike at “Consumer’s Research” an organization where he had become a Director and Vice-President. Employees of the firm went on strike defying Matthews, who had called upon them to reach a settlement. He became embittered and convinced that the workers’ demands had been fomented by the Communist Party.
If one wants to understand the censure motion against McCarthy in the Senate, much of it has to do with a backlash of influential politicians, predominantly belonging to the mainline Protestant churches who were stung by what they perceived to be a wholly irresponsible and demagogic charge that these churches harbored potential traitors. White House operatives close to Eisenhower jumped on an opportunity to eliminate McCarthy for his embarrassing revelations about upper class appointees inherited from the previous Democratic administrations with dubious links to the USSR and the Communist Party that Eisenhower had seen fit to retain.
The revelations of the Slansky trial in Israel resulted in a profound reaction against Ben-Gurion’s leftwing partners, especially the MAPAM party (the extreme Left of the Zionist movement) that had always followed the Kremlin line.
Contrary to almost universal opinion among the so called “enlightened” supporters of the American Jewish Left, Senator McCarthy evinced no anti-Semitism whatsoever throughout his career. Their vilification of him is a classic example of “guilt by association;” the same charge liberals continually hurl at detractors of Obama for his close links to the Reverends Wright, Sharpton, Jackson and Father Pfleger. Among Irish-American Catholics who were profoundly anti-Communist and therefore supporters of McCarthy and his role in the Army hearings, there were undoubtedly some anti-Semites incensed at what seemed to them as the preponderant presence of many Jews among Democrats and those who espoused a militant anti-anti-Communism. The American Jewish liberal establishment fell prey to this guilt by association and in 1954 the Conference of American Jewish Rabbis condemned McCarthy and “unanimously” called for him to be stripped of his committee chairmanship.
McCarthy’s closest associates and advisers were Jewish – Roy Cohn, G. David Schine, Alfred Kohlberg and columnist George Sokolsky. McCarthy’s investigation aimed toward exposing communists and their sympathizers did not single out Jews. No anti-Semitic statement or act has ever been alleged to have been committed by Senator McCarthy. Much of the anti-McCarthy sentiment that resulted in his being censored by the Senate and President Eisenhower had to do with his revelation that among the most prominent subversives and fellow travellers his research correctly uncovered, were a high percentage of major figures who were appointees of the Roosevelt and Truman administration and were affluent, arch-WASPS – with Ivy League educations and representing some of the most elite families at the top end of American society including several notable Protestant clergy of the mainline churches.
Jews were not involved at all in this controversy but many had been upset at the sight of Jewish writers, film producers and directors who had also appeared before the House un-American Activities Committee and easily believed that McCarthy’s anti-Communism had run amuck and defamed American Jews as a group as well as the liberal Protestant clergy. It is simply impossible for many liberals today to accept that there was more than a grain of truth in McCarthy’s attack on Leftwing activists who hid behind their clerical collars, nor can many American Jews believe that there was considerable prejudice against McCarthy by refined, wealthy and polished Ivy League types in Congress and the White House for his Catholicism, Irish-Midwestern background, frequent grandstanding, boorish behavior and hard drinking. Ad hominem arguments against 'McCarthyism' make the classic mistake of confusing the messenger (a sloppy and sometimes irresponsible one) with the message (an accurate one by and large).
International Research Associates, a respected research body, measured the extent of anti-Semitism in 1954 among McCarthy’s supporters. Only non-Jews were questioned. The poll certified that 38% of ANTI-McCarthy people would be likely to “vote against a Jew” compared to only 12% of pro-McCarthy supporters. Additional research confirmed that much more hostility existed against Jews by anti-McCarthyites than among his supporters. This too so violently upsets the Woody Allen view of the world, entirely accepted as 'gospel' among many liberal Jews, it is rejected out of hand. They prefer to ”know” what they believe rather than subject their biases to any re-evaluation.
The aftermath of the Matthews incident still casts a long shadow over American politics. The Religious Left today, as then, is so determined to support what it perceives as the pursuit of “social justice” that it has often lent support to those whom it automatically regards as the “oppressed and downtrodden” – whether illegal immigrants who defy the law and even pro-Jihadi Muslims anxious to win additional privileges and special considerations under the guise of tolerance.
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