The fascinating things about the excerpts Brad DeLong posts of National Review‘s defense of McCarthy and McCarthyism is how little it does to defend McCarthy on the merits. One might expect a dialogue between McCarthy and his critics to involve McCarthy pointing out that there were a bunch of traitors somewhere or other, a critic pointing out that McCarthy had no evidence of this, McCarthy insisting he did have evidence and the people he named were traitors, and so on like that. But National Review says McCarthy “should not be remembered as the man who didn’t produce 57 Communist Party cards but as the man who brought public pressure to bear on the State Department to revise its practices and to eliminate from responsible positions flagrant security risks.”
In short, they concede that the McCarthy program consisted of persecuting innocent people but they like it anyway. Maybe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should not be remembered as the architect of the murder of thousands of civilians on 9/11 but as the man who brought public pressure to bear on the FAA to harden cockpit doors? This tends to put the contemporary American right’s blithe lack of concern about illegal surveillance, arbitrary detention, and so forth in a proper perspective — apparently the persecution of the innocent isn’t just a price you sometimes need to pay, but some kind of positive good.