Main Author:Oshinsky, David M., 1944-
Summary:Describes the internal and external forces that launched Joseph McCarthy on his political career and carried him to national prominence.
In the brief interval between his famous Wheeling speech in 1950 and his official Senate censure four years later, Joseph McCarthy lost his identity as a man to that of an "ism," his name touted by his enemies as a symbol of political opportunism, coercion, and cruel and reckless accusation. McCarthyism today is still a "dirty word" in the American political vocabulary, yet McCarthy the man, dead for half a century, has become more elusive than ever--a haunting specter from the battlegrounds of the Cold War. Here, after nearly a decade of research and documentation, historian David M. Oshinsky introduces the whole McCarthy, public and private. Known in his youth as an Irish scrapper with something to prove, Joseph Raymond McCarthy worked tirelessly on his father's Wisconsin farm, put himself through college and law school, and instantly set his sights on a political career. A brilliantly instinctive campaigner, at 29 he won election as a circuit judge (one of the youngest in state history) and, after a much publicized hitch with the Marines in World War II, upset incumbent Bob LaFollette to take the Wisconsin senatorial primary in 1946. The Republican hopeful went on to trounce his Democratic opponent by a 2-1 margin in the fall elections, his victory part of the G.O.P.'s overwhelming postwar comeback in the House and Senate. A wave of reaction had begun to rise in America--and the senator-elect, not yet 40, hoped to ride it. McCarthy soon learned that acquiring power in Congress meant more than voting the conservative line. Shunned as a crank and a loudmouth by the Republican leadership, he found he needed an issue to attract attention--something to make his importance felt beyond the walls of the Senate chamber. Then, on February 9, 1950, during a routine dinner speech before a women's Republican club in Wheeling, West Virginia, McCarthy declared that he held a list of 205 Communists actively shaping policy in the State Department. Overnight, his notoriety grew a thousandfold. Although McCarthy had hardly "discovered" the political exploitability of Communist infiltration, Oshinsky shows that he was uniquely gifted in using it to promote himself publicly. Carefully shaping an image as the tough ex-Marine, the battling Irishman, and the sharp, hard-nosed inquisitor, the junior senator convinced an increasingly frightened America that the Reds and their fellow travelers had orchestrated a conspiracy so immense that he--and he alone--could be trusted to deliver them from it. At a time when fear of Soviet absolutism had become total, McCarthy's tactics, as draconian as they were, promised security from the Communist menace. With generous excerpts from committee transcripts, here are full, dramatic re-creations of the McCarthy probes into the Voice of America, the CIA, the Army Signal Corps, and other government organizations. And here is the startling truth that McCarthy's downfall--when millions of Americans were shocked to witness his methods firsthand, over national television--was engineered in part by President Eisenhower himself. A Conspiracy So Immense is based on dozens of interviews with McCarthy's former friends and colleagues, the journalists who covered him, and the victims of his senate investigations; on the public and private papers of Truman, Eisenhower, John Kennedy, the Dulles brothers, and other crucial government figures; and on FBI files released under the Freedom of Information Act. Sweeping away half-truth and innuendo, it gives us the definitive portrait of one of the shrewdest, most manipulative, most ruthless politicians of 20th century America. And a man who--though he would terrify a nation--lived always with the fear of dying alone and friendless.--Adapted from dust jacket.
Physical Description:ix, 597 pages, [16] pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography:Includes bibliographical references (pages 565-579) and index.
Author Notes:

He is also an associate editor of the American National Biography.

Oshinsky writes about the brutality of penitentiary life in his book, Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. He earned a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an appointment as Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin for his work on the penitentiary project. Oshinsky also received the 17th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for his novel.

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