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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy » User review

Seen a shooting star tonight, and I thought of you

  • Jan 20, 2011
Rating:
+3
Wicker's aptly-named extended essay on Senator Joe McCarthy reminds us that his period of ascendancy was so brief that it seems a presage of modern burnouts; as Neil Young wrote, its better to burn out, like Johnny Rotten, than to fade away.

Wicker uses the term "subversion" frequently to describe McCarthy's charges against his accused Communist sympathizers and fellow-travelers. 

Subversion (n):  corruption: destroying someone's (or some group's) honesty or loyalty; undermining moral integrity

Wicker makes the point that in fact McCarthyism (itself now an accepted dictionary definition) was a subversion of the democratic process it supposedly was defending.  He also credits McCarthy, from the historical perspective of 50 years since and with more historical documentation now declassified, with actually making some accusations containing more truth than was credited at the time.  But Wicker concludes, while acknowledging his political savvy and sometimes likable personality, with the ultimate cynicism of his career.

Nothing ground-breaking or new here, but well told by a working journalist whose career was just beginning in the twilight of McCarthy's downward arc.

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About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #43
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Wiki

America's most notorious demagogue emerges as less a fanatic than an opportunist in this lively political biography. LongtimeNew York Timespolitical writer Wicker, author of well-received studies of Eisenhower and other presidents, notes that the 1950 speech that catapulted McCarthy to fame, in which he claimed to have a list of 205 Communists in the State Department, was a last-minute substitute for a talk on housing policy. When the speech drew unexpected media attention, the obscure Wisconsin senator deployed his lifelong talent for self-promotion and political theater to keep himself in the headlines. Wicker considers McCarthy, who uncovered not a single Communist, "a latecomer to, and virtually a nonparticipant in the real anticommunist wars" that continued after his downfall. Wicker situates McCarthyism within the prevailing climate of Cold War tensions, anticommunist paranoia and conservative animus against organized labor and New Deal liberalism. Against this backdrop McCarthy appears a human figure, undone by his own bullying manner, alcoholism and hubris in antagonizing powerful foes in the Senate and Eisenhower administration. Although Wicker's take on McCarthy isn't groundbreaking, he combines insightful political history with a deft character study to craft a wonderful introduction to this crucial American figure.(Mar.)
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Details

ISBN-10: 015101082X
ISBN-13: 978-0151010820
Author: Tom Wicker
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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