On Wednesday evening's edition of Hardball, MSNBC's Chris Matthews accused critics of former Sen. Chuck Hagel--now Secretary of Defense--of McCarthyism.
He focused on three examples: Ben Shapiro's Feb. 7 story about Senate rumors that Hagel had received funding from "Friends of Hamas"; an assertion on the Senate floor by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that Iran supported Hagel's nomination; and a statement by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Feb. 12 that without further disclosure, we could not know whether and to what extent Hagel had received funding from foreign governments, including--hypothetically--Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
"That is a Joe McCarthy imitation if I've ever seen one," Matthews said of Cruz.
Matthews should know, since it was he who exemplified the McCarthyist tactic of accusation by innuendo throughout the 2012 presidential election.
Again and again, Matthews asserted that Republicans were motivated by racism in their opposition to President Barack Obama. He had no proof other than his own supposedly exquisite racial sensitivities. He took his attacks to such an extreme that even his own MSNBC colleagues were embarrassed on his behalf.
As to Matthews's specific cases, Shapiro's story did not assert the truth of the underlying rumor, and it was accompanied by a second story identifying one prominent supporter of Hamas who had also funded Hagel's Atlantic Council think tank. Sen. Cruz was at least partially correct in regard to Saudi Arabia, which has also provided funding to Hagel's Atlantic Council. And Sen. Inhofe was demonstrably correct with regard to Iran, which welcomed the Hagel nomination as a chance for "practical changes in American foreign policy."
But Matthews is not interested in the truth. In fact, he is merely following the script laid down weeks in advance by Hagel's left-wing supporters, who decided that any factual assertion about Hagel's record was to be described as a "smear."
As Breitbart News pointed out in mid-January, the radical left J Street group had launched a campaign in support of his confirmation entitled: "Smear a Bagel, Not Chuck Hagel." Despite the whimsical title, it was a serious attempt to discourage scrutiny of Hagel and to put his critics on the defensive.
Matthews did not invite any of Hagel's critics onto his program to defend themselves against the "McCarthyist" charge--that would have been too "hardball" for the host of Hardball.
Instead, he entertained the sympathetic ramblings of the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who accused Hagel's critics of having "weakened the United States." According to Milbank, it is not President Obama who should bear the blame for having appointed an underqualified politician with radical views, but rather the people who pointed out that Obama had done so.
In the same vein, Matthews welcomed the blatantly false statement of MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, who said: "Isn't it interesting that none of the things they floated are [sic] true?" "None," Matthews agreed. "Zero," Fineman continued. "Zero, zero." "And they had two months to look for it," Matthews added.
In fact, most of what conservatives said about Hagel was demonstrably true, and was confirmed by Hagel himself in his confirmation hearing, where he demonstrated a stunning lack of familiarity with basic facts about the Pentagon, and struggled to account for his radical views or his recent "conversions" therefrom.
On his first day at the Pentagon, Hagel actually affirmed the radical perspective that Breitbart News had pointed out Feb. 20 in revealing a 2007 speech in which then-Sen. Hagel had likened the United States to a "schoolyard bully." Likewise, in his first speech to the Department of Defense on Wednesday, Hagel told his new colleagues that the U.S. "can't dictate to the world"--as if anyone had suggested that we should.
(Coincidentally, on the same day, Hagel's fellow Cabinet appointee, Secretary of State John Kerry, called the Iranian government "elected," and hence legitimate, as Hagel had done, in error, in his confirmation hearing.)
Matthews, Milbank and Fineman asserted that Hagel's critics were "not thinking about the country" in opposing his nomination and vowing to hold him to account once he took office. Not only is that blatantly untrue, but it is a form of projection.
In accusing Hagel's critics of McCarthyism, Matthews and his panel never once stopped to consider whether there were reasons for the nation to inquire about Hagel's radical views on Israel, Iran, and nuclear arms, or whether further disclosures were called for after he had arguably misled the Senate about his speeches.
Ironically, Matthews concluded his segment by asking, "How do you treat fellow Americans you disagree with politically, and treat them as traitors?"--after he and his guests had spent several minutes doing exactly that.
In accusing Cruz and others of McCarthyism, Matthews invoked his second-hand knowledge of the McCarthy era to back his charge.
That is a game both sides can play.
Accusing critics of the government of attempting to undermine national security is a tactic straight out of the Stalinist Soviet Union. So, too, is holding a "debate" in which all participants agree that the absent, accused party is guilty as charged. And so, too, is working for a media outlet whose sole purpose is to further the propaganda of the government in power.