Red-baiting is the act of accusing, denouncing, attacking or persecuting an individual or group as communist, socialist, or anarchist, or sympathetic toward communism, socialism, or anarchism. The word "red" in "red-baiting" is derived from the red flag signifying radical left-wing politics. In the United States the term "red-baiting" dates from at least 1927. In 1928, black-listing by the Daughters of the American Revolution was characterized as a "red-baiting relic". It is a term commonly used in the United States, and in United States history, red-baiting is most often associated with McCarthyism, which originated in the two historic Red Scare periods of the 1920s (First Red Scare) and 1950s (Second Red Scare). In the 21st century, red-baiting does not have quite the same effect it previously did due to the fall of Soviet-style Communism, but some pundits have argued that notable events in current American politics indicates a resurgence of red-baiting consistent with the 1950s.
Red-baiting was employed in opposition to anarchists in the United States as early as the late 1870s when businessmen, religious leaders and editorial writers tried to rally middle class workers to oppose dissident railroad workers and again during the Haymarket affair in the mid-1880s. Red-baiting was well established in the U.S. during the decade before World War I. In the post-war period of 1919-1921 the U.S. government employed it as a central tactic in dealing with labor radicals, anarchists, communists, and foreign agents. These actions in reaction to the First Red Scare and the concurrent Red terror, served as part of the organizing principle shaping counter-revolutionary policies and serving to institutionalize anti-communism as a force in American politics.
The period between the first and second Red Scares was relatively calm owing to the success of government anti-communism, the suppressive effects of New Deal policies on radical organized labor, and the patriotism associated with total mobilization during World War II. Red-baiting reemerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s during the period known as the Second Red Scare due to mounting Cold War tensions and the spread of communism abroad. U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's controversial red-baiting of suspected communists and communist sympathizers in the U.S. Department of State, and the creation of an entertaintment industry blacklist, led to the term "McCarthyism" being coined to signify any type of reckless political persecution or witch-hunt.
The history of anti-communist red-baiting in general, and McCarthyism in particular, continues to be hotly debated, and political divisions this controversy created continue to make themselves felt. Conservative critics contend that revelations such as the Venona project decryptions and the FBI Silvermaster File at least mute if not outright refute the charge that red-baiting in general was unjustified. Historian Nicholas von Hoffman wrote in The Washington Post that evidence revealed in the Venona project forced him to admit that McCarthy was "closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him".
Liberal critics contend that, even if someone could prove that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Soviet spies, McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate because he was in fact reckless and politically opportunistic, and his red-baiting ruined the lives of countless innocent people. Historian Ellen Schrecker wrote that "in this country, McCarthyism did more damage to the constitution than the American Communist Party ever did."
In the 21st century, red-baiting does not have quite the same effect it previously did due to the fall of Soviet-style Communism, but some pundits have argued that notable events in current American politics indicates a resurgence of red-baiting consistent with the 1950s. The United States government's measures in 2008 to address the subprime mortgage crisis, such as TARP, were not only criticized as "corporate welfare" but red-baited as a "gateway to socialism". Political activist and author Tim Wise, however, argues that the emergence of red-baiting may be motivated by racism towards U.S. President Barack Obama and fear that the progressive policies of his administration will erode white privilege in the United States.
Some commentators argue that red-baiting was used by John McCain, Republican presidential nominee in the 2008 United States election, when he argued that Democratic nominee Barack Obama's improvised comments on wealth redistribution to "Joe the Plumber" was a promotion of "socialism". Journalist David Remnick, who wrote the biography The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, countered that it should now be obvious that after one year in office Obama is a centre-left president and the majority of his policies are in line with the center-left Democratic tradition; while, in July 2011, The Fiscal Times columnist Bruce Barlett argues that an honest examination of the Obama presidency must conclude that he has in fact been a moderately conservative Democrat and that it may take 20 years before Obama's basic conservatism is widely accepted, and author and columnist Chris Hedges argues that the Obama administration's policies are mostly right-wing.
In April 2009, U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus claimed that 17 of his Congressional colleagues were socialists, but would only name one, Bernie Sanders, who has been openly describing himself as a democratic socialist for years. Sanders countered that American conservatives blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism. He argued that the United States would benefit from a serious debate about comparing the quality of life for the middle class in the U.S. and in Nordic countries with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
In May 2009, a number of conservative members of the Republican National Committee were pressing the committee and by extension, RNC chairman Michael Steele, to officially adopt the position that the Democratic Party is socialist. Over a dozen members of the conservative wing of the RNC submitted a new resolution, to be eventually voted on by the entire RNC, that would call on the Democratic party to rename itself the "Democrat Socialist Party". If the RNC adopted this resolution, the RNC's official view would become that Democrats are socialists.
From the resolution:
RESOLVED, that we the members of the Republican National Committee call on the Democratic Party to be truthful and honest with the American people by acknowledging that they have evolved from a party of tax and spend to a party of tax and nationalize and, therefore, should agree to rename themselves the Democrat Socialist Party.
On Wednesday 20 May 2009, supporters of the resolution instead agreed to accept language urging Democrats to "stop pushing our country towards socialism and government control", thus ending a fight within the ranks of the Republican Party that reflected the divide between those who want a more centrist message and those seeking a more aggressive, conservative voice, such as the one expressed by the Tea Party movement. Frank Llewellyn, national director of Democratic Socialists of America, argued that Republicans never really define what they mean by "socialism" and are simply engaging in the politics of fear.
In July 2009, talk show host Glenn Beck began to devote what would become many episodes on his TV and radio shows, focusing on Van Jones, a Special Advisor in President Obama's White House Council on Environmental Quality. Beck was especially critical of Jones' previous involvement in radical protest movements, and referred to him as a "communist-anarchist radical". In September 2009, Jones resigned his position in the Obama administration, after a number of his past statements became fodder for conservative critics and Republican officials. Time magazine credited Beck with leading conservatives' attack on Jones, which Jones characterized as a "vicious smear campaign" and an effort to use "lies and distortions to distract and divide".
- Lavender baiting
- Race baiting
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