Senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism and Red Hunting

Between 1950 and 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Republican Senator from Wisconsin and a member of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), unleashed one of the most notorious witch hunts in American history. It started with a speech to the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia in January 1950. He told those in attendance that he had a list of 205 known communists who worked in the U.S. State Department and were influencing policy in favor of Soviet Russia. The news media picked up the story, and McCarthy became a celebrity. The media fell all over him and printed whatever he said, despite the fact that McCarthy’s number of communists in the State Department changed many times. McCarthy became drunk on his new-found status and made increasingly baseless claims.

McCarthy accused members of the Truman administration, members of Congress, and military leaders of “…[selling] the country out to the communists.” He charged that entertainers and celebrities were communist sympathizers. (Hakim, p. 308.) McCarthy created a list of over 400 American authors, who he said disseminated disloyal ideas, people such as Ernest Hemingway and Henry David Thoreau. (Id.) Witnesses before McCarthy’s Committee, HUAC and other similar investigative bodies, who invoked their Fifth Amendment protections and/or refused to testify or name names, were cited for contempt of Congress and sentenced to jail. Those who were implicated were put on blacklists, and lost their jobs and their friends. (Jennings and Brewster, pp. 313-314.) Ironically, people were assumed guilty of anti-American beliefs and/or behavior without the benefit of their constitutional protections. McCarthy never proved a single one of his accusations.

In the fall of 1954, after the televised Army-McCarthy SISS hearings that dealt with McCarthy’s allegations of communist infiltration in to the armed forces, where the public was exposed to McCarthy’s demagoguery, McCarthy was denounced and condemned by the Senate. During these hearings the senior attorney representing the army, Joseph Welch, criticized McCarthy for accusing one of Welch’s junior co-counsel of being a member of a supposedly leftist organization. Welch had enough of McCarthy’s defamation and stated with indignation: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” McCarthy lost credibility with the public and he and those of his ilk became a symbol of the abuses that can develop when fear turns into hysteria.

The song “The Senator McCarthy Blues, by Hal Block with the Tony Borrelli Orchestra (1954), was inspired by the Army-McCarthy hearings. (partial audio – )

Spoken: Mr. Chairman, please
Point of order, please, point of order, please
Can I finish, please?

I’ve got those Senator McCarthy, Chairman Mundt,
McLellen, Potter, Senator Dirksen Blues

Because my gal won’t leave her TV set,
I think that she’s about to blow her fuse
I’ve got those open session, closing session,
End the session, no confession blues

I’ve got the Secretary Stevens,
Don’t remember, just can’t place it blues
I’ve got those mitsa meya, mama mia,
(Mr. secretary, please!)
Sorry Senator, I was in Korea blues
I’ve got those hey, reporter, no recorder,
Close the border (point of order!) blues

And she’s got the dishes in the sink,
And her floor ain’t mopped, too
She’s got the washin’ in the washer
She don’t care what DUZ* will do
‘Cause once she that Welch get with those legal torts
She just yells, “Beat me, daddy ‘till I’m a habeas corpse.”

Spoken: Can I finish? Can I, can I finish, please?

Can you finish? Look, I’ve got those Senator McCarthy,
I, I’ve just, I’ve got those blues ‘till I can burst
Now, I don’t know what it’s all about
Or where or when or who’s on first?

Spoken: Can I finish, I’d like to say something please

I’ve got the stop the babble, let’s play Scrabble,
Mommy, mommy where’s the Commie blues

Spoken: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, please!

I’ve got those Senator McCarthy,
Listen gal you’re husband’s getting jealous blues
Now you better do a little house work
Or there’s a certain man you’re gonna lose
So better turn off those hearings
Before your man gets touchy
And be content to spend the day
With Groucho Marx and Liberace

Oh, here’s the moral of the story
And this you ought to know
A good man of your own
Is better than a daytime TV show
Now if you got your man
McCarthy sure won’t mind

Spoken: Can I finish, can I finish?
I’m finishing, it’s the finish to the program called “What’s My Shine?”

Spoken: This record is adjourned until 10:30 tomorrow

Is that all, Senator? Can I finish, please, can I finish? Oh, not again. Oh!
I’d like to finish, can I finish? I’d like to finish, Can I finish, please?

We’re finished

*DUZ was a famous brand of laundry detergent. Its advertising slogan was “DUZ does everything!”

Folk Singer Joe Glazer wrote this parody about Senator McCarthy titled “Joe McCarthy is Comin’ to Town” (1951) sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”).

You’d better beware, you’d better be good,
You’d better do only the things that you should.
Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

He’ll call you a pink, he’ll call you a red,
He’ll drive every liberal thought from your head.
Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

He knows when you’re subversive, he knows each move you make;
His gumshoe boys are watching, so be good for McCarthy’s sake.

So you’d better play safe, don’t talk and don’t read,
Don’t write and don’t join if you want to succeed.
Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

If you’ve got a book whose cover is red,
When you start to read look under the bed,
Cause Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

If you go to church to pray or to wed,
You’d better make sure that the preacher’s not red,
Cause Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

Now if you are a teacher and you want to get ahead,
Don’t mention Thomas Jefferson, talk about Joe McCarthy instead.

So, you’d better play safe, don’t talk and don’t read,
Don’t write and don’t join, if you want to succeed,
Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

Be careful who your friends are, be careful what you say.
Don’t be too controversial, or McCarthy will get you some day.

So, get rid of your brains and you’ll never go wrong,
You’ll always be safely sailing along,
When Joe McCarthy’s coming to town.

Another Glazer song about McCarthy was “Joe McCarthy’s Band, (1951) sung to the old song “Alexander’s Old Time Band”). (

Oh, my name is Joe McCarthy I’m the leader of the hand
I don’t play in the concert hall but on the witness stand.
I have the finest orchestra in Washington, D.C.
And night and day I love to play McCarthy’s Symphony.

Oh, Jenner howls and Bill D. yowls and Mundt says “Pour it on!”
The drums go bang, the cymbals clang from Maine to Oregon.
And Hickenlooper tootles the flute as victims take the stand
The sweetest music ever heard is Joe McCarthy’s Band!

Toodle-de-do, try to sue
Toodle-de-do, Just try to sue
Toodle-de-do, I’ll tell you more
But I’ll never never never say it off the Senate floor!

Now I’m the best investigator in the Senate hall
Who cares about the evidence, I use a crystal ball.
I taught J. Edgar Hoover and his Boy Scout FBI
That proof is not required when you’re out to catch a spy.

When I started chasing Communists I claimed two hundred five
And then I swore ’twas eighty one to keep the thing alive
Then fifty-seven varieties of reds and pinks galore
They’re climbin’ on the ceiling and they’re creepin’ on the floor.

Well, I’m the biggest headline chaser in the U.S.A.
I’d rather chase a headline than a Commie any day.
I’ve called ’em red, I’ve called ’em pink and everything between
But the fact is that I’m colorblind, I can’t tell red from green!

“Get That Communist, Joe,written by Bernard Weinman-Richard Dorney, sung by The Kavaliers (1954), mocks McCarthy’s obsession with anything “red.” ( )

Joe, come here a minute
I get a red hot tip for you, Joe

See that guy with the red suspenders
Driving that car with the bright red fenders
I know he’s one of those heavy spenders
Get that Communist Joe

He’s fillin’ my gal with propaganda
And I’m scared she will meander
Don’t want to take a chance that he’ll land her
Get that Communist Joe

He’s a most revolting character
And the fellas hate him so
But with the girls this character
Is a Comrade Romeo

Since my love he’s sabotaging
And the law he has been dodging
Give him what he deserves, jailhouse lodging
Get that Communist Joe

(Get that Shmo, Joe)

The effects of McCarthyism witch hunts spilled over from suspected communists in the entertainment industry to suspected homosexuals or other “deviants” in the State Department and the United States intelligence services.In what has become known as “The Lavender Scare”, in the 1950s and 60s, in addition to suspected communist sympathizers, the State Department and other government agencies investigated homosexuals and other “promiscuous” individuals, who were considered security risks, purportedly because they were subject to blackmail by our enemies and, thus, possible traitors. Investigating homosexuality became a core function of the Department’s Office of Security, which ferreted out more people for homosexuality than for being a Communist.

The Lavender Scare derived from the term “lavender lads”, used repeatedly by Senator Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexual males. In 1952, Dirksen said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of “the lavender lads” from the State Department.…

During that time, mirroring Senator McCarthy’s claims about communists, certain other senators from the Tyddings Committee claimed that as many as 3,000 homosexuals were employed at State. In 1953, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which made homosexuality grounds for dismissal from federal employment. By the end of 1950, 600 people had been dismissed from positions at the State Department on morals charges. In 1973 a federal judge ruled that a person’s sexual orientation alone could not be the sole reason for termination from federal employment. Two years later, the Civil Service Commission announced that it would consider applications by gays and lesbians on a case-by-case basis. –

I was unable to find any songs that specifically dealt with “The Lavender Scare.”

There were some legitimate, (i.e. successful) Russian spy investigations in the 1940s and 1950s; but, there was nothing like what McCarthy, Hoover and others said there were. The fact was that communist subversion was never a serious problem in the United States. The two most notorious “red scare” spy trials did, in fact, involve a high-ranking member of the State Department, Alger Hiss, and a married Jewish couple, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Alger Hiss was “outed” by Whittaker Chambers, a former communist and an admitted Russian spy, who testified before the HUAC and accused Hiss and other purported co-conspirators of passing secrets to the Russians. Chambers famously testified about the “pumpkin papers”, a circumstance where Hiss supposedly hid some microfilm of sensitive and secret documents in a hollowed-out pumpkin for Chambers to pick up and deliver to the Russians. Hiss, a debonair and very well respected person, who rose to great heights in international aid agencies, vehemently denied Chambers’ accusations. Ultimately, Hiss was tried and convicted of perjury (He could not be charged with espionage because the statute of limitations had run.) for his denials, and he was sentenced to five years in jail. (Jennings and Brewster, pp. 312-313.) Richard Nixon, then a new member of the House of Representatives from Sothern California, was on the HUAC during the Hiss investigation and was one of the most aggressive in investigating Alger Hiss. Some people thought Hiss was framed, thus, the song below:

“Alger Hiss Was Framed, Willis DunLaoghaire Foster (circa 1952). (looking for audio)

Alger Hiss was framed
Alger Hiss was framed
We all know Nixon’s dirty game
And Alger Hiss was framed.

We all know Nixon’s game
We all know Tricky Dicky’s game
They found the goods in a pumpkin patch
When Alger Hiss was framed.

They found microfilm in a pumpkin patch
A pumpkin patch, a pumpkin patch
They found microfilm in a pumpkin patch
Whittaker Chambers’ private stash
When Alger Hiss was framed.

Whittaker Chambers’ private stash
It wasn’t cocaine and it wasn’t hash
They planted it there in the pumpkin patch
When they led us up the garden path
The day Alger Hiss was framed.

Nixon’s in the White House now
Since Alger Hiss was framed
He rode Eisenhower’s coattails
While Alger Hiss they sent to jail
And that’s how it goes in the land of the free
For the likes of you and the likes of me
Since Alger Hiss was framed.

The second spy case involved Klaus Fuchs, one of the nuclear scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, who was arrested for passing secret documents to the Russians. Fuchs implicated others as part of his spy ring, including Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs, who denied any involvement in spy activities, were tried for and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951. They were sentenced to death for their activities. They were electrocuted in1953 despite public protest that the death sentences were the unjust result of public hysteria about communism. In reaction to the public protests, President Eisenhower stated, “I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world. The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of the millions of dead whose deaths may be directly attributable to what these spies have done.” (

“Julius and Ethel, written and sung by Bob Dylan (1983) (, sides with those who believed that the Rosenbergs were unfairly condemned to death.

Now that they are gone, you know, the truth it can be told;
They were sacrificial lambs in the market place sold—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

Now that they are gone, you know, the truth it can come out;
They were never proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

The people said they were guilty at the time;
Some even said there hadn’t a-been any crime—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

People look upon this couple with contempt and doubt,
But they loved each other right up to the time they checked out—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

Eisenhower was president, Senator Joe was king;
Long as you didn’t say nothing you could say anything—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

Now some they blamed the system, some they blamed the man;
Now that it is over, no one knows how it began—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

Every kingdom got to fall, even the Third Reich;
Man can do what he pleases but not for as long as he like—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

Well, they say they gave the secrets of the atom bomb away;
Like no one else could think of it, it wouldn’t be here today—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

Someone says the fifties was the age of great romance;
I say that’s just a lie, it was when fear had you in a trance—
Julius and Ethel, Julius and Ethel.

The American release of intercepted, decoded Soviet messages in 1995 confirmed that Julius Rosenberg was actually a spy for the Russians. (Epstein, p. 111.)