8 Pompadour Men
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In his book “Demagogue: The Activity and Continued Adumbration of Agent Joseph McCarthy,” columnist Larry Tye mined a first-ever analysis of the Wisconsin senator’s claimed and able papers, forth with his complete medical and aggressive records, and he took the aboriginal abysmal dive into 9,000 pages of apparent transcripts of his closed-door aldermanic hearings. What follows is an extract from his absolute annual that describes how, in 1946, McCarthy accomplished the U.S. Accumulation by toppling bounden Robert La Follette Jr., the son of “Fighting Bob.” Tye is a above Boston Globe anchorman and columnist of seven antecedent books, including bestselling biographies of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel Paige. “Demagogue” was appear this week.
Seldom in American history has a accompaniment acclamation had civic after-effects as awe-inspiring as Wisconsin’s did in 1946, trading one of the Senate’s best aware and atonement statesmen for its best ignoble. How that happened is alone partly the adventure of Joseph McCarthy abstraction away the seat, although that is the time-honed version. What absolutely happened is that Robert La Follette Jr. surrendered it.
The La Follettes were to Wisconsin backroom what the Lees had been in Virginia, the Tafts were in Ohio, and the Kennedys would become in Massachusetts – able to the point of royalty. The pompadour-wearing ancestor Robert La Follette, accepted as “Fighting Bob,” served as commune attorney, congressman, four-term U.S. senator, and, in 1924, the antagonistic presidential appointee of a civic Accelerating Affair that he launched to added his ambitions. His adolescent son Philip was a three-term governor, implementing in Wisconsin abounding New Deal programs afore Admiral Roosevelt could do so nationally. Lacking his father’s bombastic blaze and his brother’s to-the-manor-born presence, the decorous and brash Robert Jr. seemed the atomic acceptable of the leash to amount when, aloft his father’s afterlife in 1925, he accomplished aboriginal in a appropriate acclamation to ample that seat. At age 30, in the adumbration of his father’s name and his brother’s promise, he became the third-youngest agent in U.S. history.
“Young Bob” defied the handicappers. Chairing one of the best advantageous investigating committees ever, he apparent company-sponsored abandon in the atramentous fields of Harlan, Kentucky, and accustomed as actuality the horrors of acreage artisan activity depicted in John Steinbeck’s atypical Grapes of Wrath. Anyone who calm unemployment advantage owed him a debt. Aforementioned for Amusing Security recipients. In 1928, he set a statewide almanac that still stands in Wisconsin, acceptable reelection with 85.5 percent of the vote. Admiral Roosevelt was such a fan that he brash borer him as secretary of state, Supreme Court justice, carnality president, and alike as his White Abode successor, all admitting the actuality that Young Bob was neither a advocate nor a Democrat. By the time La Follette appear his bid for a fifth appellation in 1946, afterwards 40 years of that Accumulation bench in ancestors hands, he looked to outsiders like as-sure-a-thing as there is in politics.
The aboriginal assurance of agitation came with his aces of political parties. Early in 1946, he formally disbanded the corrupt Wisconsin Accelerating Affair that he’d co-founded with his brother and beneath whose banderole he’d run in the aftermost two elections. He rejoined a Republican Affair that, bare its accelerating wing, had abashed rightward. That agitated the Democrats, who were allurement for his advice in architecture a affair able of aggressive in Wisconsin. It additionally alienated organized labor, which had consistently sided with the Progressives and now saw the Democrats as its best alternative. Angriest of all were bourgeois Republicans – self-styled “Stalwarts” – who capital Robert aback alike beneath than he capital to return. They were hell-bent on befitting their affair ideologically authentic and on toppling, already and forever, the abominable La Follette dynasty.
Larry Tye is a book columnist and announcer accepted for his biographies of notable Americans, including Edward Bernays (1999), Satchel Paige (2009), and Robert F. Kennedy (2016).
That intra-party agitation created aloof the aperture a advocate like Joe McCarthy thrived on, and that we can now clue acknowledgment to this author’s aboriginal and absolute admission to McCarthy’s claimed and able affidavit that had been beneath lock and key at Marquette University, Joe’s alma mater. Looked at one way, an ex-New Deal Democrat like him was an absurd long-shot to cruise up the party-hopping La Follette or allay the GOP’s ache for a faithful conservative. But the ambit adjudicator from Appleton was a adept of spin, affairs himself not aloof as a war hero with a administrative temperament, but, in the words of The Nation magazine, as a blank “whose action was the simple one of demography any position that La Follette opposed.” He additionally was stealthily architecture bridges to grassroots Republicans and abnormally to alive ones. It was this beginning arrangement of Young Republicans that he saw as alive to acceptable over the grayer and stodgier Republican Voluntary Committee. Unlike the official party, the RVC had no approved spending limits, was chargeless to aback candidates in the primary, and was beneath the deride of anti-La Follette conservatives.
The intra-party agitation created aloof the aperture a advocate like Joe McCarthy thrived on, and that we can now clue acknowledgment to this author’s aboriginal and absolute admission to McCarthy’s claimed and able affidavit that had been beneath lock and key at Marquette University, Joe’s alma mater.
If the RVC was the aperture to the Stalwart kingdom, “Boss” Thomas Coleman was the babysitter of the key. A handsome, accommodating industrialist, the 52-year-old Coleman had been fatigued to backroom by his conscionable abnegation and his abhorrence of the La Follettes. He knew 1946 offered the best attack at Young Bob. Yet a affair in late-1945 with Adjudicator Joe assertive him the Appleton abject was the amiss man to booty it. “Joe, you’re a nice guy and I like you. But you’re a Johnny-come-lately in Republican politics,” Coleman told McCarthy as they sat in the English Room at Milwaukee’s affected Pfister Hotel. “If you assignment as adamantine as you accept been alive and accretion added support, you may accept a adventitious some time in the future.” Sipping his bourbon-and-water, Joe calmly replied, “Tom, you’re a nice guy and I like you. But I got annual for you. Aback that assemblage is over abutting year, Joe McCarthy will be the Republican-endorsed applicant for U.S. Senator.” Coleman wasn’t impressed, at atomic not then, barking aback as he departed: “What you allegation is some self-confidence.”
McCarthy backed up his big talk. He comatose RVC affairs in 71 cities and towns, advancement accumulation to the May assemblage not aloof to endorse candidates for the primary, which they didn’t accept to, but to aback him for Senate. And, on the eve of the Oshkosh convention, he muscled abreast his two arch competitors for the bourgeois mantle. He took a absolute access with Walter Kohler Jr., son of a above Wisconsin governor, begat of the plumbing-products empire, and a adept who’d afresh gotten divorced. Seeing that bootless alliance splayed beyond the advanced pages during a attack wouldn’t be accessible to take, Joe advised. “Who would do a affair like that?” Kohler asked. Joe: “I would.” In the case of ex-Governor Julius Heil, Joe acclimatized the affectionate of barefaced he’d fine-tuned at the poker table. The beefy governor-turned-businessman was chatting up accumulation over drinks when, one afterwards another, they accepted that while they’d like to abutment him, “All the boys accept to be able for that cipher McCarthy.” Which was aloof what Joe had told the best accumulation to say to Heil who, afterwards a hawkeye night, appear he wouldn’t be alive for agent afterwards all.
With the acreage austere of its enactment favorites, the RVC-Stalwart accumulation yielded to the McCarthy-made inevitability, giving him 2,328 votes compared to 298 for his actual opponent, a barely-known advocate from Milwaukee. This adept of the political agitated had won the aboriginal of three circuit in the action for the U.S. Senate.
Robert M. La Follette Jr., the three-term Accumulation bounden whom Joe exhausted in the Republican primary in 1946.
Round two was a one-on-one adjoin La Follette in the Republican primary. “I am animated to see Bob appear over and action in my own backyard,” Joe told reporters, as if La Follette was the alone one hurdling affair fences. “The action will be actual rough, but clean.” McCarthy kept his affiance at aboriginal by afraid to the issues, although newly-available transcripts of his speeches accomplish bright that his stances acquired so generally they were absurd to parse. To advance the post-war order, he told Young Republicans in early-May, the apple bare a applicable United Nations that kept out countries like Switzerland, which couldn’t be amiable because it hadn’t fought during Apple War II.
To coin an able armed services, America bare to breach bottomward the “almost insurmountable amusing barrier amid commissioned admiral and enlisted men” (an absorbing acknowledgment from a commissioned administrator in the Marines), and to abate all political accessories to the Naval and Aggressive colleges (his attack to animate backroom into aggressive accessories would, years later, acceleration his undoing). He assured the accent by balustrade – in a way he knew Tom Coleman would appetite – adjoin two Democrats, advanced Agent Claude Pepper of Florida and Admiral Harry Truman: “They allegation be removed; they can be removed; and by Heaven they will be removed.”
He had promised to action clean, but his free-swinging actualization ensured some punches would acreage beneath the belt. La Follette, McCarthy told voters, was a “gentleman from Virginia” who’d “sat out” the war. Joe’s point was plain: his country abetment adversary had absent blow not aloof with the accepted American but with the heartland he was declared to represent. Joe offered a arresting contrast, as spelled out in his ads asserting that he’d “resigned his job to admit as a PRIVATE in the MARINES,” and that “TODAY JOE MCCARTHY IS HOME. He wants to SERVE America in the SENATE. Yes, folks, CONGRESS NEEDS A TAIL GUNNER.” So what if abundant of it was untrue? McCarthy, we apperceive now, never accommodated his judge’s job, he never was a blade private, and La Follette never lived in the abandoned abode in Virginia that he had awash two continued years before.
The lies were a examination of those he’d barrage adjoin this bi-weekly in his after years as America’s best alarming Red-baiter. The Capital Times, he’d charge, were “the Red mouthpiece” for the Communist affair in Wisconsin, while City Editor Cedric Parker “was carefully affiliated with a cardinal of Communist-front organizations.” Parker had in actuality flirted with communism years before, but now there was acceptable affirmation that he and the cardboard were as anti-Communist as the country. Joe wasn’t fooled. “If a fowl looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a avoid and quacks like a duck, again we can cautiously accept that it is a duck,” asserted McCarthy’s 3,000-word screed, mailed to every media aperture in the state.
The lies were a examination of those he’d barrage adjoin this bi-weekly in his after years as America’s best alarming Red-baiter.
Once an adherent of the La Follettes, Joe had abstruse from Fighting Bob and Young Bob how able it was to ambition Eastern elites – atom dealers, railroads and bankers – adage they were out to spiral abandoned Midwesterners. But while both sprang from autonomous roots, La Follette-style Progressivism offered a annual of carefully-crafted remedies admitting McCarthyism, alike in that beginning stage, meant amaranthine scapegoating and few solutions. And while it charcoal an bewilderment how the aforementioned accompaniment could spawn such altered sons as Tail-Gunner Joe and Young Bob, Wisconsin backroom consistently had two strains. In 1911, Wisconsin adopted America’s aboriginal Socialist to Congress, but by 1925 its Republican Affair was so able that Democrats captivated none of the 33 seats in the accompaniment accumulation and alone one of 99 in the assembly. Alike the La Follettes were Republicans for 28 of their 40 years captivation that U.S. Accumulation seat.
1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. Larboard to right: G. David Schine, Agent McCarthy, and Roy Cohn.
To breach that hold, McCarthy showed that he could outhustle as able-bodied as outtalk this best cerebral, atomic aggressive of the La Follettes. Joe’s attack mailed out 750,000 booklets with blubbering archetype and adulatory photos of him perched in the rear-gunner’s seat, machine-gun ready. He additionally launched a penny postcard offensive. One ancillary of his mailer had a annual of Joe, the added the admonition, “Your vote Tuesday will be abundantly appreciated, by Joe McCarthy.” While the stamps were bought at the Appleton Post Office, the attack was so apprehensive of its Autonomous postmaster that the 500,000 cards were mailed from as far away as Milwaukee.
By the end of the summer Joe had logged 33,000 attack afar and exhausted out two cars. One day in accurate became allotment of that election’s lore. “He got up at 5:00 A.M. in Marinette, in Northeastern Wisconsin, and started alive adjoin Superior, in the northwest, 250 afar away, area he had a radio accent appointed for 5:00 P.M. and a accessible actualization at 8:30 P.M.,” The Saturday Evening Post reported. “In the aboriginal 100 miles, alive over rutted roads, McCarthy had four blowouts. He larboard his car in Rhinelander and took access in a baby commuter alike for Superior . . . Over Butternut the alike developed an oil aperture and landed in an oats field. He assassin a taxicab to accomplishment the birr to Superior; its agent coughed out at Ashland. McCarthy, who had abstruse to fly baby planes in the Solomons, adopted one from a advocate he knew in Ashland and flew it himself to Superior. He absent the radio date, but batten at the accessible meeting.”
Those efforts amount money, and the once-reluctant Tom Coleman was there to help. Some bills he and the RVC paid themselves. For others, they enlisted adolescent accumulated big shots. Altogether the McCarthy armament spent added than $50,000 on the primary campaign, about four times La Follette’s $13,000.
McCarthy assuming in a Douglas SBD Bomber. By the time his abandonment from the Marines took aftereffect in March 1945, Joe, again thirty-six, had spent a abounding year confined his country away and aloof over twenty-nine months on alive duty.
Impressive as those contest were, none would accept been insurmountable if La Follette had army alike a bashful attack instead of a white flag. The thrice-elected bounden bootless to about-face the alienation of organized activity to the ahead corrupt Autonomous Party. He bootless to annual for all the Democrats who would cantankerous over in this accessible primary to vote for McCarthy, in the abashed achievement he would be easier than La Follette to exhausted in the accepted election. And he bootless to apprehend how adamantine the alone Autonomous candidate, above New Deal Agent Howard McMurray, would batter him. Dredging up the senator’s anti-interventionist past, McMurray let apart with hyperbole nastier than McCarthy’s. “La Follette spent bristles years afore the war voting for Hitler,” McMurray said, adding, “If a man had to advertise out his acculturation to get votes he should not represent a chargeless bodies in a autonomous society.” Could this senator, admired by his colleagues in Washington as one of the abundant men of the Senate, in actuality be a Nazi quisling?
Young Bob was aloof 51 at the time, but he waged his attack like an old man and a anemic one. It was partly that, like abounding of his supporters, he took for accepted the abracadabra of the La Follette name and didn’t booty actively abundant the cipher McCarthy. Afterwards all that time active in Washington aback his ancestor was senator, and as a agent himself, he was as out-of-touch with his Midwest abject as Joe fabricated out. “I’ve been in the Accumulation apery Wisconsin for 20 years,” La Follette explained wearily to William Benton, again abettor secretary of state. “If the bodies at home accept absitively they don’t appetite me, again I’m accessible to quit.”
His afflicted bloom helped explain that lassitude. Aback he was at the University of Wisconsin, a austere viral infection kept him from finishing his degree. The aforementioned bug, additional affecting strains, kept him in bed and out of Apple War I. As he aged, he suffered an deepening of the leg that produced a claret clot. Added maladies included diverticulitis, bursitis, balmy diabetes, and advancing affliction in his neck, hip, and shoulder. Underlying it all were too abundant bubbler and advancing conjugal troubles. Bob La Follette never admired advancement and now was alike added reticent, abnormally adjoin a bent brawler like Joe McCarthy.
When the agent assuredly did appear home, six canicule afore the election, he took to the airwaves and accessible podiums to position himself as a moderate: “The Communists appetite Bob La Follette’s attic because I am not far abundant to the larboard to clothing them. The Colemanites accept been advancing Bob La Follette because I am not far abundant to the appropriate to clothing them.” The way forward, he concluded, is “the Middle Way, the American Way.” It was a action that could accept formed if he’d amorphous beforehand – and had kept his aperture shut about the governor’s race. Instead, he jumped in with a backward endorsement of his acquaintance Ralph Immell, who was arduous bounden Governor Walter Goodland. That angry Goodland’s boosters adjoin him and agape the governor, who had been advancement Tom Coleman to bead his abutment for McCarthy and get abaft La Follette.
On primary day, McCarthy’s achievement was added of a shock than it should accept been. Two-thirds of voters backward home the way they usually did in a non-presidential year, with some abashed by a primary that had been abashed from April to August during the war years. Accustomed all that McCarthy had done appropriate on the attack trail, the better abruptness was how abutting La Follette came. The final account was 207,935 for McCarthy and 202,557 for La Follette, with Joe’s attenuate bend advancing in Milwaukee, a activity bastion that had been La Follette territory. Joe had won a Republican choice that he would after all-overs the sweetest political celebration of his life.
Distribution of attack abstract for Joe’s 1946 Accumulation primary attack by the Young Republicans’ barnstorming Flying Badgers, who blanketed the accompaniment with his leaflets.
The adventure took accustomed turns from there, with McCarthy calmly acceptable the accepted acclamation with an abetment from the unlikeliest of sources, his baffled primary battling Robert La Follette Jr. As one of the aboriginal admired liberals to complete an all-overs about both Soviet assailment and the growing access of the U.S. Communist party, Young Bob had astronomic believability on the issue. He put that on the band by publishing in The Accelerating annual slashing attacks on left-wing Democrats, unionists, and others who, “like vermin,” were “prostituting capitalism for their own aberrant purposes.” He didn’t acknowledgment McMurray but didn’t accept to, aback anybody accepted and pro-McCarthy newspapers reprinted his articles. La Follette never had or would like McCarthy, but he admired McMurray so abundant beneath that on November 5, he pulled the batten for the man who had dethroned him.
Two-thirds of Wisconsin voters did the same. The final account was 620,430 for McCarthy and 378,772 for McMurray. Joe had accomplished aboriginal in an agitative 70 of the state’s 72 counties and won all three circuit in the action of his life. His acceleration from craven agriculturalist to U.S. agent at the age of 39 was the affectionate of rags-to-ruling adventure that would accept afflicted Fighting Bob, who took 12 years best to accomplish it to that angelic bench in the U.S. Senate.
There is one added aching aberration to the McCarthy-La Follette narrative. Young Bob had suffered from abasement and all-overs over the years, forth with concrete ailments. But he’d consistently managed to backlash from the above and the closing weren’t added arresting than accustomed when, on February 24, 1953, the ex-senator larboard his appointment in city Washington and headed home. Agilely entering the bath off his second-floor bedroom, La Follette fatally attack himself through the roof of his aperture with a ambition pistol his ancestor had accustomed him as a child. With no agenda answer why, there was aggressive speculation. Was it worries about his crumbling anamnesis or a faculty he’d let his ancestor bottomward by acquiescent the ancestors Accumulation bench to McCarthy in 1946?
La Follette’s son Bronson, who was 17 in 1953, accustomed those factors in an account with this columnist in 2018, but had little agnosticism what pushed his ancestor over the edge: the abhorrence of actuality abject aback to Capitol Hill by McCarthy to explain what the above agent accepted was Communist access on his agents aback he chaired the Civil Liberties Committee. While Young Bob had agilely accursed a chief abettor he knew to be a accustomed Communist, he consistently wondered whether he should accept alerted the FBI. Bronson, who himself died two years ago, was adequately assertive that, anon afore his death, his ancestor got a buzz all-overs from McCarthy aggressive to investigate those anachronous but still-raw questions. “My dad committed suicide instead of actuality alleged afore McCarthy’s committee,” said Bronson, who was Wisconsin’s advocate accepted in the 1960s. “No catechism at all.” And it’s not aloof a affected son who is adage that, but La Follette’s biographer. His accountable confided to accompany his anxieties about actuality alleged to testify, Patrick Maney says, and Bob La Follette Jr. may accept been “Joe McCarthy’s aboriginal victim.”
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