THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOE McCARTHY by Thomas C. Reeves

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOE McCARTHY

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Six hundred-odd pages of petty detail to make the point that McCarthy had some likable qualities (though ""he was guilty of frequently lying and slander,"" destroyed lives, ""did not discover a single Communist,"" etc.). It really boils down, for Reeves, to McCarthy's being badly spoken of by ""biographers,"" ""journalists,"" ""historians""--the whole written record (""Not a single college textbook from a major publisher is even neutral towards him""). And so Reeves spent several years interviewing what appears to be everyone who had contact with McCarthy and poring over what appears also to be every pertinent document. The net result is, if anything, a firmer, more precise sense of McCarthy's arrant aggressiveness, unscrupulousness, and opportunism--with, paradoxically, no sense of the reason why. Reeves wholly rejects the idea that McCarthy's childhood was anything but wholesome, secure, and happy (""What we know about Joe McCarthy's childhood and youth does not explain his subsequent conduct""--on the grounds, partially, that his siblings turned out differently). Through his roistering college days he is described--on every page--as ""popular""; but once he starts to practice law, very ignominiously, in small Wisconsin towns, he is remembered by Reeves' informants as ""brash,"" ""very, very tricky,"" etc. And though he was thought ""crazy"" when ""it dawned on him that he might run for a judgeship"" (after doing surprisingly welt in a D.A. race), we begin to see the clever poi (recording names and distinguishing details on a dictaphone, to establish an acquaintance) and the spoiler (misrepresenting his opponent's age, to make him appear elderly). ""What any of this had to do with Joe's qualifications for the circuit judgeship was at best obscure, as he well knew."" Thereafter we have, intermittently, appeals to ""fairness"" (""despite his exaggerations and distortions of his military record,"" ""he served the corps ably and with distinction"") and Reeves' other let's-be-fair motif: he was used. In 1950, ""growing numbers of Republicans were convinced that McCarthyism was their ticket to political power. . . ."" (Reeves also insists, early and late, that McCarthy was not a homosexual.) There is more here on McCarthy than anywhere else--but far less insight, or even persuasive empathy, than some of his supposed ""critics"" have displayed. See especially Edwin R. Bayley's recent Joe McCarthy and the Press.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1982
Publisher: Stein & Day