Topic: White Water

John O'Sullivan on 'Sexual McCarthyism'



THE moment I first heard the words "sexual McCarthyism," a thrill of horror did the rhumba up and down my spine. The headline-writer in me recognized at once that the phrase had the literary quality of being instantly memorable, like "radical chic," "manifest destiny," and "their finest hour." Yet I also sensed that this catchiness was quite unnecessary, since it was going to be endlessly drummed into me.

And, sure enough, today it is unavoidable in newspapers, radio call-ins, TV talk shows -- even book titles (Alan Dershowitz). Its success is easy enough to explain. Like many ideological coinages, "sexual McCarthyism" is vivid but vague. It inspires the listener with the passion to resist, without explaining exactly what it is that should be resisted. Obviously, we are being mobilized to oppose a right-wing atrocity -- "McCarthyism" tells us that much. But what more specific form does it take?

Does sexual McCarthyism mean opposition to sex with Communists? That would seem to be a largely redundant cause. There are not many Communists left outside China these days, and, as the late Arthur Koestler pointed out, most of the female ones were recruited "from the ranks of girls who have never been asked to dance."

Or does it mean opposition to Communist sex? Krafft-Ebbing has no entry for this deviancy, but it presumably resembles an illicit version of a Moonie marriage in which one's partner is selected by a committee without regard to age, sex, or ability. Again, not even the notoriously gloomy Right sees that as an imminent threat.

Or is the term an ignorant but imaginative attempt to unroll the meaning of S&M?

Most of the mainstream media outlets were not especially helpful in clearing up these mysteries. They were not vivid, but they were vague. They treated S-M (as I shall now compress it) as a drive by anti-Clinton Republicans and Christian evangelicals to stigmatize those who are getting more sex than they -- an attitude that is not confined to right-wingers and does not require a new phrase to describe it, "human nature" being quite sufficient.

It took the Village Voice, the Holy Inquisition of the Universal Church of Marx in New York, to develop a full theory of S-M. Richard Goldstein thought deeply and went into automatic writing mode thus:

From the lurid revelations and crude moralizing to the criminalization of a legal act (in this case, adultery) and the deliberate setting of a perjury trap, it all seems frighteningly familiar to historians of McCarthyism.

"There's a strand of Western culture that requires some kind of demonized enemy," says Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. "In the late '40s and '50s, it was Communists, but today it's operating in the realm of sexuality. We're obviously in the middle of a Red scare about sex."

Wow. But wait. There's more of the same.

"Back then," continues Goldstein, the danger was "belonging to a host of political organizations branded as Communist; now, it's having sex with someone other than your wife. Even the perjury trap that snared the president was a device used by the McCarthyites to destroy Alger Hiss, among others."

And so on.

There are some fascinating side-issues raised by Goldstein's exegesis. Its reference to Alger Hiss seems to imply that lying about treason, like lying about sex, is something to which only a bigot could conceivably object. And while decrying the criminalization of adultery (which, of course, is not a crime -- though lying under oath about it always has been), Goldstein effectively decriminalizes the perjury committed by President Clinton by describing it as "a trap." If there had indeed been a perjury trap, it would be entrapment and thus itself a crime. Far from entrapping Clinton, however, Republicans, Democrats, and the New York Times all warned him vociferously not to lie before the grand jury because that would constitute an impeachable offense. When he ignored those warnings, he walked into his own trap with his eyes open.

But these issues shrink beside a gaping canyon in the logic underlying S-M. If sexual McCarthyism is a paranoid right-wing device to halt radical social change by restoring sexual repression and by stigmatizing liberals and Democrats as adulterers and sexual deviants, how come all of its victims (except one) have been Republicans? How come most of its practitioners are the Left's camp-followers in journalism and related trades? And how come the main instruments of this repression were invented by extreme feminists?

It's a puzzle, isn't it?

Consider Exhibit A: The victims of S-M before Clinton were John Tower, Clarence Thomas, and Bob Packwood; its victims since Clinton have been Henry Hyde, Bob Livingston, J. C. Watts, Dan Burton, Bob Barr, and whichever Republican Larry Flynt takes a dislike to in the coming months.

And Exhibit B: The people outing politicians recently include the editors of Salon, Geraldo Rivera, and Flynt.

And Exhibit C: Clinton committed his original perjury in the Paula Jones case in order to avoid honestly answering questions about a consensual sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky -- questions that feminists had succeeded in legitimizing for trials involving non-consensual sexual harassment in a bill that the president signed into law.

In other words, pace Miss Schrecker, this is not a scare about sex by Reds, but a scare by Reds about sex.

Yet there is a deeper intellectual puzzle here. The underlying assumption of S-M theoreticians is that politically repressive governments logically impose sexual repression too and that therefore the sex act is a kind of instinctive humanistic rebellion against totalitarianism. They occasionally refer to "The Junior Anti-Sex League" from Nineteen Eighty-four to show that they have read and thought seriously about this connection. And indeed Orwell's book advances just such an argument:

But a real love affair was an unthinkable event. The women of the Party were all alike. Chastity was as deeply ingrained in them as Party loyalty . . . They were all impregnable, as the Party intended that they should be. And what he wanted, more even than to be loved, was to break down that wall of virtue, even if it were only once in his whole life. The sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion. Desire was thoughtcrime.

Orwell was a literary prophet who successfully predicted some of our present discontents: health fascism, "inclusive" language, and sensitivity training. But the main lines of Orwell's prophecy were derived from his criticism of the "hard totalitarianism" that dominated Europe from 1917 to 1989. The future he saw -- a boot stamping on the human face forever -- seems less inevitable, at least in its complete form, since the collapse of Soviet Communism. If totalitarianism is to make any sort of political comeback, it will be in its "soft" therapeutic form.

The literary prophet of soft totalitarianism, of course, was an English contemporary of Orwell's, Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World. Huxley was even more uncannily prophetic than Orwell. Among the social and scientific developments he forecast in his bland dystopia were cloning, genetic engineering, social stratification based on IQ, widespread use of cosmetic surgery, the recreational use of mind-altering drugs, sex education designed to remove children's natural modesty and inhibitions, virtual-reality entertainment providing mainly pornography, multiculturalism, the cult of youth, and "death with dignity."

But his great insight was that the total World State would rest on a stability far more reliable than oppression -- namely happiness. It would provide that happiness by shaping its citizens' minds and imaginations (and, incidentally, their bodies) so that they would want what they were destined to get. And it would deal with the irreducible minimum of discontent that remained by mood-altering drugs, pornographic entertainment, and, above all, officially encouraged, ever-available, promiscuous sex disconnected from both love and parenthood. As the World Controller, Mustapha Mond, puts it:

The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want and they never want what they can't get. They're well-off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about.

In other words, sex in Utopia is not Orwell's act of rebellion against totalitarianism, but Huxley's strategy whereby totalitarianism induces the passive consent of the people to itself. Or as Huxley himself wrote in his foreword to the 1946 edition: "As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase." Which Utopia now seems likelier? And to which political philosophy, liberalism or conservatism, does that Utopia most conform?

If I were of a theorizing cast of mind, I might spin out a nice little thesis on "sexual McCarthyism" as a strategy of the therapeutic liberal elite to break down the moral resistance of Christians and traditionalists to its program of enfeebling distractions by discrediting their political leadership (and by extension their own beliefs) as at best setting unattainable standards, and at worst hypocritical.

As it is, my common sense tells me that, as a man of low moral character, Bill Clinton naturally attracts the support of similar people, and that they in turn naturally employ low moral methods such as slander and the threat of blackmail to defend their champion. You can, of course, give these methods quasi-academic status by calling them something like sexual McCarthyism. But does even Joe McCarthy deserve to be put on the same moral level as Clinton, Geraldo, and Larry Flynt?

Posted by: Trailer Trash (7.62x39@radiolink.net) *
02/05/99 00:34:20 PST

To: Trailer Trash
" Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America."

Ellen Schrecker is a cretin. Her book is dis-information and obviates recent information PROVEING McCarthy WAS RIGHT!. Not was McCarthy RIGHT but he only touched the depth that Trumans and FDR's regimes were penetrated by (American)TRAITORS. Kind of like Clintons Administration. The CPUSA was funded by and managed by Stalin. Treason and Sedition were(and still is) common place. Joseph McCarthy was railroaded and his name SHOULD BE remembered as patriotic. And DerShowBiz's name should be (and will) be remembered as DUNG!.

From: hosepipe (MeanSpirit@OutRage.GOH) *
02/05/99 00:54:31 PST

To: Trailer Trash
From: pasr (pasr@pacbell.net) *
02/05/99 00:58:33 PST

To: pasr
Oh yes. Welcome to post Clinton Legacy political/sociological dialogue.
From: Trailer Trash (7.62x39@radiolink.net) *
02/05/99 01:04:51 PST

To: hosepipe
I was in HS from 1966 to 1970 and remember well the santimonious teachers smirking about those who opposed Communism and supported McCarthy. Those 'people' were low class...not educated. My parents,even though they were Democrats and were well educated with professions, did not see the real picture, they were not "enlightened". Makes me sick to this day that public money was used to drive a wedge between parents and kids. We will never forget..and we will redress the injustice.
From: LarryLied (Larrylied@aol.com) *
02/05/99 01:07:23 PST