No one has a kind word to say about Joe McCarthy these days. The Wisconsin senator from the late 1940s and 1950s is widely viewed as the perpetrator of a very bad “ism” — the idea that communists and communist-sympathizers should be hounded from their jobs because they represented a threat to society.
Even William F. Buckley Jr., who co-wrote a 1954 book defending McCarthy, offered a far more negative view of the man in his later historical novel about the McCarthy era.
Thus, it may strike some as perplexing that McCarthyism, dressed up in the garb of political correctness, is alive and well in America. Communism isn’t viewed as a threat anymore, so it’s easy to wax indignant against McCarthy’s particular brand of McCarthyism. However, if you happen to harbor traditional views about marriage, a kind that just a few decades ago was nearly universally held throughout Western society, the neo-McCarthyites will likely come after you.
That’s what happened to Brendan Eich shortly after he was named the new CEO of Mozilla, the Silicon Valley company that created the Firefrox Web browser and other innovative software products.
It turns out that he contributed money to a 2008 California ballot initiative that banned homosexual marriage. He wasn’t alone in supporting the measure: It passed with 52 percent of the vote (but later was struck down by a federal court). Now, six years later, his support is viewed as political apostasy, and it seems that his company — like Hollywood during the notorious “blacklist” period — cut him loose to fend for himself.
The political effort to protect the old definition of marriage in society has become a losing proposition. Americans’ majority support for homosexual marriage is largely a settled matter. Hence, it would seem natural to regard these beleaguered traditionalists in a light of poignancy. But the homosexual-rights McCarthyites, like their methodological forebear, are out to destroy careers.
The online dating service, OkCupid, went after Mr. Eich by suggesting to its users that they not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid. It declared such people as Mr. Eich to be “our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” A co-founder of a mobile app called ThinkUp posted on Twitter a declaration that no one of Mr. Eich’s views was “fit” to lead a company such as Mozilla.
Bigger problems lay ahead for the company, however, for it relied on relationships with major Silicon Valley software companies, including Google, for a significant share of its revenue. Clearly, company executives feared a big negative fallout if they retained Mr. Eich in the job.
Clearly, he was a man of mark in his chosen field. News accounts of the episode suggest there has never been any allegation that Mr. Eich ever discriminated against homosexual men or women during his long tenure at Mozilla.
He held the wrong views, though, and gay-rights McCarthyism is too powerful a force in Silicon Valley for anyone to resist. It was explained with Orwellian absurdity by Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman. “We have employees with a wide diversity of views,” she said. “Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public . But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.”
Translation: “We glory in the free expression of views that are part and parcel of our culture, so please feel free to express yourselves. But if you express the wrong views, we’ll fire you.”
In a certain respect, this brand of McCarthyism is worse than the original. Among those today who love to assault the evils of Joe McCarthy — including many, no doubt, in Silicon Valley — there is a powerful resistance to any acknowledgment that America faced any threat back then from a communist fifth column. But a serious study of the era will reveal that there was indeed a threat that justified a certain attentiveness, particularly regarding high-level federal officials.
Alger Hiss and Klaus Fuchs loom large in this historical drama, but other names reverberate through the history of people whose communist connections should have disqualified them, under various federal laws, from federal employment.
Also, remember that this was during the early Cold War, when nuclear knowledge was crucial in conferring advantage in that profound standoff. Indeed, it can be argued that America’s nuclear monopoly saved Western Europe when the Soviet Union positioned 1.3 million Soviet and client-state troops on the doorstep of free Europe, facing west.
The role of Fuchs in ending this nuclear monopoly contributed mightily to McCarthy’s ability to sway voters with his increasingly mad witch hunts. Soon his concern about governmental security risks turned into a crusade to smite his enemies wherever they might be found.
That’s the brand of McCarthyism we see now in the Eich episode, and there’s no reason to view his victimization any differently from what befell the many victims of Joe McCarthy’s brand of McCarthyism so many years ago.
Robert W. Merry, political editor of The National Interest, is the author most recently of “Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians” (Simon & Schuster, 2012).