Witch Hunt

by Norman Horowitz

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness. […] Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” — Army attorney Joseph Welch, defending one of his fellow attorneys against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks

To me, a “witch hunt” is the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence. When a hunt for “wrongdoers”  becomes abusive, and the “authorities” can convict or vilify a defendant merely on an accusation, I think it’s reasonable to call those involved in the process as being engaged in a witch hunt.  

George Orwell used the term to describe how, in the Spanish Civil War, political persecutions became a regular occurrence. The term was popularized in the search for communists during the Cold War, which was at the time compared to the Salem witch trials. Starting in the 1960s, the term was in wide use and could also be applied to isolated incidents or scandals, specifically public smear-campaigns against individuals. In the ’80s, the McMartin preschool trials became another example of a moral panic which saw day care providers accused of “Satanic ritual abuse” including  the charge of physical and sexual child abuse.

Our once-great nation is suffering from economic malaise, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a monstrous situation in Libya and elsewhere. Now we have the reincarnation of Joseph McCarthy in the form of Darrell Issa.

Issa, the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, recently released a report: “A New Era of Openness? How and Why Political Staff at DHS Interfered with the FOIA Process.” The report details the committee’s findings about inappropriate interference by Obama Administration political appointees in the Department of Homeland Security FOIA process, as well as efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to obstruct the committee’s investigation.

“There is a significant divide between what President Obama has directed agencies to do on FOIA and what political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security are actually doing,” said Chairman Issa. “Political appointees do not have a right to stop or delay releases of information through FOIA because they find them embarrassing, inconvenient, or politically sensitive. There is no place for this kind of interference in a process designed to create transparency and accountability in government.”

Only one little problem: These accusations are not true.

To me, Congressman Issa could reasonably be compared to Senator Joseph McCarthy and his behavior almost 60 years ago. Neither Issa nor McCarthy appeared to be trying to “fix” anything in government but rather to embarrass the existing administration.

It would be “refreshing” were CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, and ABC to say anything about how Issa has turned out to be just another political rightwing bully.