Wall Street Journal
The Redhunterby William F. Buckley Jr.
From William F. Buckley Jr., comes an engrossing and unexpected historical novel about one of the most controversial figures in American political history - Senator Joe McCarthy. Senator McCarthy rose and fell in just four years, yet he gave a name, lastingly, to an era. It wasn't until February 9, 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia, that McCarthy bewitched a nation -… See more details below
From William F. Buckley Jr., comes an engrossing and unexpected historical novel about one of the most controversial figures in American political history - Senator Joe McCarthy. Senator McCarthy rose and fell in just four years, yet he gave a name, lastingly, to an era. It wasn't until February 9, 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia, that McCarthy bewitched a nation - and unleashed a crusade - with his claim that Communists had infiltrated the United States government. In The Redhunter, a blend of fact and fiction, Buckley tells the story of Harry Bontecou. Freshly graduated from Columbia, Bontecou joins McCarthy and remains at his side for three critical years. But when McCarthy's judgment becomes clouded by prosecutorial zeal and reckless extravagance, Bontecou delivers an ultimatum: McCarthy must choose between Bontecou and Roy Cohn, McCarthy's ruthless aide. By then we have seen at close hand Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover, and Dean Acheson in memorable portraits of leaders in action.
Wall Street Journal
New York Times
I refer, of course, to Jenny McCarthy, the spectacularly untalented and momentarily ubiquitous star of magazines and cable and network television. Jenny's enhanced bosom and perpetually-mugging countenance somehow enabled her to become queen for a day of the American zeitgeist, circa 1996, but she wasn't the only McCarthy to go from zero to hero and back again in the span of a few short years. It's another, Senator Joseph R.self-appointed scourge of the "Red Menace,' and the very personification of the Communist witch hunts of the 1950swhose abrupt rise and fall forms the basis for the new historical novel by William F. Buckley Jr.
Sent to the U.S. Senate in 1948 by his home state of Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy quickly found that, though his oratorical skills were mediocre at best, he could stir up plenty of interest by pushing the hot-button topic of the eranamely, the rapid spread of Communism at home and abroad. McCarthy, whose favorite tactic was to announce that he had "a photostatic copy' of a list of Commie sympathizers in one government department or another, fell in love with the attention his blusteringpronouncements brought, and much of the country fell in love with him, at least for a while. McCarthy's "tell-it-like-it-is' style endeared him to the commonfolk as well as the media, both of whom viewed the Senator as not only a righteous defender of the American Way of Life, but also as a refreshing contrast to the effete, passionless ways of his congressional colleagues.
The love affair was not to last. Caught up in the momentum of his own crusade, McCarthy began to take on ever-larger targets, even training the scope of his Red-hunting gun on the White House and the U.S. Army. In 1954, the nationally-televised Army-McCarthy Hearings did much to discredit McCarthy, especially when it was revealed that Roy Cohn, McCarthy's chief counsel, had repeatedly tried to shake down the Army for special treatment on behalf of one David Schine, Cohn's close companion and "unpaid researcher.' Almost overnight, the Senator's popularity ratings went down the tube; officially censured by his colleagues before the year's end, McCarthy would spend his remaining days on earth drinking himself into oblivion.
Considering the fact that, back in the day, Buckley was an ardent supporter of McCarthy and his cause, The Red Hunter is hardly the sympathetic portrait one might suspect. Buckley's conservative bent is indeed evident, especially in his criticism of President Truman's handling of post-war negotiations with Josef Stalin, but never once does he present the late Senator as a hero or martyr. Through the eyes of Harry Bontecou, a former McCarthy speechwriter, we see an average human being with an above-average capacity for hard work, a staggering propensity for lofty rhetoric and the extraordinary ability to polarize a community; throughout his entire political career, Joe McCarthy was always a love-him-or-hate-him proposition.
Though the novel's tightly wound subplot offers a rather paltry payoff (in a nutshell: Bontecou discusses McCarthy with a former British diplomat/Soviet spy, who is eventually re vealed to be someone more than he appears), Buckley is smart to let the Bontecou character be our guide. For one thing, this enables us to see McCarthy from the perspective of the people who worked for him and adored him; thus, we can effectively share in their horror as, egged on by Cohnwhom Buckley depicts as nothing less than a malevolent homunculus seated on the Senator's shoulderMcCarthy begins to transform himself from American patriot into a town bully. For another, it allows Buckley to avoid mentioning the many individuals whose lives were needlessly ruined by McCarthy's crusade; after all, as a member of McCarthy's inner circle, Bont ecou would have been very careful not to socialize with anyone who exhibited anything even remotely resembling Communist sympathies.
Though short on cultural detailMrs. McCarthy's towering hairdo is possibly the only non-political period reference in the entire novelThe Red Hunter does an excellent job of reconstructing the political milieu of the Korean War era. The novel also serves as a stern warning to those who would let their own victories (political or otherwise) go to their heads. As Joe McCarthy himself might have said to Newt Gingrich, Kenneth Starr or Jenny McCarthy, sometimes you gotta know when to quit. Dan Epstein
The American Spectator
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