The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the New McCarthy

Published: December 5, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
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The passing of actor and political activist Robert Vaughn reminded me that we should never forget the lessons of history. It also reminded me of a time in college.


In 1972 I had one more required class to take, American Jurisprudence. From the moment I sat down, I was lost, completely over my head. The students in the class were all pre-law, and I, a lowly film major and philosophy minor, was left clueless amid the complicated cases that were thrown out during class discussions. How in hell was I ever going to pass this class much less achieve a respectable grade.

That’s when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. saved me.

I explained my dilemma to the law professor who smiled and said; “Why not look for a book dealing with a subject involving your own major, Film Studies?”

Browsing the local bookstore (remember, this is way before the internet) and came across Robert Vaughn’s Only Victims – A Study of Show Business Blacklisting.

However, this was not some vanity project. Vaughn was described by author, intellectual and world-class wit Gore Vidal as the “factual William Buckley of the left.” Of more interest, however, was subject matter I was completely unaware of: The House Un-American Activities Committee and the resulting blacklist of Hollywood professionals labeled as Communists.

Formed in 1938, HUAC, as it became known, ran for more than 30 years – the last years under the outwardly benign name, House Committee on Internal Security.

Nonetheless, after reading the opening, I was hooked:

“Now there was and is a curious madness in America. It is called ‘fear of Communism.’ Not the rational fear of humans who have personally experienced that most heinous of ideologies, but rather the irrational fear of those true believers who find solace in a scapegoat interpretation of the evils in the world about them.”

Reading Victims opened my eyes to how our democracy could be warped by extremist views into a witch hunt for existing and non-existing individuals who, by virtue of practicing their First Amendment rights, were dismissed as “subversive” and “un-American.”

As a writer, Vaughn is clear, engaging and thoroughly research-oriented. (The book comes with four appendixes’ and a detailed bibliography that totals a staggering 73 pages.) More important to me and the class, the material was easy to understand and the personal interviews and testimonies present a country in the grips of an irrational fear.

What particularly resonated with me, both then and now, are Vaughn’s conclusions

“Because the committee was generally chaired, composed and staffed by Congressman and persons with a conservative political viewpoint, the overwhelming majority of their investigations centered on liberals – whom the investigators rightly and wrongly labeled Communists.

“The chief, but not the only, function of an investigatory committee of Congress is to investigate for the purpose of creating legislation. The committee’s show business hearing created no significant laws vital to the security of the nation in the twenty-year period examined. The hearings were punitive rather than legislative in their effect and were used to harass, punish, and economically boycott those individuals whose ideas, in the opinion of the committee, were judged dangerous to the safety of the United States. …

“[Vaughn] concludes that the committee, as constituted and procedurally operated since its inception, served so little benefit to the nation compared with its enormous injustices to individuals that it should be abolished from the House investigatory bodies.”

The committee was formally abolished in 1975.

Nonetheless, the specter of that committee lingers on with Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz who, after ten  investigations into the attacks on the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, has vowed to continue investigating what Chaffetz adamantly believes is criminal conduct on the part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

What’s interesting about Benghazi is that in a 2012 CNN interview Congressman Chaffetz acknowledged that he had “voted to cut the funding for embassy security.”

“Absolutely,” Chaffetz said. “Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have…15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And we’re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things.”

Nonetheless, when Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland blamed Republicans for partisan abuses of the committee process, Chaffetz pushed back.

Chaffetz… said the Democrats’ strategy was to ‘blame it on politics rather than addressing the nature of the issue.’

“ ‘They can blame it on politics,’ Mr. Chaffetz said, ‘but we are concerned about the more than a hundred embassies and thousands of Americans abroad.’ ”

Chaffetz appears only interested in protecting “thousands of Americans abroad” when it suits his agenda, and not necessarily when he voted to cut embassy security and then rationalize his actions.

After this year’s presidential election, Chaffetz went on FOX News (Nov. 13) to say that his and other investigations concerning Clinton are far from over.

“ ‘This is the largest breach of security, perhaps, in the history of the State Department,” Chaffetz said of Clinton’s alleged mishandling of state secrets.

“He added that the committee is still looking into dozens of people in Clinton’s inner circle.

“ ‘We have perjury issues that we still want the Department of Justice to look at,’ he explained.

“He noted that the questions about a pay-to-play scandal involving the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s State Department is a completely separate – and also ongoing – investigation.”

For the record, ten investigations found no guilt on the part of Secretary Clinton regarding the Benghazi attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. During one of the debates, Donald Trump called the Clinton Foundation “a criminal enterprise.”

While e-mails show that those seeking grants for Haiti relief after a devastating hurricane received special access, I have not found a link between Secretary Clinton and taxpayer money going to help Haiti for anything other than relief.

On June 28, The New York Times reported, “… the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.”

FBI Director James Comey, perhaps the most respected law enforcement official and Republican in Washington, found no evidence to prosecute Clinton regarding her use of a private e-mail server, or evidence of any attempt to cover-up or otherwise misrepresent the facts about her use of a private server.

A CNN/ORC poll taken in October, 2015 found that 72 percent of Americans believed that Republicans are “Mostly using the investigation to gain political advantage,” with 49 percent of Republican voters believing it was based on political gain. Only 23 percent believed the investigation is “objective.”

However, Chaffetz isn’t interested in what American voters think. He wants to continue his investigation(s) until he finds indictable, criminal behavior, despite investigations from the FBI and NINE congressional committees: The State Department Accountability Review Board, The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, The House Armed Services Committee, The House Foreign Affairs Committee, The House Intelligence Committee, The House Judiciary Committee, The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – and the special committee formed specifically to examine Benghazi, The U.S. House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.

Is Chaffetz the new Joe McCarthy? You decide.

It’s a target-rich environment,” the Republican said in an interview in Salt Lake City’s suburbs. “…we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up.”

Is that the purpose of another objective congressional investigation, Mr. Chaffetz? And when will you accept your own responsibility in voting to cut the security budgets in U.S. embassies?

Today, Communism is not the same threat it was in the 50’s and 60’s, but the use by elected officials to excoriate political opponents is just as pervasive and onerous. It creates its own level of discord and promises to prolong the Us v. Them impasse in Washington, something voters say they do not want.

According to a September Gallup poll, “Americans Continue to Want Political Leaders to Compromise” (53 percent).

Clearly, now that President-elect Trump is scheduled to take office on January 20, the American people want Congress to work together placing the country before partisanship.

Do you hear voice of the people, Congressman?


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