What made 1950s America vulnerable to a man like Joseph McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin? In Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, Larry Tye takes an in-depth look at McCarthy’s life.
Tye tells the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles that his interest in McCarthy was piqued during his research for a previous book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. Ethel Kennedy’s memories of McCarthy were clearly fond ones. She recollected a man who doted on children, gave her husband his first real job and “was just real fun.” It was a far cry from the caricature of McCarthy that is more generally known.
With access to military, medical and personal records that have never before been shared publicly, Tye was able to make a number of revelations. One of the surprises? McCarthy had told the truth about heroics during his military service in World War II, something that had been dismissed by many as another tall tale told by a fabulist.
But Demagogue was not written solely to humanize a man who has become a cultural caricature. “I seek not to redeem the Wisconsin senator but rather to unmask fanatics and fabricators on all sides in a way that presents a truer, more fully dimensional portrait of a figure so central to the narrative of America,” Tye writes.