Larry Tye | WAMC

Larry Tye

In the long history of American demagogues, from Huey Long to Donald Trump, never has one man caused so much damage in such a short time as Senator Joseph McCarthy.

We still use “McCarthyism” to stand for outrageous charges of guilt by association, a weapon of polarizing slander. From 1950 to 1954, McCarthy destroyed many careers and even entire lives, whipping the nation into a frenzy of paranoia, accusation, loyalty oaths, and terror. When the public finally turned on him, he came crashing down, dying of alcoholism in 1957.

Larry Tye’s new biography, "Demagogue," is a portrait of a human being capable of immense evil, yet beguiling charm. McCarthy was a tireless worker and a genuine war hero. When he made it to the Senate, he flailed around in search of an agenda. Finally, after three years, he hit upon anti-communism.

If you were asked to name a group of classic US political villains, Joe McCarthy’s name would be right near the top of most lists. But for a four year period, that wasn’t the case.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about a new biography of this American demagogue.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute whipping up a little laughter.

1968 was one of the most turbulent years in modern American history, filled with stories of anti-war protests, civil rights demonstrations and assassinations. June 5 marked 50 years since Robert Kennedy became one of those leaders who was gunned down.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear from the author of a book about Kennedy, and how he grew to become a liberal icon.

We’ll also spend an academic minute with a different view of mental health.