“Big man” McCarthy vs the Lavender Scare

The “Lavender Scare” was the panic surrounding the idea of homosexuals in the government and military during the Cold War era. Many people who were suspected of being homosexuals were investigated and dismissed from their positions because it was believed that they were security threats, as they could be blackmailed into sharing government secrets with the enemies in order to not be outed (Friedman). This directly related to the “Red Scare,” which was the belief that communists were infiltrating the United States and working with the Soviet Union in order to achieve the global spread of communism. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a very prominent figure during the Red Scare, as he gained much of his political power thanks to his campaign to find and remove all of the secret communists from the government. Before this anti-communist crusade, he used his tough, masculine persona to become senator (Friedman). He also portrayed himself as a “real man” through his support of the lavender scare. However, this air of masculinity ended up causing a lot of trouble for McCarthy, as it was the subject of attack for his opponents. 

Both journalists Drew Pearson and Hank Greenspun attempted to smear McCarthy’s reputation by accusing him of not only being a secret communist, but also being a homosexual (Friedman). Although neither journalist was successful in ruining McCarthy, the fact that the allegations went hand in hand showed people’s views on the two ideas. Homosexuality, just like communism, was seen as morally corrupt and an enslavement to either an ideal or another man that stripped the man of their “masculine autonomy” (Friedman). That’s why they were both used as tactics to smear Joe McCarthy, despite his role in amplifying the red and lavender scares. His hearing against the army focused heavily on calling into question the relationship especially between him and Cohn, who was portrayed to have some sort of power over him, undermining his image as a masculine figure. In this way, the innuendos meant to smear McCarthy’s reputation functioned because of the similarities between homophobia and anticommunism. They were both meant to get rid of the “emasculated,” dishonest man that didn’t fit within the parameters of what was deemed socially and morally acceptable at the time. 

Nowadays, I think that sexuality in politics is treated somewhat differently. It is still a highly debated topic; politicians who aren’t straight or who support the LGBTQ+ community definitely have a harder time just trying to do their jobs. They are still the subject of harassment and smear techniques, but I feel like it happens much more in the open. People have become more vocal about the subject of gay rights, whether they are for or against them. For this reason, I think that sexual innuendos are far less common in politics today. Still, I found it very interesting to learn about the lavender scare, which I had never heard of before. I learned about McCarthy and his role in the Red Scare, but never about how rumors of homosexuality were part of his “fall from grace,” so to speak. It’s sad to think about how homophobia had the power to ruin someone’s character back then and how it is still something that affects our politics today. 

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