McCarthyism is a topic that can be studied on several levels. It is partially about individuals and a nation caught up in a “culture of fear.” Unsettled by Soviet expansionism, and perhaps even more frightened by evidence of espionage at home, government officials and private citizens lost sight, or placed low priority on, certain rights and procedural protections traditionally respected in the United States. That part of the story is told here, especially in the Law and Labor Lenses.
But McCarthyism is also about a dramatic shift in public policy triggered by Cold War anxieties. Many predicted that federal policymakers would pick up where they left off before World War—the governmental model contained in Roosevelt’s New Deal would be developed further with new federal jobs and health care programs. Instead, American domestic policy contracted as policymakers shied away from measures that might draw the attention of communist hunters in the Congress and the press. Students will read about this in the Summary and Analysis.