I thoroughly enjoyed the McCarthy/HUAC era discussion. But I'd hate for anyone to think that this was nothing more than an enlightening bull session about "the bad old days". Although McCarthy was (in most minds) discredited, his tactics have become commonplace.
McCarthy really wasn't interested in stopping communism; as I believe Kendall pointed out, his real interest was in getting re-elected. He found that flinging the label "communist" at people gave him stature that he didn't have to earn. He never had to prove anything - all he had to do was accuse and insinuate and public fear (and the press' need for a story) did the rest.
In the end his ego pushed him to go too far, but the lesson of his brief celebrity was well-noted (young Dick Nixon, for one was paying close attention). Now we don't have an election without a Willie Horton, or a nomination without some special interest litmus test. Any label(s) that can be attached to an individual to distract public attention from the merits of his/her arguments are put to use - and the more the merrier. Anything to avoid a real discussion of the issues. We even see it here at the Mudcat, on a certain level, when someone chooses to focus on the "Guest" monicker, rather than to address the argument presented. Anywhere that you see someone name calling and labeling an opponent you see part of the legacy of "Tail Gunner Joe".
I would like to think that McCarthy was bound to fail because he was a fraud; but the truth is that it took some pretty courageous individuals to stop him. That he succeeded for as long as he did, should continue to scare the hell out of all of us.