Those who know modern US history will recognise the signs, even if they are flagged in Britain. For hysterical attacks on Dominic Cummings evoke Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon circa 1950.
In that year, the Soviet spy Alger Hiss was convicted for perjury, having been nailed to the wall by his HUAC interrogator, Congressman Richard Nixon. That was a hallmark case, largely vindicating Sen. Joe McCarthy’s campaign against communist subversion.
It was then that McCarthy and Nixon became marked men in the press. Both, especially McCarthy, were subjected to savage attacks, proving that lovies aren’t dovies. They are more akin to vultures.
McCarthy was literally hounded to death: incessant vituperative attacks proved harder to handle than the enemy ‘Tailgunner Joe’ had faced during the war. He drank himself to death at 48.
Many of the attacks were personal, dealing with McCarthy’s style and demeanour, rather than the substance of his accusations. In fact, the celebrities he targeted were indeed communist subversives, whose allegiance was with a hostile foreign power.
McCarthy, son of a poor Wisconsin farmer, was an outsider to the smart Eastern Seaboard circles, whose sympathies lay distinctly with McCarthy’s ‘victims’. He was portrayed as a rude, vulgar demagogue, vindictively going out to get good people.
It’s true that McCarthy’s voice was at times too loud and unpolished, and he himself too strident. Yet what he said was essentially true, which of course rankled the most.
On the other hand, after his original ‘crime’ of nailing Hiss, Nixon was less vulnerable to personal attacks. That didn’t mean they ceased: to the media Hiss was one of them, and ludicrous claims of his innocence are still heard today.
Nixon, on the other hand, was an outsider thrice over: not only did he corner the ‘liberal’ flag-bearer Hiss, but he was also a Californian and a conservative Republican. Off with his head.
Hence the media were complicit with the Democrats in stealing the 1960 election from Nixon. Not only did the networks’ cameramen lovingly show close-ups of Nixon sweating during the televised debate with Kennedy, but, much worse, the media hushed up the massive theft of votes in the swing state of Illinois.
Throughout that campaign the stylish bon vivant Kennedy was idolised, and his haughty dismissal of Nixon (“That guy has got no class”) was quoted ad infinitum.
When he eventually became president, Nixon left himself open at Watergate. The media sharks smelled blood and pounced.
This isn’t to say that Nixon was innocent. He wasn’t. Yet one just wonders whether the pitch of self-righteous hysteria would have been as febrile if the culprit had been, say, one of the Kennedy brothers. Or whether the ‘liberal’ Washington Post would have pursued the leads so relentlessly.
Just compare the treatment of Nixon with that of Teddy Kennedy, the Chappaquiddick swimming champ. Under similar circumstances any conservative Republican would probably have been accused of murder, persistently and stridently.
Dominic Cummings is a lesser figure than Nixon or McCarthy. Yet a scaled-down model can still be an accurate representation of the original.
Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser, supposedly broke the lockdown law. He drove his little son 260 miles to his parents’ farm in County Durham after both he and his wife had developed coronavirus symptoms. They decided that the safest course for their son was to leave him in the care of Cummings’s mother and sister.
Some kind soul immediately grassed him up to the ‘liberal’ papers, and the shouts of tally-ho! reverberated through Fleet Street, where Cummings is alternately despised and hated.
He is gleefully portrayed as an abrasive, unprincipled, Swengalian and sartorially inadequate northerner, what with his T-shirts and fleeces. All probably true, but none of this justifies the clamour for his summary dismissal.
Neither does his transgression. The lockdown law bans only unnecessary travel, and if trying to protect one’s child doesn’t qualify as necessary, I don’t know what does.
That’s why Boris Johnson supported Cummings who, according to him, had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”. And yesterday Durham police confirmed that Cummings had no case to answer.
Yet the frenzy goes on, and that’s where a parallel with Nixon and McCarthy becomes visible. For Cummings committed several crimes against every cherished cause those elegant ‘liberal’ dressers hold dear.
First, he ran the Vote Leave campaign that – fingers crossed – got Britain out of the EU in the nick of time, offending every reader of The Guardian and The Observer (the two papers in the vanguard of the assault on Cummings), not to mention the entire BBC staff.
Then he focused the Tory campaign in the general election not on Islington and Notting Hill, those twin peaks of ‘liberal’ rectitude, but – are you ready for this? – on the North. The North! Where people wear T-shirts and fleeces, refer to dinner as ‘tea’ and speak in laughable accents!
Even worse, Cummings’s strategy was proved right, and the Tories won a landslide. That painted an indelible bull’s eye on his T-shirted chest.
I haven’t met Mr Cummings, but I hear from those who have that he isn’t exactly God’s best gift to mankind. But then neither was Alastair Campbell, who was to Blair what Cummings is to Johnson – and he never suffered the same treatment.
It’s just that Campbell wasn’t tarred with the Tory brush and Cummings is. Even worse, he had the gall to defeat the smart set twice, by getting Britain out of the EU and a Tory into 10 Downing Street.
That’s the nature of the witch-hunting campaign against Cummings, for which his display of parental love is but a pretext. However, I do hope Dominic starts wearing suits. If hated for being a vanquishing Tory anyway, he might as well dress as one.