The more level heads in the widespread paranoia were themselves virtually immobilized. For the most part even liberals and dissenters were reluctant to seem to depart from the overriding anti-communist consensus of the period.
McCarthy was not the one and only anti-communist champion, although he may very well have relished that illusion. The Senator's clout intensified with ease in the all-encompassing atmosphere of the Cold War and appeared to commandeer even the White House as his crusade attracted scores of opportunist politicians and uncritical conformists. Aside from the Republican position on the political expediency of an anti-communist platform that was ripe to discredit liberal Democratic policies and programs, any bold antagonist of McCarthy generally risked being inevitably targeted as a Communist supporter, and few wanted the unpleasant backlash.
McCarthy's vitriolic accusations of communist subterfuge in government circles surfaced in a series of local campaign talks delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia, not too long after the House Un-American Activities Committee wrapped up an investigation of Alger Hiss, charged, largely through the backing of Representative Richard M. Nixon, as a Soviet agent on the basis of his alleged pro-Communist sympathies and activities many years previous. In fact McCarthy's rhetoric reiterated a conviction rampant in Cold War anti-communist politics and journalism that the enemy was within, slyly maneuvering and determining American policy.
The difference here was that McCarthy in his authority as a US senator feigned to be very near to naming individuals, impudently insinuating that he was in the possession of damning evidence. Ultimately his specified numbers of communist infiltrators as two hundred five, and later fifty-seven, really had no factual proof to back them, but McCarthy's recurring mystifications and ambiguities built further hype through the rapt attention of the media in the course of his tour through other states and succeeded splendidly in generating a national uproar.
Senior Republican politicians, while rescinding publicly from McCarthy's tactics, were inclined to welcome his targeted censures as a promising opportunity to seize the advantage for the Republican Party in the presidential race of 1952 following years of Democratic power. Heady with the response from his new-found national constituency, McCarthy publicly telegraphed President Truman to demand that he release the Administrations' Security files to Congress. McCarthy soon unearthed a long-extant record of suspect State Department employees dubbed the Lee List, actually compiled earlier by an former Red hunter know as Robert E. Lee. Incredibly, McCarthy, aware that attentive senators could easily see through his deception, coolly claimed he had raided State Department confidential files to expose the purportedly brand new intelligence. McCarthy banked heavily on power-hungry Republican political expedience to rule the day, and it did.
The Senate Majority Leader acquiesced to Republican Kenneth Wherry's motion for an all-out inquiry into McCarthy's salient indictments and actually granted the investigating committee power to subpoena the Truman Administration's security files, with the exception of those against specific persons, which, by that fact, restricted any prospect of uncovering the fabrications in McCarthy's claims. Republicans Henry Cabot Lodge and Bourke B. Hickenlooper were members appointed to the committee who were politically sympathetic to McCarthy, and their strong party support abetted the Senator's confident self-importance over Democrats and others who sought to restrain his reckless