Washington Gone Crazy

Fifty years ago, one of the most infamous characters in American history finally met a fitting fate. After years of abusing political enemies, Senator Joe McCarthy shriveled under the glare of a hot light he himself switched on. But according to an explosive new book, Senator Pat McCarran, the son of Irish immigrants, may in fact have had a greater impact on American political life than McCarthy. While McCarthy was getting in front of all the cameras, it was McCarran who was instrumental in actually getting laws in the books. Some of those laws were among the most regrettable of the 20th-century. Among them, it was McCarran who was responsible for clogging detention centers at Ellis Island, where immigrants who were thought to be subversive were detained. It goes without saying that this is an ironic legacy for a politician who himself was the child of immigrants. But then again, as Michael Ybarra's mammoth new biography of McCarran notes, McCarran's life was filled with complications and ironies. In "Washington Gone Crazy," Ybarra - a former Wall Street Journal reporter - outlines McCarran's rise to power, as well as his parents' painful trip from Ireland to the U.S. Despite his illiterate parents, the young McCarran became a successful rancher, then a judge and attorney. When the Great Depression rolled around, McCarran rode the Franklin D. Roosevelt wave into the Senate. But these two Democrats quickly clashed. McCarran ultimately earned a reputation as a fierce anti-Communist. For all of his shortcomings, McCarran's climb to the top of the American political heap should be recognized as a particularly Irish-American kind of success story. ($35 / 854 pages/Steerforth).

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