Explain what McCarthy meant when he said, "When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be from enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

McCarthy's speech delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia was one of the first public calls McCarthy made claiming that the presence of Communists within the government threatened American principles and its way of life.  While the motives were not exactly clear and exact proof lacking, McCarthy was seeking to make the argument that the fear of Communism did not only spread abroad, but could also be originated at home.  McCarthy's main premise was that the subversive and supposedly dangerous nature of Communism was so seductively evil that it had to be vetted from the administrative and bureaucratic presence of Washington, D.C and federal government.  The language that he used in the speech was also quite deliberate.  The idea of "enemies from within" helped to foster the fear that the Communist walks amongst us and that, at any given time, an infiltration of American government from within could be launched if Americans were not vigilant and mindful of this threat.  McCarthy recognized from his days as a poker player in Washington that it is important to "play the hot hand."  For him, this was represented by the fear of Communism within Americans and being able to turn it inward did wonders for his career as he spent his days as a Senator accusing and seeking to find these "enemies from within," something he did with a noticeable lack of "decency."