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Tail-Gunner Jamie

Just like Tail-Gunner Joe McCarthy, Comer is throwing out wild accusations without evidence. Will “Comerism” come to mean the same as “McCarthyism”?

5 min read

Bill Straub, Northern Kentucky Tribune Washington columnist, has a new nickname for Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.:

“Just call him Tail-Gunner Jamie.”

The handle is a takeoff on Sen. Joseph “Tail-Gunner Joe” McCarthy, who shamelessly pandered to post-World War II Communist hysteria and ginned up a second national Red Scare. (A Marine intelligence officer in World War II, McCarthy flew a few missions — mostly out of harm’s way — as a tail gunner-observer.)

McCarthy notoriously claimed — falsely — that a slew of communists and communist sympathizers had infiltrated the federal government, the U.S. armed forces, higher education, Hollywood, and other sectors of society.

“Tail-Gunner Joe” left a “trail of havoc and personal destruction [that] qualifies him as one of the most despicable political villains of the 20th century,” wrote Washington Post alum Robert G. Kaiser in a review of Larry Tye's book, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy.

Kaiser added that McCarthy and Donald Trump “have a great deal in common, starting with a gift for fabulation – making stuff up.” Comer is similarly blessed.

Ultimately, McCarthy’s recklessness, demagoguery, and flat lying was too much even for some Republican Senators, including Kentucky’s John Sherman Cooper. He and 21 other GOP lawmakers joined the Democrats in censuring “Tail-Gunner Joe” in 1954. Discredited and disgraced, McCarthy died in office in 1957. He was 48.

Comer, who represents Kentucky’s First District and chairs the House Oversight Committee, has no up-front, Cooper-like detractors on his side of the House aisle. At any rate, he continues to claim fecklessly — and without evidence — that the Bidens are crooks. (McCarthy was notorious for promising he had hard evidence of widespread communist subversion stateside. He never produced any.)

Comer has been all over right-wing TV vowing he has an informant who could expose the Biden crime family. Problem was, the guy was “missing,” Comer confessed.

Turns out, Comer's guy, Gal Luft, is on the lam. On Monday, the Justice Department unsealed a November 2022 indictment charging the dual Israeli-American citizen and U.S. think tank co-director “with arms trafficking, sanctions violations, and acting as an unregistered agent for China,” The New York Times reported.

Comer, of course, says the charges are purely political. Straub doesn’t buy it.

“For those of you who thought Joe McCarthy is dead, it’s time for you to meet Rep. Jamie Comer, a walking, talking disgrace of a human being who has fully absorbed the sleaze-ball spirit of the long-discredited Senator from Wisconsin through his reckless use of lies, hyperbole, and unsubstantiated accusations that are exercising great harm on the nation he is pledged to serve and protect,” wrote Straub, who spent years covering politics in Frankfort and Washington.

The Kentucky Journalism Hall of Famer reloaded and fired another broadside: “Comer, R-WhereverHeHangsHisHatIsHisHome, is a nitwit, but he’s a cunning nitwit, which makes him the worst kind, using his position as chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee to level outrageous and unproven accusations against President Biden, ranging from claims he pocketed a $5 million bribe to playing footsie with Chinese Communists, in what amounts to an obvious Comer ploy to grab some sort of political edge, responsibility and fair play be damned.”

McCarthy’s name lives on in the term “McCarthyism,” which The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language online defines as “1. The political practice of publicizing accusations of disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence; and 2. The use of methods of investigation and accusation regarded as unfair, in order to suppress opposition.”

Who knows if “Comerism” will end up in dictionaries as a variant of “McCarthyism.” But Straub is hardly alone in taking on “Tail-Gunner Jamie.”

"The cast of Morning Joe could barely contain their laughter as they mocked Congressman James Comer (R-KY) over the reversal of fortune about the whistleblower he promised would expose the Biden family’s criminal corruption,” wrote Mediaite’s Ken Meyer.

“ ... Luft was arrested in Cyprus earlier this year, but is currently a fugitive after skipping bail while awaiting extradition to the United States. This comes after Comer spent months touting the House Oversight Committee’s informant on President Joe Biden and Hunter Biden, just for the whistleblower to go MIA.”

Host Joe Scarborough, a former Florida GOP congressman, asked in feigned astonishment, “I mean, seriously. How could we have doubted ... [Comer]?”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski proposed another nickname for “Tail-Gunner Jamie”: “Comer Simpson.”

Guest Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, joined the fun: “Oh, the shame. Oh, the humanity. How could we have doubted?”

The Comer roast might have been payback time.

Comer had gone on Newsmax TV, a mainstay in the loony right-wing media fever swamp, and declared that his guy is “very credible and the people on MSNBC who made fun of me when I said we had an informant that was missing, they should feel like fools right now. And this is their worst nightmare.”

“Tail-Gunner Jamie,” for the umpteenth time, “let his mouth overload his posterior” as we say in western Kentucky. (Okay, we don’t say “posterior.” But Forward Kentucky is family-friendly.)

Straub also lampooned Comer “and his crackerjack crew of right-wing hoopleheads” for trying to compare “the Bidens to the Gambinos and the Genoveses of the world.”

“Tail-Gunner Jamie,” according to Straub, is “winging it,” McCarthy-like, “circulating wild accusations that don’t bear up under the slightest scrutiny. He’s been unable to identify any wrongdoings by the group he smugly refers to as the Biden Crime Family and levels so many absurd allegations it’s impossible to address them all.”

While “Tail-Gunner Joe” did himself in, it’s not clear when — or if — “Tail Gunner Jamie” will hoist himself on his own petard.

“The whole mess can be reduced to Comer’s pitiful effort to make political differences into corruption,” Straub wrote. “And there’s no one to stop his evil way and McCarthy tactics.”

He recalled that on June 1, 1950, Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith “took to the chamber floor to make what she characterized as a ‘Declaration of Conscience,’ in which she denounced “the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle,” obviously referring to McCarthy.

Without naming “Tail-Gunner Joe,” she said the Senate had been “debased.”

Straub quoted her: “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear.”

Although a half-dozen Republicans endorsed her declaration, censure didn’t come for another four years.

Comer must figure that his neo-McCarthyism, rooted in “fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear” — like Trumpism — is playing well in his mega-gerrymandered district, which sprawls from Fulton to Frankfort. In a telephone interview with FK, Straub suggested that Comer is scoring points back home, or, at the least. “is probably not hurting himself.”

He’s likely right. Comer cruised to reelection last November, winning in blowouts every district county over a largely uknown and underfunded Democrat. The First is Trump territory, too. He bagged every county both times he ran.

Those of us in the First whose politics lean decidedly leftward — we’re an endangered species — are getting a kick out of “Tail-Gunner Jamie” and “Comer Simpson.”

But I am reminded of a story about Benito Mussolini, Italy’s pompous, strutting, bloviating, almost clownish dictator. Supposedly, one of Duce’s Fascist flunkies told him Americans were making fun of him.

“I don’t care,” Mussolini reportedly replied. “I only care what Italians think of me.”

Likewise, Comer is mostly concerned about the folks back home voting him another term and doesn’t give a flip what we few — we left-liberal few — make of him.

Mussolini ruled Italy from 1922 until 1943 when his Fascist inner circle deposed and arrested him. Italy surrendered to the Allies and switched sides. (His pal Hitler had him rescued and put in charge of a bogus short-lived mini-Fascist state in northern Italy. Anti-Fascist partisans executed the Duce in 1945, just before World War II in Europe ended in German defeat.)

Comer may think only his Trump-tilting constituents count. But history isn’t likely to be any kinder to “Tail-Gunner Jamie” than it has been to “Tail-Gunner Joe.” More likely, historical anonymity, or close to it, will be Comer’s fate.


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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY