McCarthyism "Red-Baiting" in Orange County

California GOP Congressmember Michelle Steel—She Plays the McCarthy “Red-Baiting” Card in the OC (Orange County)-- October 16, 2022


The GOP basically understands that its positions, especially helping the top 1% and ignoring the middle class, just won’t play in most elections. So how does it keep winning in non-affluent districts? Answer--Republicans invoke the fear card. The fear card diverts attention from the reactionary stands “Team Red” takes on issues that the general American public just won’t ordinarily buy. The GOP trash their Democratic rivals without stop. In its book, Democrats are “soft on defense,” “soft on crime,” nothing but ruthless “big spenders” out to bankrupt the country, anti-God, anti-guns, etc. However, for over 70 years, the GOP’s major attack on the Democrats, the one that has been the most effective, has been “Team Blue” is “soft on communism.” In the 1950’s Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI), one big demagogue who paved the way for Donald, was able to terrorize much of the country. In fact, McCarthy’s ruthless lawyer and staffer was Roy Cohn, who later allied with and tutored Demagogue Donald in slash and burn political tactics (Haberman, “Confidence Man,” 2022). In a 1950’s- day Salem witch hunt, McCarthy erroneously claimed there were Communists under every chair, desk, and bed. He blamed Democrats for “losing China” to the Communists. His “investigations” made up lies about numerous people and tarred many liberals and individuals who once showed the slightest progressive sympathies. Many people were blacklisted or unable to keep their jobs because he falsely accused them of being Communists or “soft on Communism.” Most GOPers went along with McCarthy’s false accusations because they put the Democrats on the defensive. Most of the press did not do a very good job of uncovering and refuting McCarthy’s lies. They just reported them without rebutting them because they believed they made great headlines. Finally, when McCarthy went after GOP President Eisenhower and the Army he commanded, the GOP had enough. He was censured and died a few years later as an alcoholic. However, his poisonous legacy damaged the Democratic Party for years. Democrats were scared of “losing” any other countries to Communists, a key reason LBJ got entangled in Vietnam (Halberstam, “The Fifties,” 1993).

“Red-baiting,” or attacking one’s Democratic opponent, straight from the McCarthy playbook, is still used by GOP candidates, even in Campaign 2022. In the OC, Orange County CA, first-term Congressmember Michelle Steel (R-CA) won election in 2020, in part, by attacking first-term Democratic Harley Rouda by using this tactic. Her campaign mailed a flier that showed Rep. Rouda with a stylized picture of a beaming Communist Chinese leader, Chairman Mao, along with text alleging that Rouda’s voting record was “insufficiently tough against China (latimes.com., Mehta & Do, 9/30/22).” When this McCarthyite tactic worked against Rouda, Steel decided to double down with it in her second congressional race. In Campaign 2022 against Democrat Jay Chen, a campaign flier sent to Vietnamese voters in the OC was heavily doctored and designed to inflame. Democratic congressional nominee Jay Chen was photoshopped in front of a classroom of children with a copy of “The Communist Manifesto” in his hand. On the wall, were images of communist leaders, Chinese Chairman Mao, Russian Vladimir Lenin, and Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh. Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, is up there as well. A single fist doing the Black Power salute teaches the students the number “one.” The number “two” is symbolized by hands holding the Russian Communist hammer and sickle. Written in Vietnamese on the chalkboard is the sentence, “Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classes (latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 9/30/22).” The mailer features the Democratic donkey, an antifa flag, and a drawing of a Black child standing on the highest pile of books to be at the same level of two white children under the word “equity (latimes.conm, Mehta & Do, 9/30/22).” Wow! McCarthyism and racism combined. Who is this Michelle Steel?


First-term Congressmember Michelle Steel is currently running in the newly redistricted CA 45th Congressional District (CD). When first elected, in 2020, she defeated Rouda in the CA 48th CD which included the OC cites of Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa. That district had a Cook PVI, Partisan Voting Index, of R+1. In 2020, Steel defeated Rouda by a two-point margin, 51%-49% (Cohen & Cook 20222 Political Almanac). After CA’s post-2020 re-districting, Steel decided to run in the new CA 45th . The new CA 45th CD was created by an independent redistricting panel and will be in effect for the next 10 years. The new 45th, where GOPer Steel (67) is running against Democrat Jay Chen (44), is more competitive than the previous 48th and will shift more Democratic in voter population with a 5-point “Blue” voter registration edge (jdsupra.com, Cardoza, Merrill et al, 1/13/22, latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 9/30/22). In 11/2020 Joe Biden won the current 45th over Trump by a 6.1% margin (ballotpedia.org). The current 45th CD includes the Asian American hubs of Westminster, Cerritos, and Artesia. It additionally contains the northern part of the city of Fullerton, as well as Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, and Midway City (latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 4/29/22, fullertonobserver.com, Salman & La Tour, 5/11/22, michellesteelca.com, 12/21). The 45th is split between LA County cities and OC County ones. According to Political Data Intelligence, a consulting firm that specializes in information about the nation’s electorate, one-third of the district’s voters are Asian American. People of Vietnamese descent account for 16% of the voters. Another 5% are Korean American. The 45th also includes voters with Chinese ,Filipino, Japanese, and Indian ancestries (latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 4/29/22)

The CA 45th CD is home to the largest concentration of people of Vietnamese descent outside of Vietnam. Many of these Vietnamese Americans settled in the U.S and in the OC after South Vietnam’s defeat by the North Vietnamese Communists in the Vietnam War (See Mehta & Do, 4/29/22, latimes.com). When the Vietnamese refugees resettled in the OC, that area was a longtime conservative bastion. The OC was then a Republican stronghold that considered Goldwater, OC native Nixon, and Reagan heroes. The conspiratorial John Birch Society was strong in that OC and Joe McCarthy “red baiting” was respectable there. This old OC pushed CA into the GOP camp many times in presidential and senatorial elections, often overwhelming any Democratic leads in LA County. However, in 2016 and 2020, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden became the first presidential candidates to carry the OC since FDR in the 1930’s. In 2018, all the OC congressional districts went for the Democrats. Many Latinos, young people, and individuals working in high-tech jobs, as opposed to the formerly OC conservative-leaning aerospace-employed engineers, have flipped this county to a more “Blue”-leaning area (Money, latimes.com, 11/04/20). In 2020, however, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, took back two of the seven OC- based congressional districts that Democrats had won in 2018 (See ocregister.com, Staggs, 11/07/19, latimes.com, Money, 11/04/20). Among older Asian-Americans, especially Vietnamese Americans, there is a strong GOP lean. This group, like many of the older Cuban-Americans who fled Castro and settled in FL, hold very strong anti-Communist feelings. Many Vietnamese Americans blame Democrats for “losing” South Vietnam and they see the GOP as their champion in the never-ending struggle against Communism. In this OC area, there is a history of fiery visceral anti-Communist and anti-Democratic politics (See latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 4/29/22). In 2020, despite Biden taking the OC by 10 points, 54%-44%, he lost “Little Saigon,” the OC Westminster area, now part of Steel’s 45th CD. “Little Saigon,” had voted for Hillary in 2016, but flipped to Trump when Biden ran (ocregister.com, Staggs, 11/13/20).


Seoul, South Korean native Michelle Eunjoo Park Steel’s father was a diplomat who took his family to Japan. When he died, her mother emigrated to the U.S. Michelle Steel received her undergraduate degree in business from Pepperdine University and a Master’s degree from USC. She speaks Korean and Japanese fluently (Cohen & Cook 2022, singtao.com, 8/23/06). Steel became politically active after her mother received a tax bill from the State Board of Equalization which Steel believed her mother did not owe. Steel learned about this normally obscure board that is responsible for tax administration and collection and decided to run for an office on it. She won election to the Board of Equalization in 2006 and became one of its five members. She served there from 2007-2015, when she was term-limited. Steel bragged, “I stopped a lot of taxes! I did whatever I could (Coheb & Cook, 2022).” In 2014, Steel was elected to the OC Board of Supervisors where she served from 2015-2021. The OC’s Board of Supervisors deals with taxes and spending, traffic congestion, and clean beaches. This five-member board selects its chair and vice-chair for one-year terms. In 2020, Steel began her second term as supervisorial board chair. The OC Board of Supervisors deals with CA’s third largest county and sixth largest in the nation. Besides holding these offices, Steel has additional top political connections. Her husband Shawn Steel, a personal injury attorney, chaired the CA GOP. Since 2008, her husband has been CA’s Republican National Committeeman (Cohen & Cook, 2022). Former controversial GOP Cong. Dana Rohrabacher suggested that Michelle Steel run against Rouda in 2020. When Steel determined that 2/3 of her supervisorial district was in the then 48th CD, she opposed Rouda in his re-election bid. In addition to “Red-baiting” Rouda, Steel defeated him by objecting to an OC requirement for wearing masks during the COVI-19 pandemic, an issue that Trump and right-wing GOPers had politicized (See Cohen & Cook 2022). In 3/2018, Steel showed her loyalties to Demagogue Donald. She was the only elected official who greeted him when he landed at LAX on his first official visit to CA while president. Trump appointed Steel to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Gerda, N., .voiceofoc.org, 3/15/18, rafu.com, 2/03/19). She and husband Shawn supported the unsuccessful recall initiative against CA Dem. Gov. Gavin Newsom and endorsed right-wing provocateur Larry Elder to replace him (D’Urso, 8/17/21, spectrumnews1).


In 1/2021, Steel tested positive for COVID-19, but had mild symptoms. She referenced her own mild bout with COVID in pushing to open up schools and businesses, but ignored the hundreds of thousands who had died or had become very sick from this pandemic (See losangeles.cbslocal.com, 1/28/21). As of 7/2022, Cong. Steel had voted in line with Pres. Biden only 19.2% of the time. She voted against the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID relief. She joined a majority of GOP Representatives in signing an amicus brief to overturn Roe v. Wade, which the Supreme Ct. did in the “Dobbs” case. Steel has an A+ rating from the Susan B. Anthony List for voting to restrict abortions. She also voted against the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Steel joined several other GOP congressional first-termers in the Freedom Force, a right-wing informal group billed as a counterpart to the Democratic-lefist Squad (wiki, projects.fivetthirtyeight.com, Bycoffe & Wiederkehr, 4/22/21).



Meet Cong. Steel’s 11/2022 opponent, Democrat Jay Chen. Chen is the son and grandson of Taiwanese immigrants. His grandmother fled Communist China. He rightly called Steel’s “soft on Communist China” fliers “ridiculous.” He added, “I thought it was really absurd and, beyond that, really dangerous the way she (Steel) is exploiting fears within the immigrant community for political gain (latimes.com, 9/30/22, Mehta & Do).” Exactly. Jay grew up in Southern CA, attended local public schools, and graduated with honors from Harvard. Chen is far from being “soft” on any form of Communism. Look at his record. He is a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserves and a member of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet. He additionally holds a Top Secret-SCI clearance as an Intelligence Officer. In 2020, Chen was mobilized to the Middle East to support Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign to defeat ISIS (Chen for Congress). Chen was recently re-elected to his second term on the Board of Trustees for Mt. San Antonio Community College (Mt. SAC), one of CA’s largest community colleges. CA community colleges are a major component of the Golden State’s top higher education system. Before serving on Mt. SAC’s board, Chen served eight years on the Board of Education for the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, the largest district in Southern CA’s San Gabriel Valley, where he was twice elected Board President (Chen for Congress). IMHO, he has the leadership qualities and then some to be a Congressmember. Chen has been endorsed, among others, by Cong. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Grace Meng (D-NY), and Judy Chu (D-CA). Chen is also endorsed by Planned Parenthood, VoteVets, AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander), and the Orange County Labor Federation (Chen for Congress).


In Congress, Chen will push for rebuilding our infrastructure, especially roads and bridges. He will fight against traffic bottlenecks. With his school board and community college background, Chen is for expanding educational opportunities for all. He wants money to reduce class sizes, invest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs, and hire exceptional teachers. He wants to expand early childhood education as well. Being a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves, Chen is second to none in supporting veterans, those currently serving, and their families. He wants to streamline the VA and fight veterans’ homelessness. He is for expanding mental health services and increasing suicide prevention programs for veterans. In this post-Roe repeal era, Chen believes that reproductive rights should be protected at all costs, and that health care decisions must be made between a woman and her doctor. The repeal of Roe and its right to have an abortion endangers the health and safety of all women in the U.S. Should he win a congressional seat, Chen will support legislation to expand funding for reproductive healthcare services including Planned Parenthood and services that provide preventative healthcare, education, and access to contraceptives. He is for promoting paid family leave and expanding childcare options. Chen, who headed an intelligence team to fight ISIS, understands that the U.S. must be a leader in the fields of human rights and democracy. After the Trump administration, Chen understands that our country must restore our standing in the world and among our allies by upholding human rights and democratic principles both at home and abroad. Chen will be a fighter against the suppression of voting rights in the U.S. and will work to pass legislation that will strengthen voting rights to protect our democracy (chenforcongress.com/on the issues).



Can Chen defeat “Red-baiting” Steel in the newly drawn 45th CD? Because Steel has represented much of this area on the OC Board of Supervisors, her familiarity with this region gives her an edge. In addition, in the 2022 primary, the two GOPers running against Chen, Steel and Long Pham, took 56.8% of the vote to Chen’s 43.1%. Chen will have to cut away some of the voters who went for Steel and Pham to win in 11/2022. The most recent ratings by political analysts, including the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections, put this race in the “Toss Up” camp (Chen for Congress). Chen will have to make this a base election, getting out Democrats and moderates in droves to win. And of course, Chen and his fellow Democrats must never “misunderestimate” the Joe McCarthy “soft of Communism” smears Steel keeps using in her attacks. The 45th CD is now the only OC congressional race that is truly competitive for either party (Chen for Congress). The “soft on Communism” fliers GOPer Steel crafted and funded would still be effective in much of the country, and especially in this heavily Asian American district. UC San Diego Associate Professor of Political Science Tom Wong stated that “if there is a rumor a candidate has ties to some kind of past regime that an AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) has fled, it can be incredibly damaging (latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 9/30/22).” Already, the Viet Bao Daily News, an influential Vietnamese American paper in the area, has received questions from the community about whether these attacks by Steel on Chen are true. This paper refuted as misleading a charge on Steel’s flier that Chen attended Peking University (latimes.com, Mehta & Do, 9/30/22). Steel also accuses Chen of mocking her accent, which he denies. She has ridiculously accused Chen of sexism as well (Meth & Do, 4/29/22). Chen has been named a first round DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) Red-To-Blue candidate which makes this race one of the party’s top priorities. Chen will have to fight hard against Steel’s McCarthy smears to win. Democrats must not cower as too many did against McCarthyism in the 1950’s. Such false charges must be repeatedly met head on. Our democracy depends on it.

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