I wanted to change things up a little bit for my next bit of SAT essay evidence and go with someone a little less heroic than the examples I’ve used so far.
Negative or “evil” examples can have their place in a good SAT essay as well, and even though I’m usually in favor of writing a “positive” essay that makes the essay grader feel good about life (and be potentially more willing to give you a high score), a negative example can be a powerful tool for supporting your SAT essay thesis.
So, let’s talk about Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), a notorious U.S. Senator and Communist-(witch)-hunter, who provides some great examples of how power corrupts, and how lies and exaggerations may be effective in the short-term, but crumble in the long-term.
Ten facts about Joe McCarthy that could be helpful as SAT Essay examples:
1. Joseph McCarthy was an American politician best known as a senator for the state of Wisconsin from 1947 to 1957; during his first three years in office, he went mostly unnoticed.
2. McCarthy was commissioned (voluntarily) as an officer for America in World War II, possibly in order to further his own political career. Later he made multiple false claims about his military career (among them: he claimed to be in more combat missions than he actually was, he lied about the rank he started with to appeal to a wider public audience, and invented a story about a “war wound” from combat, which apparently was actually received during a non-combat ceremony!)
3. As a senator, his personality and speaking skills charmed Washington society, but his combative moods and quick temper quickly turned many fellow politicians against him.
4. The “menace” of Communist takeover was taking root in American public consciousness as McCarthy rose to power and offered a powerful fear for the senator to exploit in his rise to power.
5. In 1950, the senator became nationally famous for claiming to have a list of Communist subversives active in America. He gave a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he first made the public claim that he knew of Communist “loyalty risks” in positions of power in America.
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6. The response from the public and from the government was immediate and threw McCarthy into the national spotlight as a controversial and powerful, even feared, figure, who could and did ruin other people’s lives and careers by merely casting accusations of Communism without proof.
7. Riding the wave of his newfound power, McCarthy continued to make sensational accusations without providing conclusive evidence and twisted words, facts, and phrases to draw more attention to himself, to further his career, and to destroy his political enemies.
8. Popular opinion began to shift against McCarthy as his rage-filled rhetoric and lack of verifiable facts earned him more enemies than allies. His attempts to “root out Communists” were finally seen as the witch hunts that they truly were.
9. In 1954, the popular and well-respected television journalist Edward R. Murrow broadcast several documentary reports that were directly critical of the Senator, his methods, and “McCarthyism” in general, and McCarthy’s ensuing (and predictable) charges of Communist collaboration against the well-liked Murrow brought the senator to a new low of public opinion.
10. In the same year (1954), members of the Senate decided that they had their fill of McCarthy’s wild accusations and voted overwhelmingly to “censure” and “condemn” McCarthy. McCarthy’s health and career rapidly fell apart and he died in 1957, while still holding his position as a senator, despite frequent ridicule and disinterest from his fellow politicians.
Five possible SAT Essay prompts that McCarthy could relate to:
1. Are lies a more effective tool than the truth? (Use McCarthy to argue that sensational lies and exaggeration are highly effective in the short-term, but are not sustainable for the long-term, as the truth will come out)
2. What happens when too much power is in the hands of one person? (McCarthy gained too much power, too fast, and you might argue that he was unable to fully control the forces that he himself unleashed, which resulted in his destruction)
3. Does truth always come out in the end? (In this case, argue “yes” – Joe McCarthy’s lies were eventually exposed because he told too many of them, too often, and was eventually caught in a web of his own making)
4. Is fear a more powerful force than honesty/love/forgiveness, etc? (He could be used to argue either side – if “fear is more powerful,” then use the evidence from the early part of his career, when public fear of Communism allowed McCarthy’s rise to power. If “honesty is more powerful,” show how his tactics of fear and suspicion eventually turned the nation against him and eliminated him as a threat to the public well-being.)
5. Does power corrupt those who seek it? (In McCarthy’s case, “yes, yes, yes.” His maniacal drive for power was interwoven with deceit, dishonesty, anger, aggression, and it eventually destroyed him. He’s a great example for any questions about corruption or lust for power.) So that’s Joe McCarthy – an extremely powerful bit of SAT essay evidence for questions about corruption, power, deceit, and truth!
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