A new film by actor/director/political activist George Clooney resurrects a dark period of American history – and provides a much needed civics lesson for today.

Goodnight and Good Luck chronicles the historic, and heroic, stand of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow against right-wing demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his Constitution-threatening witch hunt of the 1950s.

The film is a warning about what can happen when fear and paranoia rule our government. But it is a warning already being ignored by a government dominated by the same right-wing extremism that allowed a egomaniacal drunk like McCarthy to drive a deep wedge into this country.

Sadly, little difference exists between McCarthy and the conservative fruitcakes who control our government today. McCarthy used paranoia about communism to drive his agenda. George W. Bush and the right-wing cabal that controls the House and Senate use paranoia over terrorism for the same purposes.

McCarthy shredded the Constitution with his abuse of Congressional subpoena power and contempt for individual rights and freedom of speech. The Bush White House and the Republican-controlled Congress hold the same contempt for freedom of speech and rights supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution.

McCarthy claimed his narrow view of the world was the only acceptable view and any opposing views were unpatriotic and un-American. Sound familiar? It should. We’ve heard the same claims from the current occupant of the White House and the hard-core elements of Congress.

Murrow, and legendary producer Fred Friendly, decided McCarthy’s threat to the American way of life had to be stopped and stood up to their own network and threats from McCarthy to expose the Senator for what he was – a vile, extremist ideologue who posed a far greater threat to America than the so-called “Red Scare.”

Unfortunately, we have not learned from the lessons of history and the same threat exists today. That threat comes not from an Islam-spouting religious extremist with a suicide bomb but from a “God talked to me” extremist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a time bomb of right-wing views.

George W. Bush and his extremist cronies in the House and Senate pose a far greater threat to our freedoms than any madman in a turban. Osama bin Laden doesn’t have to send any more fanatics to hijack planes as long as Bush and Congress are willing to destroy the foundations of this country with the rights-robbing USA Patriot Act and fuel fear of terrorism with over-hyped alerts and lies-based wars.

A fundamentalist Christian President who claims God told him to invade Iraq – an act that killed more than 150,000 civilians, mostly women and children – is not that much different from a fundamentalist Islamic fanatic who claims it is the will of Allah that he send young men to America to crash airliners into office buildings and kill 3,000 plus.

Both are extremists. Both are fanatics. Both use religion as an excuse to kill people. The only real difference is that one has heavy artillery and can kill a lot more innocent people with his extremism.

Joseph R. McCarthy would have been so proud of George W. Bush.