A longtime columnist and associate editor of the Washington Post suggested the new House oversight chairman might follow in the footsteps of one of US history's most notorious demagogues.

David Ignatius on Wednesday warned Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his Republican colleagues not to get too comfortable with their new subpoena powers, writing on the Washington Post's "PostPartisan" blog that it would tempt them to pursue "witch-hunts."

In the post -- titled "Is Darrell Issa the new Joe McCarthy?" -- Ignatius examines Issa's expressed desires to conduct a panoply of probes into the Obama administration, which the California Republican has labeled "one of the most corrupt."

"When you see the righteous gleam in Issa's eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public's business but ended up pursuing vendettas," Ignatius wrote. "... And, more chilling, I think of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's use of that subcommittee to probe what he imagined was Communist Party subversion in America."

McCarthy, a US Senator from Wisconsin during the 1940s and 1950s, was branded a demagogue and censured by the Senate for impugning the patriotism of public servants without cause, after which he resigned in disgrace.

As chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa possesses considerable power to conduct federal investigations and to steer the regulatory regime, and appears intent on using that power against President Obama and his Democratic adversaries.

While Issa argues that his goal is merely to seek greater accountability in government, critics fear his intentions are more partisan than substantive as an invigorated Republican Party prepares to take on Obama in the 2012 elections.

Ignatius, whose political beliefs compromise regular defenses of fiscal responsibility and sympathy for the tea party's stated goals therein, averred that Issa "doesn't come across as a McCarthyite." But he warned the senior Republican that power can corrupt.

"But he now has the whip in his hand, and investigative power, as we have so many times in American history, can be grotesquely abused," he concluded.