Alger Hiss. Barack Obama. Bill Maher.
By way of explanation for those who came in late, for Americans newly emerged from the triumph over evil that was World War II, the name Alger Hiss became the very first symbol of the next chapter in American history: the Cold War. Hiss, the son of America’s middle class, grew up in Baltimore, advancing American-style with an education at Johns Hopkins University and then, like Obama, it was on to Harvard Law School. There he became an Establishment whiz kid, a golden boy in the making. By the time he was a mere 44 Hiss’s career in government was blue ribbon. A clerkship to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, senior staff positions in New Deal Washington including the U.S. Senate, the Solicitor General’s office and, finally, the State Department as an aide to Woodrow Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of State son-in-law. It was in his State Department job that Hiss accompanied President Franklin Roosevelt to the Yalta summit with Stalin. Ditto with giving him the opportunity to play a central role in the organizing conference of the United Nations in San Francisco.
While all of this made Hiss a familiar favorite player with the press and Establishment insiders, what brought him fame — and ultimately brought him down — was the charge in 1948 that throughout a considerable portion of his career he was in fact a Soviet spy.
The purpose here is not to recount the particulars of the Hiss case. After a series of stunning events, finally including the revelation of stolen State Department documents that conclusively proved Hiss’s guilt, Hiss went to prison. It was what surfaced in the course of the Hiss episode that in retrospect has had such an increasingly decisive impact on American politics since the Hiss case, particularly on the image of Democrats nationally. That “it” is, of course, the charge of “elitism,” a charge freshly made against Senator Obama in the wake of his famous “bitter” remark about the residents of small towns in Pennsylvania. A charge that gets subsumed in the controversy over anti-Catholic bigotry as vividly brought to life by HBO’s Bill Maher’s recent tirade against an entire religion.
But when did this “elitism” business in the party of Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Al Smith, FDR and Harry Truman first surface?p>Listen to the descriptions of the Hiss case as presented by two of Hiss’s most famous antagonists, then California Congressman Richard Nixon, and Whittaker Chambers, the man who, at great personal sacrifice, came forward to finger Hiss. First is Nixon, writing in his 1962 book Six Crises . He writes here of Hiss in his first public appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, of which freshman Congressman Nixon was a member: br> /p>
His manner was coldly courteous, and, at times, almost condescending….Hiss’s friends from the State Department, other government agencies, and the Washington social community sitting in the front rows of the spectator section broke into a titter of delighted laughter. Hiss acknowledged his reaction to his sally [to the Committee Chairman Karl Mundt, a South Dakota Republican] by turning his back to the Committee, tilting his head in a courtly bow, and smiling graciously at his supporters.br> Now here is Chambers on the larger episode, as he wrote in his own classic book Witness : br>
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online