W. Averell Harriman had dined with Stalin.
That would be Joseph Stalin. The dictator of the Soviet Union, author of what historians now estimate to be some millions of executions — murder — of Russians. The two had chowed down together to discuss international events during a Harriman visit to Moscow during the war, before Harriman was chosen as the American Ambassador. An appointment made in part because of his willingness to chew the fat with Stalin.
Yet walking into a Washington, D.C. dinner party hosted by columnist Joseph Alsop after the 1950 elections, liberal icon Harriman — scion of Eastern Establishment railroad wealth, FDR’s liaison to Churchill, an ex-Ambassador, Truman Cabinet officer, future governor of New York and Democratic presidential hopeful — spotted someone in Alsop’s home he would decidedly not dine with.
Seeing California Senator-elect Richard M. Nixon comfortably ensconced in the next room, Harriman fumed in a loud voice: “I will not break bread with that man!” On the spot, he turned and walked out.
It was a telling moment.
A mere four years earlier Richard Nixon was an unknown local lawyer, Navy veteran and, briefly, a bureaucrat in the Office of Price Administration. In 1946 he had won a House seat from California in the Republican sweep that saw the GOP retake control of Congress for the first time in sixteen years.
Lots of Republicans had scored victories in 1946, but there was something about Nixon that set the teeth of the American liberal establishment on edge. Nixon had campaigned for Congress against a twelve-year Democratic incumbent named Jerry Voorhis, presumed to be a political Goliath, using the slogan: “Where’s the meat?”
“Where’s the meat?” meant, literally, just that. The federal government had smothered America with price controls during the war — but the war was over. Meat shortages were common. Butchers placed signs in their windows suggesting Americans ask their congressman “where’s the meat?” Nixon, who would prove to be one of the most astute politicians in the second half of the 20th century, lost no time in connecting the meat shortages to…. socialism and elitists.
To the shock of Democrats, Voorhis was the perfect foil. His father had been the wealthy chairman of the Nash Motor Company. He was a Yale graduate. In the 1920s, Nixon discovered, Voorhis had actually registered to vote as a Socialist, becoming a Democrat with the advent of the New Deal. The solitary piece of legislation he had gotten passed dealt with federal control of rabbits.
Nixon brilliantly painted a portrait of Voorhis as an elitist socialist, tying the shortage of meat to the idea of the Congressman as, in the words of Nixon biographer Jonathan Aitken, “too woolly a thinker.” Voorhis was ridiculed as the candidate of “Rabbits and Radicals.”
Nixon won, instantly famous.
Never forgiven by the Left to the day he died in 1994. Why? Because Nixon’s winning 1946 race marked the first serious beginning of what we regularly refer to in politics today as the divide between Red America and Blue America.
Victory in hand, Nixon went to Washington and immediately created a furor by exposing Alger Hiss, a favored son of the Eastern liberal Establishment, as a Communist spy. In spite of the fact that Hiss was convicted and went to prison, the charge was resisted by liberals for decades, with some still defending Hiss after the 1995 release of the Venona Papers — a joint U.S.-UK Cold War intelligence project — proved Nixon conclusively right.
Next up was Nixon’s 1950 Senate campaign against the liberal Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, a higher-visibility reprise of the winning campaign against Voorhis.
The central choice in 1950, said Nixon, polishing the theme he had so successfully used in 1946, was “simply the choice between freedom and state socialism.” He defeated Douglas going away. Shortly thereafter, now a U.S. Senator-elect, he was seated in Joe Alsop’s parlor when spotted by the liberal Establishment Harriman, who grew instantly furious at the sight of Nixon and walked out, uttering his famous comment as he went.
The 1946 Nixon race against Jerry Voorhis is in fact the template for political races across America some 64 years later. And the “where’s the meat” line is an excellent place to understand in 2010 when the “socialist” charge — now being flung repeatedly at President Obama and gaining traction in the polls — first began to be used to real political effect.
It was Nixon who first surfaced the idea that there was something not quite right with American society in the dawn of the post-war era. Millions of GI’s had seen the brutal reality of war close up. They had returned home, and whether blue-collar workers or those going to school on the GI Bill, they understood at a gut-level what Nixon was saying.
Somehow, in some uncomfortable fashion that Nixon intuited to spectacular political success, there was a divide opening between average Americans and what The American Spectator‘s Angelo Codevilla labels “America’s Ruling Class.”
By sheer luck of the political draw, Nixon’s first three battles involved opponents Voorhis, Hiss, and Gahagan Douglas — symbols all of a newly emerging liberal elitism.
Looking back years later in his 1961 book Six Crises, Nixon said of Hiss: “He believed in…principles of deliberate manipulation by a dedicated elite,” an observation Nixon extended to the larger group he cited as “liberalists,” a self-congratulatory term of liberal CBS commentator Eric Sevareid.
Nixon related the tale of a Washington dinner party (not the one involving Harriman) after it had been conclusively proved through the “Pumpkin Papers” that Hiss had in fact stolen State Department documents. Shouted one enraged liberal guest at Nixon: “I don’t give a damn what the facts are!” The be all and end all was the defense of a liberal, elitist worldview, a worldview which Nixon saw in 1946 as clearly designed to be forced on Americans whether or not they gave their consent. Their wishes and the facts be damned.
Nixon’s theme is now seen all over America in 2010 as Americans find themselves in open political revolt over seemingly unrelated issues. From the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan to the Obama insistence that all Americans be forced to buy health care to the overruling by a solitary federal judge of California’s democratically voted Proposition 8 forbidding gay marriage, to the Obama Arizona lawsuit — the common foe is the one first spotted by Nixon in 1946.
The attitude so perfectly illustrated by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg or California Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker: “Frankly, my fellow Americans, I don’t give a damn what you think. I am (fill-in the blank) better-smarter- morally superior to you ignorant fools and you will do what I say and shut up.”
That’s why Averell Harriman saw nothing wrong dining with Stalin — and everything wrong in breaking bread with Richard Nixon. To see the young Nixon — who had so bluntly challenged Establishment favorites and won — now literally seated in the parlor of a pillar of the Washington Establishment was to see the barbarian inside the gates.
Harriman and Nixon are long gone. But the battle as Nixon first saw it in 1946 is not only not over it is exploding almost daily in political battles around America.
And just like Averell Harriman, today’s liberals are incensed.
Because the barbarians are inside the gate.
That means you.