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March 21, 2007


If you would like to write more informed comments on Hiss, there is a good book on the Hiss case--"Alger Hiss, the true story" (1976) by John Chabot Smith. The entire Hiss-Chambers connection was fabricated whole cloth to frame Hiss for broader political purposes--by making Hiss look Commie, the entire Truman/Roosevelt era became suspect; it may have been part of Operation Mockingbird (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird). The Hiss 'persecution' also came in handy in getting RMN (Mr. Nobody at that time) appointed VP after Hiss voluntarily appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to deny Chambers's accusations. Some Committee members had misgivings at first about attacking Hiss, but Congressman Nixon had inside information not available to your ordinary Member of Congress. Chambers' book Witness is hogwash filled with secret non-existent meetings, secret codes, made-up stories, outright lies, and other jibberish.

Please strike the first 11 words of my last post. I regretted them as soon as it posted but there is no way to edit. Your article is quite good. The Hiss case seems to involve many books and articles that appear out of nowhere and are based on false information. One example from Wikipedia is Nathaniel Weyl who in February 1952 testified before the McCarran Committee that he had been a member of the Ware group in 1933 and that Hiss also had been a member at the time. His testimony corroborated that of Chambers, but Weyl had not testified at Hiss's trial, leaving Chambers as the only witness to testify at first hand that Hiss was a Communist or a spy. By 1952 Hiss had already been convicted, and thus, Weyl's belated testimony was moot. Of interest is that in 1950--after Hiss was convicted--Weyl wrote a book on the history of treason in the US. In a chapter devoted to the Hiss case, Weyl expressed doubt about Hiss's guilt and made no reference to the personal knowledge about the case that would later be the basis of his testimony before the McCarran Committee. This obvious discrepancy and his failure to come forward as a witness in the Hiss trials have never been explained. The point being that another book many years later pointing to Hiss guild should be examined with a microscope, and it is likely, in my opinion, that the book you cite has a similar background to that of Weyl.


I think you're right about just how central the Alger Hiss affair is to the Republican right-wing's framing of the Democratic party as closet socialists who are suspect on national defense. The Vietnam debacle is clearly traceable to Kennedy's and Johnson's paranoia about the Republicans crucifying them the way Truman was crucified over the "loss" of China and the Russian atomic bomb. The DC Conventional Wisdom that reveres Truman today conveniently forgets the collapse of Truman's popularity in 1950-52. Vietnam fractured the Democratic party even more than civil rights, and of course the antiwar faction of the party continue to be tarred with the Hiss brush up to the present day, which has led to Michael Dukakis being photographed in an Abrams tank, John Kerry voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, and Hillary Clinton still attempting to triangulate on the war.

While I agree that the Republicans have been far more sophisticated about this technique than the Democrats, it's not as if the Democrats are entirely clueless on this score -- after all, the Democrats reversed seventy-odd years of Republican dominance in Washington beginning in 1932, and kept running against Herbert Hoover with great success right up to the 1968 election. Even then Hubert overcame a 15 point deficit in the opinion polls to make the race a dead heat by pairing Nixon with Hoover. Nixon in turn did not dismantle New Deal Washington because he still felt vulnerable on that flank. It took Reagan to slay Hoover's ghost -- and he did it in part by freely appropriating FDR, Truman and JFK.

There is no reason that we can't make Dubya the new Hoover. Many of our newly-elected Democratic congressmen and senators are already advancing the theme, and we can re-educate the incumbents the way the Alben Barkleys and Tom Connellys of yesteryear were re-educated. The ones who can't get with the program, like Alfred E. Smith, will be left behind. Hillary might profitably spend some time contemplating the fate of the Happy Warrior.

I agree with Sara about how the Right used the Hiss case, though I am agnostic on whether Hiss was associated with the CP or not, not having sufficient info.

DeWitt Grey has a good point about Hoover, though, and GWB's chiegf legacy (apart from Iraq) is going to be the fallout from excessive deficits, including recession, and from excessive deregulation. The Dems have begun to lay that narrative, but they should accelerate the process so that the next Pres doesn't get tarred with that brush too.


Exactly what I had in mind -- the Republicans can scapegoat Cheney, Libby and Rove for the abuses of power, just as they did not so long ago to Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichmann, but the narrative that will endure is the way that Bush took the peace and prosperity that prevailed when he took office and turned it into a calamitous and unnecessary war, the treasury looted, and an economy that has further enriched the rich at the expense of the middle and working classes.

We need to remember that the conventional media of the time fought FDR every inch of the way. We will need to do a lot more thinking outside the box as the New Dealers did to restore our country.

"The law applies to this scene -- a scene that was about offering up US stuff to the Stalinists, but it also applies to those who want to warn us of the danger from those who would destroy the constitution, the Bushies being target one right now and Joe and Valerie Wilson being our warning agents"

To me it has been clear that the neocom network is working in behalf of Israel. Libby was the link at the VPO, as there were links in the state department, Bush inner circle and elsewhere in the administration. AIPAC has been working overtime for years.http://tinyurl.com/2nky6g
Yet as many politicaly correct writes refuse to acknowledge facts when it comes to Israel, what it makes you think that Democrats will build a Hiss case in absence of a monolith ideology such as communism?

As I tried to make clear, I don't want to reargue the details of the Hiss Case. Personally, I took the pretty common Left of Center stance for many years "He was Framed" -- and in the process learned all too much for my own good about typefaces on early 1920's Woodstock Typewriters -- but in recent years I have become more agnostic. What makes the case important now is how it was used politically from 1950's and his conviction for perjury, right up to the near present.

My concern following the arguments about whether Conyers should be authorized to subpoena -- whether Leahy should also have such authorization -- is that we don't seem to understand how to frame Libby's conviction (for lying and Obstruction of Justice), into a rejoinder that further undercuts trust in Bush's 'honesty.'

If there was no WH security investigation regarding the leaking of the identity of Plame-Wilson, if the Chief of Staff to the VP and Counselor to the President was convicted of lying to a Grand Jury and the FBI -- how can anyone "TRUST" the supposed truth telling about the fired USA's? Yea, I know in polite society it is underhanded political rhetoric, but it is also necessary branding. If we don't add one case of lying on to the next and next -- we loose the value of what was achieved when the Jury came back Guilty in the Libby Case. The public has very short memory, which is why, to be effective, things have to be repeated over and over again in various contexts. We have to graft each subject on to and into the next one. A pattern of lying?

If you were to walk into the front door of The Heritage Foundation, or The Leadership Institute, or any other conservative organization in DC filled with True Believers, and to speak with a few of them, you would find that Whitaker Chambers' book "Witness" is high on the list as mandatory reading for all members of the club. It is near the core of their ethic of fear that America would have been destroyed by Commies if brave men like Chambers, Nixon, and Tailgunner Joe had not banded together to save it. So, the truth or lack thereof of the Hiss accusations is a major fabrication at the heart of an epochal social struggle. Take the air out of those tires or sails, and they collapse. Read the book "Alger Hiss, the true story" (1976) by John Chabot Smith because the truth always matters.

Even though as we see today, the truth can be complex, if you are diligent in your pursuit, it will out--Hiss was framed to serve a cause, he was the yellow-cake of his day, only there was no Fitz.

The perspective taken in Sara's initial post is so wacked out it makes me wonder if Democrats and/or liberals will ever have any hope of getting anywhere through an electoral strategy. (Make no mistake: the 2006 election results has zip to do with any thought-out Democratic strategy; they stemmed solely from the electorate's belated disgust with the Iraq war and how Bush has mishandled it.)

I take no position on Hiss's guilt or innocence; but the mere idea of comparing his purported transgressions with those of Scooter Libby, as Sara does, points to an ignorance of politics so complete that it's hard to even say anything about it.

The point of Sara's post IS primarily politics and electoral strategy, not legalisms. Within that framework, to evaluate her interpretation of the importance of the Hiss case for the conduct of US national elections over the ensuing 50 years, it doesn't much matter whether Hiss was actually guilty or not. The public largely accepted his guilt, and it is that which set the tone of political debate. On these points I have no quarrel with Sara.

Where she goes wrong -- woefully, monumentally wrong -- is in presuming that the Bush White House's vendetta against Wilson and outing of Plame, will ever or can ever resonate with the electorate even 10% as much as the purported crimes of Hiss and of HUAC's other targets who had held high posts in Democratic administrations.

Hiss, as Sara points out, was not convicted of being a spy. He was convicted of lying about being a spy (CP member). That distinction is a legal one, with little or no political significance.

I would think any liberal Democrat with an IQ in triple digits would instantly, viscerally recognize that fact. From the standpoint of electoral politics, Hiss counts as a traitor and a spy -- not just a liar.

After all, what high-level Administration figure was recently proven to have lied (and actually admitted having lied) under oath in a number of contexts that, under different circumstances, would surely have led to a perjury conviction?

Bill Clinton, of course. And what happened to him? Basically, nothing. And why nothing? Because of the SUBJECT MATTER and CONTEXT of his lies. He lied about his own sexual behavior. For that reason alone, when push came to shove, the general public judged his transgressions to be something much less the major political issue that various wingnuts and their fellow-travelers in the GOP-dominated House tried to turn it into.

As should be evident from my choice of words, I agree with the public's judgment on that point.

The principle that's been established here is, if you're caught lying in a public-policy context, the degree of political impact depends first and foremost on what it is you lied about. The electorate is neither stupid nor trapped within legal formalities; they naturally look mainly at big picture.

OK, so the White House vendetta against Wilson and his wife was ugly...and worse. Outing a CIA agent for political purposes is hardly what Joe Voter would expect from a patriotic president, vice president, or vice president's chief of staff.

Still, compared with giving nuclear secrets to the Commies, it's pretty small potatoes.

Remember too that Hiss's trial happened right around the time the Russians exploded their first A-bomb (which, presumably, every American at that time assumed was rightfully ours alone, and would remain ours alone more or less forever); and only a few years after the Russians, our supposed allies in WWII, had turned around and seized half of Europe, and made plenty of noise that they were on the point of invading the other half at any moment; and just a few years later, the Russians smacked the American ego yet again by beating us into space with Sputnik.

From a political standpoint, these events were far more threatening to the American sense of security and faith in our future, than anything that has come or is likely to come out of the Iraq misadventure.

Bottom line: the Libby conviction and the despicable behavior that led to it definitely should be utilized within an electoral strategy aimed at taking votes and seats away from Republicans (and from anyone who supported the Iraq war or Bush).

But thinking it has the potential to become a defining moment for how Americans will perceive the relative patriotism of Republicans versus Democrats over a decade or longer, is, in a word, insane.

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