July 23, 2012
The State Department official is accused of being connected to a vast foreign conspiracy, hostile to America. The official denies it, as the Establishment rallies around the accused official. Indeed, Establishmentarians not only dismiss any possibility of the official’s guilt or complicity, but they also ferociously denounce those who raise the possibility. After all, the official is a part of the in-group; it just isn’t possible to think that the official could do anything wrong. The Establishment is thus united around the proposition that the accused official is a good person, and that the accusers are bad people. And anyone who deviates from that orthodoxy risks being thrown out of the Georgetown-to-Manhattan golden circle of status and respectability.
Am I describing the case of Huma Abedin, the aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? No, I am describing the case of Alger Hiss, back in the 1940s. Hiss, who spent a decade working in the State Department, was accused of being a Soviet spy by Whittaker Chambers in 1948. And Chambers’ charges were brought before the Congress by a young House freshman, Richard Nixon.
President Harry Truman, called the charges against Hiss “a red herring”--that is, bogus. And he was joined by the rest of the Establishment, which, after two decades of the New Deal and Fair Deal, was solidly liberal and immune to the thought that a liberal could really be a communist.
Yet the evidence against Hiss--the so-called “pumpkin papers” cited by Chambers and Nixon--proved to be strong, and so he was indicted on perjury charges in 1949. Even then, liberal luminaries of the day, such as Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and then-Illinois governor and future presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, appeared on Hiss’s behalf in his trial as character witnesses. The following year, 1950, Hiss was convicted of perjury--that is, convicted of lying about his deep involvement in Soviet espionage--and sent to federal prison. Yet even then, Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared, “I will not turn my back on Alger Hiss.” Now that’s solidarity, Establishment-style.
Beyond the Hiss case, what was happening around the world during the previous five years? Was it possible to argue that Hiss’s masters in Moscow had benefited from their help in Washington? It was more than possible.