The Demonizing of Conservatives
Why would House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi say of her plan to savage Newt Gingrich that she's holding back until "the time's right"?
If what has now happened to Herman Cain were some sort of aberrant, stand-alone episode that really was based on facts, rather than, as Ann Coulter has astutely noted, allegations coming from those representing "the whole combo-platter of questionable accuser attributes" -- the political weapons of mass destruction that took out Cain's presidential campaign might be more understandable.
But, alas, this is not so. As Coulter with her usual succinctness has summed it up, Cain's female accusers are a collection of the financially troubled, the twice-divorced, the unemployed, the professional sexual harassment accusers and one with an allegation of stalking and a libel judgment to boot. Thrown together with the usual left-wing dependence on racism plus an all-but foaming liberal hatred for blacks who happen to be conservatives, -- and now added to the latest news of Pelosi's plans for Gingrich -- and the question arises:
Why all this venom towards Herman Cain? Why the malice in Pelosi's statement about Gingrich?
The answer to the attacks on Cain and Gingrich is: this has nothing to do with Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich.
In fact, Herman Cain and Gingrich are simply the latest in a very long line of conservatives who have appeared on the scene since the post-World War II era rise of the conservative movement -- only to have their lives and/or careers trashed in the liberal media and by the American left with an extraordinarily virulent hostility. Gingrich, in fact, has been there and done way back in the 1990s.
But why? And when precisely did all this venom begin poisoning the modern American body politic?
Leave it to the inimitable late William F. Buckley Jr. to put his finger on the cause years ago -- in 1951 -- and in doing so himself becoming an earlier version of Mr. Cain and Mr. Gingrich.
In his classic God and Man at Yale, in which the precocious 25-year old recent Yale graduate began unceremoniously shredding the veil of what was evolving into the modern liberal establishment millions of Americans have come to know and not love, Buckley took a manuscript note from his friend the Yale professor Willmoore Kendall and, recognizing its truth, inserted it in his book. It is worth repeating here:
I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.
When Buckley's book was published in 1951, it was barely a year after Alger Hiss, a rising star of the Eastern Establishment with the pedigree of a Harvard Law degree, had been convicted of being a Communist spy in the Roosevelt administration.
And who were the two prime movers in that episode of American history? The two people without whom Hiss would never have been exposed much less sent to prison?
That's right: A young Congressman Richard Nixon and Whittaker Chambers, the Time magazine editor who confessed to belonging in a Communist cell with Hiss. Chambers had the same dawning recognition as Buckley and phrased it this way in his famous tale of the Hiss case -- Witness -- saying that the most revolutionary question in history could be boiled down to a simple three words :
"God or Man?"
The real reason Herman Cain is out of this campaign, the real reason Newt Gingrich is being targeted by Pelosi for character assassination -- the real reason so many conservatives have been targeted since the days of the Alger Hiss episode -- is some variation on the formulation of both Buckley and Chambers all those long decades ago.
And a look back at the reception given Richard Nixon, Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley Jr. as they first appeared on the scene in the late 1940s and early 1950s -- not coincidentally the dawn of the modern conservative movement -- is thoroughly instructive in the days following Herman Cain's suspension of his campaign and Pelosi's Gingrich announcement.
Nixon, Chambers and Buckley became, arguably, the first three modern conservatives to be targeted for what today Herman Cain is correctly calling "character assassination." Strictly speaking, Nixon was not part of what would eventually become known as the "conservative movement," a movement that was aborning as the Hiss case unfolded. A Ronald Reagan or Buckley Nixon was not. But he was in fact every bit the staunch anti-Communist, and while he much later drew conservative heat for his presidential policy of "détente" -- particularly from Reagan -- as the Alger Hiss investigation unfolded Nixon, along with Chambers, became the central target of the American left.
Listen to Nixon, writing in his first book Six Crises, which was published after his defeat by John F. Kennedy in 1960. In discussing his reception by liberals of the day during and after the Hiss affair in the late 1940's Nixon writes of his then unblemished record:
In any event, one of the personal aftermaths of the Hiss case was that for the next twelve years of my public service in Washington [as congressman, Senator from California and vice president under Eisenhower], I was to be subjected to an utterly unprincipled and vicious smear campaign. Bigamy, forgery, drunkenness, insanity, thievery, anti-Semitism, perjury, the whole gamut of misconduct in public office, ranging from unethical to downright criminal activities -- all these were among the charges that were hurled against me, some publicly and others through whispering campaigns which were even more difficult to counteract.
In the case of Chambers, of course, the ex-secret Communist and one-time editor of Time magazine who turned to freedom believed his life ruined.
Effectively, from that moment of the Hiss controversy on forward, American politics for liberals was on its way to becoming not politics but a furious war. A war in which the issues were to be avoided at all costs in favor of what is now called the politics of personal destruction.
Just beyond the horizon from the Hiss case and two years after Hiss was convicted, Richard Nixon, by 1952 the junior Senator from California, was selected by Republican nominee Dwight Eisenhower to be the war hero's vice presidential running mate. What happened next is, in fact, arguably the first liberal media feeding frenzy of the type for which conservatives have been routinely targeted ever since.
The newly nominated Nixon was almost immediately plunged into a "controversy" over a fund formed by a group of California businessman to help the very middle-class rising new senator pay the expenses for things like political travel, printing and mailing of political speeches, clerical help and so on.
In today's world this kind of thing would be handled by campaign funds. In 1952, the money was openly solicited, scrupulously accounted for, and well within the existing legal parameters of the day. More to the point, these types of funds were not in the least uncommon among politicians of the day.
What's interesting here is that already Nixon was becoming aware that his role in the Hiss case had resulted in what seemed at the time a curious phenomenon. Other politicians had similar funds for the same reason. But only Nixon had both a fund and a now very high public profile as a vigorous anti-Communist. Thus his insistence, based on nothing more than a gut feeling coming out of his experience dealing with liberal media support for Alger Hiss, on openness and strict accounting procedures for his political fund that included a regular audit from a certified public accountant.
Even with his sense that he had to be, as Eisenhower later called it, "cleaner than a hounds tooth" -- Nixon still did not understand what lay ahead for him.
Mere hours after Nixon had returned to his native California to begin his first whistle stop campaign, what is now the grandfather of today's liberal media feeding frenzies had begun.
First out of the box was the then liberal New York Post. The headline on the front page screamed:
SECRET NIXON FUND.
Bearing in mind that in 1952 there was no cable TV or Internet, and telephone communications from a moving train were close to impossible -- meaning word of the latest developments were not available until the train reached its latest stop -- the assault on Nixon was still unfolding at what passed in those days for warp speed.
With the word "secret" now in the media mix, although it was decidedly untrue, the Democratic National Committee immediately leaped into the fray with the DNC chairman Stephen Mitchell demanding Eisenhower ask for Nixon's resignation from the GOP ticket. Now protesters were beginning to physically show up at the Nixon train stops, yelling out demands for Nixon to answer questions about his "secret fund." Suddenly, the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket was swamped in controversy. In a foreshadowing of what the future would bring for conservatives Nixon was being pounded relentlessly in the already dominant liberal media of the day, his every move, his every word made a national sensation.
What is now a familiar component of these moments in national politics for conservatives began to appear for the first time: the first appearance of what might be called the Sunshine Conservative. Those conservatives or Republicans who suddenly shrank from the individual on their own side who was suddenly thrust into the center of a left-wing generated controversy. Not over some policy issue, a normal and obvious point of genuine disagreement -- but because they allowed themselves to accept the premise of legitimacy liberals cast around their attack. Failing to grasp the reasons for the attack in the first place and wanting to seem "reasonable" or capable of "impartial analysis."
Several of Eisenhower's advisers became the first in this line of Sunshine Conservatives, not-so-quietly whispering to reporters that Nixon -- the man they had agreed should be selected for the ticket in the first place -- should now do everyone a favor and just remove himself from the ticket. Then the leading Republican paper of the day, the New York Herald Tribune, caved. Tight with the Eisenhower high command, Sunshine Conservatism suddenly burst forth with an editorial saying Nixon should offer his resignation to Eisenhower. Demanded the editors:
The proper course of Senator Nixon in the circumstances is to make a formal offer of withdrawal from the ticket. How this offer is acted on will be determined by an appraisal of all the facts in the light of General Eisenhower's unsurpassed fairness of mind.
In the end, Nixon made a dramatic televised speech -- the first such speech in American political history -- that was a televised effort to defend himself. Laying bare every last bit of the modest Nixon family finances to the humiliating embarrassment of his wife Pat, Nixon ended on a defiant note: an admirer had read in the press that the two small Nixon girls loved dogs and didn't have one. The admirer sent the girls a spotted cocker spaniel puppy the girls had promptly named Checkers. The girls loved the dog, said Nixon, smiling tightly into the camera, adding: "We're going to keep it." He closed with another act of defiance that sent shudders through Eisenhower's Sunshine Conservatives -- he asked his fellow Americans to wire the Republican National Committee and tell them whether they thought Nixon should get off the ticket -- or stay.
The speech, instantly known as Nixon's "Checkers speech," was a smash hit. The RNC and Eisenhower were swamped with hot demands that Ike keep Nixon on the ticket. Nixon survived and the rest, as they say, is history.
But the point here is precisely the same as it is with Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. Why? Why all this venom toward Richard Nixon? After all, Nixon's Democrat vice-presidential opponent, Alabama Senator John Sparkman, was a vocal segregationist who made his political bones with the traditional liberal reliance on racism and progressivism. There wasn't a peep from the liberal media about Sparkman.
As quickly became apparent in this episode, there was one also another notable but quiet voice who said nothing. That voice belonged to Eisenhower's opponent, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats' presidential nominee. Why was Stevenson quiet? Yes indeed -- it turned out that Stevenson himself had a fund of his own. A fact that, once uncovered by a suspicious Nixon aide, was quickly glossed over by the media. Why was that? Why the outrage over Nixon but not Stevenson or Sparkman?
The answer, if not obvious at the time, with the 20/20 hindsight of history is obvious.
Richard Nixon's "secret fund" was a "scandal" because Nixon had been at the very center of a considerable effort to unmask Hiss, a privileged son of the liberal Establishment who, quite literally was a Communist spy.
In other words, to go back to Buckley's point in God and Man at Yale, Nixon had found himself as a young congressman as the tip of the spear in what Buckley called "the duel between Christianity and atheism [that] is the most important in the world… the struggle between individualism and collectivism [that] is the same struggle reproduced on another level." Or, to simplify, in the struggle Whittaker Chambers described as that between "God or Man" -- Richard Nixon -- well identified at this point as a fierce anti-Communist and a Quaker to boot -- was perceived by the left as having chosen up sides, as it were, with God. With individualism. With faith in a higher power than man. By his actions in the Hiss case Nixon had revealed himself as someone who disagreed sharply with the leftist vision of the mind of man, the vision Chambers described as that of man "displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world."
This is the heart of all of these frenzies.
BUT THERE'S MORE to this story -- one more tale that belongs to no less than William F. Buckley Jr. himself.
A year before Nixon's fund crisis, Buckley's book had been published, making the young man famous at 25. Yet strangely, while Buckley was in fact no more in the day than an (albeit precocious) young writer as opposed to a man on the verge of the vice-presidency, he too faced the splenetic rancor that was yet a year down the road for Nixon in the "fund crisis." Buckley's critics, Buckley himself noted with amusement decades later, were filled with "sputtering outrage" at his book. The young man was pilloried in all manner of respectable media corners by liberals of the day. Buckley was said to be a "fanatically emotional" young man whose writing "has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night. There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic. They will cover the face." Meaning: Buckley is akin to a Ku Klux Klansman. And that was the kinder stuff. He was also said to be a Nazi and a fascist.
As time went on, and the decades unraveled, so too did a particularly distinct pattern. As one conservative after another ascended to some sort of public prominence -- so too was their arrival greeted somewhere along the line with precisely the sort of acrimonious treatment that greeted the anti-Communist Nixon, the ex-Communist Chambers and the young conservative writer Buckley. Each was targeted with what is now called "the politics of personal destruction."
Here's a list of those targets, roughly in historical order and by no means definitive, beginning with original targets Nixon, Chamberlain and Buckley.
William F. Buckley Jr.
Clement Haynesworth (a failed Nixon Supreme Court nominee)
Edwin Meese III
Douglas Ginsburg (Bork's replacement as a Reagan Supreme Court nominee --and also failed)
Miguel Estrada (a star conservative lawyer, a Latino, blocked as a Bush appeals court nominee)
George W. Bush
Not everyone on this list, as mentioned with Nixon, could be identified as a member of the modern conservative movement. Bill O'Reilly, for example, does not identify himself as a conservative. But there is one thing that all have unmistakably in common.
In one way or another, all in their own unique and individual fashion and style, every single person on this list has been publicly and vividly identified by the left as on one side of the struggle that Buckley and Chambers accurately fingered so long ago. To rephrase it only slightly:
If the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world, all of these people on this list joined the struggle between individualism and collectivism that is the same struggle reproduced on another level. And they joined that struggle on the side Buckley identified as "Christianity" and "individualism" and Chambers as a choice between "God or Man" -- becoming considerably potent opponents of atheism and collectivism.
And as a direct result, each was or is in some fashion greeted by the political blow torch that is quite deliberately reserved for those perceived by the American left -- in the media and out of it -- as somehow a direct threat to the left's baseline values, however visible or concealed, of collectivism if not atheism.
Whether the attacks are coming from liberal media organs like the New York Times or NBC or Media Matters, whether it is the threat of a special prosecutor or a congressional investigation or just the latest pronouncement on religion from a Mainline Protestant faith, or education from a union or academic outpost, or the qualifications of a judge from the American Bar Association -- the underlying core of each and all is some variation on the Buckley/Chambers formulation.
No one on this list -- as of course is true of everyone -- is or was perfect. They made mistakes. Nixon and Agnew, famously, went on to trouble and historic duel resignations from the presidency and vice-presidency. But the ferocious attacks on Agnew, for example, long preceded and in fact had nothing to do with what ultimately sealed his fate -- his participation in a Maryland culture of bribery of public officials dating from his days as governor. Ditto Nixon and Watergate.
The problem here is that, as was telegraphed in the vastly different treatment of Richard Nixon's fund with that of liberal Adlai Stevenson's, the standards for one side -- the advocates of individualism -- are different. Vastly different. Not to mention that liberalism is represented as the unbiased norm. So unbiased -- whether appearing as journalism, religion, business, education, law or politics -- that to question is a sign of extremism, instability or greed.
Thus the difference in treatment for Nixon and Stevenson's fund problems, allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain versus those against Bill Clinton. Secret taping in the Oval Office is a big deal if one is President Nixon -- but not President Kennedy. We need a woman in the Oval Office -- but it must be Hillary Clinton and not Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. There must be Latinos on the federal bench -- but they must think like Sonia Sotomayor and not Miguel Estrada. There must be diversity in the media -- but Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Mark Levin or Lou Dobbs or Glenn Beck should never be allowed on the air. MSNBC is utterly respectable but Fox News and its stars like O'Reilly are simply mouthpieces with no credentials. Donald Trump personifies individualism and is therefore an evil rich guy, while Warren Buffett and his tax-me-more collectivism makes him a secular business saint. GOP vice presidential candidates Nixon, Agnew, Dole, Quayle, Cheney and Palin are outrageous thieves, bigots, bullies, or stupid, while liberals running for vice president from Edmund Muskie to Walter Mondale to Lloyd Bentsen, Al Gore and Joe Biden are all smart, wise, even-tempered and above all moderate.
And alas, one of the characteristics that also shows in these situations are the precision appearance of the Sunshine Conservatives or Republicans who wind up parroting the liberal talking points because -- well, gee -- Nixon was mean to Alger Hiss or Nixon should have come clean about his fund or Reagan is too mean to the poor or hard on the Soviets or Reagan-Dan Quayle-George W. Bush -Sarah Palin-Michele Bachmann show a disturbing lack of intellect or Herman Cain's accusers may have a point or Rush and Sean and Levin are hurting the cause or Fox is not as much of an asset because Roger Ailes is really something of an embarrassment and, of course, we all know about Newt.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
From the reaction of the New York Herald Tribune to Richard Nixon's fund way back in 1952 to complaints in the New York Times from California Republicans -- in 1965! -- that potential gubernatorial candidate Reagan was too "extreme" to the infamous 2009 Newsweek cover story attacking Rush Limbaugh by David Frum, to recent columns by Washington Post "conservative blogger" Jennifer Rubin (such as this) or Rubin's all too predictable agonizing over Cain and conservative media on Howard Kurtz's CNN show (where Kurtz, like clockwork, accuses conservative media of being "corrupt" ) -- the game for Sunshine Conservatives or Republicans has never changed. They uncritically accept the idea that Buckley also fingered exactly -- that liberals believe their opinions, ideas and evaluations are "revealed truths."
Like victims of political Stockholm syndrome they have anxiously accepted the baseline of the latest liberal "revealed truth." Meaning they have decided that the liberal attacks on whichever-conservative-target-of-the moment really are the serious issue -- not the liberal corruption of the press that creates the issue in the first place. For Rubin to sit on liberal Kurtz's show on the liberal CNN, for example, surrounded by liberal journalists Bill Press, Steve Roberts and Kurtz himself -- is to allow the liberal journalistic premise: that they are all just wonderfully unbiased truth seekers and the fuss about Cain was legit in the first place. Even though, curiously, this was not so in the liberal world view of the network that was once dubbed the "Clinton News Network" when Bill Clinton's sexual harassment problems finally broke through the liberal media blackout. Rubin's performance or that of Frum in Newsweek on Rush is but the modern version of the Herald Tribune's Sunshine Conservatives hemming and hawing about Nixon's fund.
And so it goes.
The difference in all this?
Americans -- most conservatives and Republicans and millions of others -- have long since caught on to the game. They may never have read Buckley or Chambers -- but they understand in their very American bones exactly the point the two men were making.
Whatever Herman Cain did or didn't do -- the real reason he was a target, aside from being a conservative black man -- was that like the others on this list, this man who is also a Baptist minister has chosen to stand up and choose. So too the Catholic-convert Newt Gingrich deepened his commitment.
To choose the individual and freedom over collectivism. To choose faith over atheism.
To choose God over Man.
Richard Nixon, Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley Jr. never lived to see Herman Cain's presidential campaign or that of Newt Gingrich.
But they would recognize in an instant what is happening to each.
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