How is it that liberals keep getting tripped up by the Alger Hiss Soviet spy case over 75 years after it happened? MSNBC host Karen Finney raised eyebrows yesterday when she hung up on conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt after she turned down several chances he offered to acknowledge that the late Alger Hiss was a Communist. He barely got to the point of discussing if Hiss was a spy for the Soviet Union.
Finney, a former head of communications for the Democratic National Committee and a former press secretary for Hillary Clinton, was invited on Hewitt’s show to discuss her statement that Senator Ted Cruz’s attacks on Obamacare are reminiscent of the “fear stoking” of Joe McCarthy, who she said “also wanted to take his country back. Then, it was from the Communists, who had supposedly infiltrated it.” She said that while Cruz was focused on a different issue his “rhetoric sounds eerily the same” as McCarthy’s.
This prompted Hewitt to test Finney’s attitudes on and knowledge of the Cold War. Here is some of Politico’s blow-by-blow account.
Hewitt kicked off his interview with Finney by asking, “Did any communists infiltrate the United States government?”
“I think if we go back to the McCarthy hearings, it’s pretty clear that he created a culture of paranoia and fear that people later recognized, they sort of bought into it and then recognized that it was absolutely misplaced,” Finney told Hewitt. “That’s the point.”
“But Karen, did any communists infiltrate our government?” Hewitt asked.
Finney asked Hewitt to “go ahead and name them,” and Hewitt replied, “Can you? I’m trying to figure out if you know if any of them did.”
Finney likened his question to the same concept as “Michele Bachmann accusing my friend Huma Abedin of being in the Muslim Brotherhood because somebody she may have known, who may have known, may have known somebody.”
Hewitt, meanwhile, said the two statements weren’t at all alike, and it was “just a historical question” he was asking. The radio host then first posed the question he would repeatedly ask Finney during the five-minute interview.
“Was Alger Hiss a communist?” he asked.
Finney responded, “I understand where you’re going with this, and I get why you want to do this, but again, I think that’s distracting from the point I was trying to make.”
Hewitt tried for several more minutes to engage Finney on the issue. “This is astonishing. You can’t bring yourself to say that Alger Hiss was a Communist spy,” he concluded. He then posed it one more time, whereupon Finney hung up on him. “She can’t deal with that question. I am flabbergasted, I am astonished,” Hewitt concluded. “She has a show on MSNBC called ‘Disrupt’ and she can’t handle a little tiny question about Alger Hiss.”
Finney insisted later that “I answered — Hewitt was interested in a shout fest not an honest conversation.”
What is astonishing is that some liberals still can’t have an honest conversation about Alger Hiss, a top State Department official who accompanied FDR to the Yalta Summit in 1945 and was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations. I don’t believe Finney, a savvy operator, didn’t know who he was. Instead, as former Washington Post editor Susan Jacoby wrote in her book on Alger Hiss, the case “strikes chords located along ideological fault lines” to this day.
Back in 1996, the Hiss case forced President Clinton to withdraw his candidate to become the country’s top spymaster at the CIA. Tony Lake, who then directed the National Security Council, told NBC News that the evidence against Alger Hiss was “inconclusive.” His office then refused to make any other comment on the issue.
After a firestorm of protest in which such liberal notables as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said it was clear Hiss had been guilty, Lake’s nomination for CIA director was withdrawn. Even a liberal observer such as Chris Matthews (now with MSNBC) said it was astonishing that anyone would take the view that Hiss, who was convicted on two counts of perjury because the statute of limitation on espionage had expired, could be viewed as anything less than guilty. Matthews points out that John F. Kennedy, then a young congressman, was convinced of Hiss’s guilt. “This is not a case of liberal vs. conservative,” Matthews concluded. “It is a matter of clearing up Tony Lake’s sense of history.”
Apparently, we still have to clear up the historical perspective that some of today’s liberals have about the Cold War and the seeming inability some of them have to acknowledge that there were Communists in government back then — and that that fact is distinct from Joe McCarthy’s endlessly cited excesses.