Chambers, McCarthy, & the Real Thing

Whittaker Chambers brought credibility to the concerns Americans had after WWII that communism in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, were infiltrating American society. Chambers, as many regular readers of this blog know, had worked as a communist in the underground in the 1930s. He had labored to help the USSR place people in positions of authority in the American government, and he had served as a liaison with the USSR, sending US government secrets to that nation.

So when Chambers came forth with his witness to what he knew, he was believed ultimately, and Alger Hiss, one of the highest-placed communist agents in the government, went to prison for perjury.

Then along came Sen. Joe McCarthy with his anti-communist crusade. McCarthy had no inside knowledge. My own research into his activities has convinced me he hardly knew what he was doing, and he probably was more interested in personal political advancement than anything else.

As McCarthy rose in prominence, Chambers’s support of his career was sporadic and cautious, perhaps welcoming at first, since he was enlisted on the same side, but as time wore on, Chambers disassociated himself from what McCarthy became.

In early 1954, in a letter to his friend Ralph de Toledano, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

In letters to William F. Buckley, founder of National Review and the leader of the modern conservative movement, Chambers shared even more of his concerns. He thought McCarthy could easily become a national bore:

With time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep. …

… I said long since that the crucial question about Senator McCarthy was not whether his aims are ultimately good or bad, but whether his intelligence is equal to his energy.

“One way whereby I can most easily help Communism is to associate myself publicly with Senator McCarthy,” he wrote to Buckley. It would lead to a confusion with the Hiss Case and roll it all “into a snarl with which to baffle, bedevil and divide opinion.” He had told McCarthy that even though they “were fighting in the same war,” they were engaged “in wholly different battles” and that they “should not wage war together.”

Chambers concluded, “I do not think that the Senator really grasps this necessity. For it is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.”

McCarthy was a potential problem for the anticommunist movement, Chambers believed. Everyone was trying hard to overlook his errors and give the benefit of the doubt, but his judgment was increasingly suspect, and his tendency to go for the sensational over the substantive might lead them all into trouble.

“In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.”

Consider those final words. Even when someone is on the same side, whether we are talking about the Christian faith or conservative politics, there is the danger of undermining the whole effort due to foolishness, lack of genuineness, or a combination of the two.

Great truths and great causes need spokespeople who are committed to those truths and causes and who know how to communicate them to others. Whenever we follow a false teacher (in the faith) or a false politician who is primarily out for himself and doesn’t really believe what he says, we may see everything we stand for being diminished through their falseness.

Always hold out for the real thing—the people of solid character who can be trusted and who believe in their cause with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Standing Athwart the Culture Yelling “Stop!”

What is left to say about our president that I already haven’t said in this blog? I’ve done my best to be honest and forthright about his radicalism, both culturally and politically, yet I don’t feel I can stop and say, “Well, that about covers it; on to the next topic.”

Actually, I do make a conscious effort not to make Obama the subject each day, but he keeps on doing things that force me to focus on him again. His choices for when to interject himself into the news, for instance, are always worthy of comment:

Obama Speaks Out

And we would all be hearing a whole lot more all the time about his many attempts to destroy political enemies, if not for the connivance of the press corps to avoid mentioning such embarrassing episodes:

Confidentiality

Richard Nixon was an amateur in these matters compared to Obama, yet the former was driven from office while the latter gets virtually no pressure from those who like to call themselves the “watchdogs” over politicians. They’re more like well-trained poodles.

The latest fiasco is also the most dangerous and foolish, simultaneously—the pending deal with Iran.

Have you noticed that Obama seems to have less difficulty working with terrorists who continue to chant “Death to America” even while he’s speaking with them than with Republicans in Congress?

Finally

Then, when one member of the press goes off the rails and actually questions Obama’s lack of concern for the American hostages who are still being held by Iran, he becomes sarcastic and does his best to demean the reporter publicly. No one likes to have a complete “cave” pointed out:

Keep the Hostages

The only place where there is any rejoicing over this “deal” is in Iran:

Hard Bargain

The ultimate insult to the Congress is that the deal is going to be presented to the United Nations first, to get its approval to lift all sanctions. This is just another example of Obama’s utter contempt for America’s Constitution. He’s a Citizen of the World in his heart, not the United States.

So why do I continue to write about our president? Even if it does no good, there needs to be an ongoing witness to the truth.

I’m reminded of a conversation William F. Buckley had with Whittaker Chambers back in the mid-1950s when he was trying to bring Chambers aboard as a contributor to his new magazine National Review. Here’s how Buckley described what transpired in that talk:

Whittaker Chambers 1A year before National Review was founded, I spent an evening with Whittaker Chambers, and he asked me, half provocatively, half seriously, what exactly it was that my prospective journal would seek to save.

I trotted out a few platitudes of the sort one might expect from a twenty-eight-year-old fogy, about the virtues of a free society. He wrestled with me by obtruding the dark historicism for which he had become renowned. Don’t you see? he said. The West is doomed, so that any effort to save it is correspondingly doomed to failure. . . .

But that night, challenged by his pessimism, I said to him that if it were so that providence had rung up our license on liberty, stamping it as expired, the Republic deserved a journal that would argue the historical and moral case that we ought to have survived: that, weighing the alternative, the culture of liberty deserves to survive.

So that even if the worst were to happen, the journal in which I hoped he would collaborate might serve, so to speak, as the diaries of Anne Frank had served, as absolute, dispositive proof that she should have survived, in place of her tormentors—who ultimately perished. In due course that argument prevailed, and Chambers joined the staff.

Even if, ultimately, we don’t win the argument with the culture, it is imperative that the argument be made. For me, it’s a matter of being faithful to what God has called me to be—one of those voices standing athwart the culture yelling “Stop!”

Only when there are enough voices doing so, and enough courageous individuals who will act on what they are saying, will we have any hope of successfully challenging the spirit of this age.