Ed Driscoll

Don't Know Much About History

“Former Hillary Clinton spokesperson and current MSNBC analyst Karen Finney didn’t prepare herself to be challenged when comparing Ted Cruz to Joe McCarthy on last night’s Hugh Hewitt show, revealing that she doesn’t know much about either,” Ed Morrissey writes at Hot Air. “Hugh started grilling Finney about Communist infiltration in the 1930s and 1940s in response to her non-sequitur about McCarthy just to see if she had any understanding at all about the issue — and Finney hung up rather than continue flailing or concede her ignorance:”

Hewitt welcomed Finney with a clip of her on MSNBC comparing Ted Cruz‘s “paranoia” and “fear-stoking” to Joe McCarthy. Hewitt immediately asked Finney about actual communist infiltration of the government. She dismissed the “hysteria” of the time, but Hewitt didn’t let her off easy there. He said, “It’s an easy question! Do you think Alger Hiss was a communist?”

Finney insisted it had nothing to do with her point, telling Hewitt she didn’t want to “go down a rabbit hole” with him. She said, “Hugh, I’m not doing this game with you!”

They got into some heated crosstalk, at which point Finney hangs up on Hewitt. As soon as Hewitt realized what she’s done, he immediately burst into laughter and mocked her for not being able to “handle a little tiny question.”

Like I said yesterday, in response to Congressional Republicans whispering about impeachment and a Democrat White House rattling sabers in the Middle East, it really does feel like 1998 all over again, albeit with a flat-lined economy this time around. Back in 1998, Orrin Judd of the Brothers Judd Website reviewed liberal journalist Sam Tanenhaus’* then-new biography of Whittaker Chambers. While many of Orrin’s 1998-era links may no longer work, the deja vu from Finney’s debacle yesterday is palpable; the same network that employs Finney even plays a role:

A defining moment in the ongoing Cultural Wars; several years ago, when Anthony Lake was up for the job of National Security Advisor to President Clinton, he appeared on Meet the Press.  Tim Russert asked him if, in light of new access to Soviet files & the revelation of the Venona Intercepts, he would be prepared to acknowledge that Alger Hiss was a spy.  Lake sat there like a deer in the headlights & then mumbled some bilge about how it was still an open question.  And there you had it; for 50 years now, this seemingly simple question has lain at the fault line of the Left/Right divide in American politics. You could tell where someone stood on the political spectrum simply by getting their answer to whether Chambers or Hiss had told the truth.   (If you think this overstates the case, compare Victor Navasky’s obituary editorial from The Nation with Brent Bozell’s analysis of the Hiss obituaries). For the American Left (never mind the European Left), the innocence of Alger Hiss was an article of faith.  After all, if such a mainstream New Deal figure as Hiss had actually been part of a secret underground cabal, spying on the US for the Soviets, even as WWII was underway, then a whole battery of conservative attacks would gain legitimacy and the whole of FDR’s legacy (both New Deal and Grand Alliance) would be called into question.

Asking today, “How is it that liberals keep getting tripped up by the Alger Hiss Soviet spy case over 75 years after it happened?”, John Fund of National Review picks up the story from there:

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.

Considering he now routinely smears Republicans as both National Socialists and International Socialists, I wonder if the current iteration of Chris Matthews would be so quick to attack Hiss today? In any case, chalk it up, as Peter Wehner does at Commentary today, to “The Left’s Ongoing Epistemological Closure:”

The Hewitt-Finney exchange is a fantastic example of a person (Finney) who inhabits a mental world in which facts that are contrary to her philosophy are not only dismissed; they are not even entertained. They are not allowed to penetrate the ideological force field that she has been put in place.

Partisans like Finney are so afraid of a genuine engagement with different ideas that they grow angry–and eventually may even hang up–when calm reason and history are employed against them. And on those rare occasions when some on the left venture outside of their hermetically sealed world and engage an intelligent conservative, we see not just how closed-minded they have become but how ridiculous they appear.

Or as Eric Wemple of the Washington Post dubbed MSNBC yesterday, “Must-Agree TV.”

*Who more recently was shouting rather ill-timed doomsday rhetoric from the bridge of the New York Times.