Back in the years before people started sending white powder through the mail (and I’m not talking about coke addicts), Alger Hiss used to get regular hate mail, all of which he opened with great amusement. As a WASP who enjoyed his yiddishisms, he was especially fond of those letters that accused him of being an evil Jew.Â He even had a regular hate correspondent, some guy who used to write so often that he became almost like family. It reminded me of a great Kurt Vonnegut story set in Hyannisport during the Kennedy administration where the retired, arch-conservative Admiral who lived in the compound across the way from the Kennedys hated them so much, he erected a huge, illuminated portrait of Barry Goldwater atop his house. Then one night when he failed to light it (I can’t remember why), there was a knock on his door. It was JFK himself, asking the Admiral if he could turn it back on, since it was the only way he could find his way home along the dark road.
Much the same way, if Alger’s special hater had stopped writing him, we would have been equally disappointed. In fact, I could see Alger writing him a note, making sure he was ok.
Anyway, I wish I had saved his letters, they were that wonderful, but I did save a few others. Here is one of my favorites. Pay special attention to the note on the envelope. (Click on images to enlarge them, and if you want to see the program that inspired such an outpouring of love, click here.)
Back when I was a wee lad, my parents had a series of three phonograph records that were done by Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly. They were all called “I Can Hear it Now” and consisted of recordings of historical events narrated by Murrow. I listened to them so often that I had them memorized. You heard the announcer broadcast the crash of the Hindenberg, King Edward ceding his throne and Churchill’s “Now is the hour ” speech.
I just about wore out the grooves on the records and the tracks were soon burned into my brain. I can still hear Clem McCarthy announcing Joe Louis’s first round massacre of Max Schmeling, and can do a perfect gravelly voiced imitation of Babe Ruth’s farewell (“You know how bad my voice sounds, but it feels just as bad.” and Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, complete with echo.
One of the tracks on Volume 2 Â was about the McCarthy Era, and told the story of Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers confronting each other before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “One of these men is the greatest liar America has ever known, ” Murrow declared.
Who?” I wondered, hooked. I looked up the case in the World Book encyclopedia and read all about it. That’s when I learned that Richard Nixon was involved. In my family, Richard Nixon was kind of the equivalent of the Pharoah in terms of sheer eviltude, so when I learned that Nixon was behind Chambers’ testimony, I got my first real notion about who might have been lying.
I hail from a long line of Nixon haters. In fact, I still remember getting on line with my mother to vote in the 1960 election at Prospect Avenue Elementary School, across the street from our house. It was a long line, and I was a very fidgety five year old. The man in front of us probably took pity on my mother, and I remember he turned to me to try an engage me in conversation. “So, who are you voting for, Sonny,” he asked?
“Kennedy,” I said proudly. “We hate Nixon.”
“Shh,” my mom said. “We have a secret ballot.”
OK, I thought, but I had been under the impression that everyone hated Richard Nixon. Who knew otherwise? As it turned out, my mother was probably less concerned about our constitutional rights than she was about getting attacked. In East Meadow, the town where I grew up, Eleanor Roosevelt was banned from speaking at our high school on the grounds that she was a Communist, so was Pete Seeger ( he was one, of course, not that that should have made any difference). In East Meadow, pedophile priests had free rein, but lefty sympathizers were sent packing. Years later when I thought I’d write a book about the town, I interviewed an African-American man who had his house firebombed because he was living with a white woman. I could go on, but suffice to say the clearest picture I can paint of our town was this: we had a serial killer living on our street (Joel Rifkin), and he was probably a better human being than three quarters of the jocks I went to school with.
As usual, I’m veering off-track here, so let me steer back to the road. As I grew up and began to read newspapers, I continued to take note of the Hiss case whenever the occasional tidbit about it appeared. When I was in college, there was a story that Hiss had been one of the first people to take advantage of the recently passed Freedom of Information Act to obtain his FBI file. That intrigued me. Now, I hated my classes in college, and here I was reading this story when the proverbial lightbulb went off inside me head. I approached one of my history professors with a proposition. Instead of spending my time cutting class or daydreaming in back of the room, I suggested that I spend a semester reading all the books and newspaper/magazine coverage on the Hiss case, and then I would write a paper offering my verdict. Much to my surprise, he accepted.
About two hours into my research, it was clear to me that Hiss had been railroaded. Four hours into my research, I decided to do something about: I was going to write Hiss a letter, Â volunteering to work for him that summer reading or organizing his FBI files. Â Talk about chutzpah. It took a while to get his address. When I saw that he had filed papers to be reinstated to the Massachusetts bar, I figured that his address would be in the legal papers, so I drove to Boston in a snowstorm to see if I could find it among the documents he had filed. I was right. It was listed, so I sat down and penned him a note.
A week later, this arrived in my mailbox:
(The pages below are clickable)
Hell yes, I was interested! A few weeks later I met him in New York, but as it turned out, instead of a summer job, I wangled a deal with the history job to work for him the next January in New York City for a full semester’s credit. I stayed on after graduation. Based on the some 40,000 pages we received, we were able to prove that Â the FBI had and hid exculpatory information about Alger, so we prepared a brief to overturn the guilty verdict, and I actually wrote portions of it. Because all of the judges who handled the suit were appointed by Richard Nixon, the case went nowhere, although the brief was published as a book called “In Re Alger Hiss.” And it even had my name in it.
Eventually, I went to work as a newspaper reporter, but I never stopped following the case and did occasional research jobs for Alger over the years. He died in 1996. Three years later, his son and I established a Web site on the case. One of the articles I wrote for the site has some personal reminiscences of Alger. It can be found here (there is some repetition of this post in there). For the last five years, I’ve been writing a book one the case. I suspect it will be finished in three years Â (I’m a slow writer).
For years, my passion for the case was the subject of great teasing by my friends. If I went out on a date (which I did only occasionally), the questions the next day weren’t the usual, “Was she nice?” Â or “Was she cute?” it was rather, “How does she feel about the Hiss Case?” They knew the wrong response would doom any potential for a relationship.
Luckily for my wife, she had the right answer. Or, luckily for me.
A while ago, I posted an entry on Frank Stanton and the blacklist. It’s here in case you missed it. One of the links on the post was to a pdf of the actual loyalty oath accompanied by list of unacceptable organizations. The list, however, was cut off about mid-point. I’ve since found a more complete copy, so as a public service, in case you either want to blacklist yourself or a friend, I’m including the complete list below in case it includes an organization that you or your friend belongs to. Remember, informing on yourself or on others is the American way.
First, thanks to one of our aceÂ detective readers, Jack, you can now see the cover of the Life magazine that Harry Dubin was selling the day he was posing as a newspaper vendor in June 1957. Here it is:
Now the following long predates Harry, but I thought if any of you wanted to impress your friends by convincing them you were once a diehard Communist, here’s your chance. Below is the front and back of a blank membership card in the Workers’ Party of America, which was actually the above-ground unit of the Communist Party USA formed after its leadership was forced underground in the 1920s by the the goon squad, also known as the Justice Department â€” ironically.
Here’s the card:
More anti-Semitic highlights from J. Edgar Hoover’s bedside reading list. There’s even a subscription form on page 4. Two dollars for 26 issues, a bargain!
If you click on the pdf to download it, you can enlarge it to read some of the articles, but because it’s a lousy copy, the headlines will have to suffice for most of the articles. I do think though that the headline “Secret Jew Government” offers a pretty good hint as to the the nature of the story.
My response again is “if only.” I’d make myself Secretary of State. Wait, a minute, why aim so low? That’s Premier Kisseloff to you in the SJGA (Secret Jew Government of America). Nominations are now open for cabinet posts.
Back in theÂ 1970s when I was working for Alger Hiss, helping him read through someÂ 40,000 pages of FBI files to put together a new legal appeal of his 1950 perjury conviction that sent him to jail for 44 months , I was constantly amazed at the frightening garbage that J. Edgar Hoover subscribed to. I’m not talking about the Police Gazette or Photoplay, but rather extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic propaganda that we regularly found among the documents. It was clear he wasn’t gathering evidence against the purveyors of this material. Rather, he seemed to enjoy their publications as evidenced by the occasional positive reviews he’d append to the cover or back page. All the while, (and we saw this in the documents), he had his agents compile lists of left-wingers to be picked up and placed in detention camps in the event of a national emergency. If he compiled lists of right-wingers it was only for dinner invitations.
While going through the documents, I pulled a few of the most ridiculous and made copies of them. Two or three of them still survive. To fully appreciate this material though, it’s important to understand the kind of virulent attacks against Roosevelt that occurred on a nearly daily basis. Apologies for the following history lecture (excerpted from a book I’m writing), but some of this is actually pretty interesting
To Rooseveltâ€™s opponents, extremism in defense of capitalism was no vice. Rumors were spread that polio had rendered the him insane, or worse, that he was secretly Jewish. His Brain Trust, according to one Senator was under the influence of â€œHitler, Mussolini, and Lenin.â€Â Chicago newspaper publisher Frank Knox said the New Deal legislation was in effect a â€œrape of democracy.â€ The President of the National Association of Manufacturers declared â€œindustry is now in politics or â€œbe destroyedâ€¦by economic crack-pots, social reformers, labor demagogues and political racketeers.â€
Instead of just complaining, Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors, Edward Hutton or General Foods and other leading industrialists opened their wallets to anyone opposed to FDR. They bankrolled the Liberty League with unlimited funds to destroy the New Deal via a propaganda campaign that, according to George Wolfskill and John A. Hudson â€œpictured the United States on the brink of chaos, threatened by bankruptcy, socialism, dictatorship and tyranny.â€ If that didnâ€™t go far enough, a cabal of businessmen plotted a coup against Roosevelt.
Ironically, the New Deal didnâ€™t do nearly as much for Americaâ€™s poor as it did for big business. Negro tenant farmers, for example, continued to suffer terribly despite the New Dealâ€™s Agricultural Adjustment Act. As Harry L. Mitchell wrote in The Nation in June 1935, a year after the billâ€™s passage, â€œThe human consequences of an economy of scarcity have become more clear. The complete failure of the â€œNew Dealâ€ to benefit the men and women who do the work in the fields has been disclosed.â€
While sharecroppers continued to live in substandard conditions, Sloanâ€™s General Motors rebounded strongly in 1934 with sales showing an increase of nearly 50 percent over 1933. Despite the complaints of the Chamber of Commerce, retail sales rose 13 percent and while the National Association of Manufacturers was lambasting FDRâ€™s policies as communistic, industrial profits surged some 70 percent in 1934. The number of bank failures in 1934, dropped precipitously to 56, while deposits were on the rise.
The President â€œreally had saved capitalism,â€ said Harold Ickes.
As I said, a lot of the propaganda was anti-Semitic. The extremists liked to refer to the administration as “The Jew Deal,” because of a number of FDR’s closest advisers were Jewish. The sad part is though, was FDR’s basically gutless response to the name-calling. I’ve read several learned histories which talk about the president’s timid response to the Holocaust was partly as a result of not wanting to appear to be too sympathetic to the Jews, lest it hurt him politically. This, of course, had enormously tragic results. When Hitler basically offered his Jewish population to the West, the US and Europe closed its doors to them (see Arthur Morse’s “While Six Million Died.”). When in the last days of the war, Eichmann sped up the trains carrying thousands and thousands of Hungarian Jews to their deaths, FDR easily could have ordered the bombing of the train tracks but didn’t. By the way, Hiss was in the State Department then. One of his buddies was a fellow southerner named Breckenridge Long, who single-handedly bottled up the passports of thousands of German Jews trying to flee German in the late 1930s. If you don’t believe me, pick up Long’s diary of the period, in which he essentially brags about keeping the Jews out of the US. This was also during the period when Whittaker Chambers was accusing Alger of having Communist sympathies. If only.
So here’s a copy of one of the more popular anti-Roosevelt propaganda pieces. In a small sense this kind of shit is funny, but in a much larger sense it really pisses me off (Click on it to read it in all it’s glory. Extra credit to anyone who can identify all the names without resorting to Wikipedia):
And on the eighth day of Chanukah my true love gave to me â€” or am I mixing up my holiday songs â€” an official Richard Nixon showerhead!
I’m bummed that I’ve misplaced the attachment, over which you slip Dick’s face, but it was a good one, perhaps not in the class of Kramer’s Commando 450 but still powerful enough to get a warning letter from the water department. You just have to get over the fright of seeing Nixon in full shit-eating grin every time you step into the shower (The artist must have based his design on a photo of Nixon the day he ordered the carpet-bombing of Hanoi).
Here it is:
Now, I couldn’t end this series without a few pieces of business. First, it seems to me that if the Yule Log is the traditional way to enjoy Christmas in homes without true fireplaces, then in a house where there is no Richard Nixon to celebrate a Richard Nixon Chanukah, this link to Nixon’s Checkers Speech must suffice. Nixon fans love to chuckle overÂ the great line about Pat’s Republican cloth coat, but my favorite part is right at the beginning where he nearly chokes over the word “integrity.”
Two, while this is not really a Nixon joke, it’s still a good one, so I offer it as a sort of Chanukah sock stuffer: It was 1968, and late into the night the election was still undecided. Finally Hubert Humphrey realizes they’re not going to know the outcome until the morning, so he and his wife decide to go to bed. But ever the optimist, just before they turn out the light, Hubert turns to his wife and says, “Muriel, when you wake up in the morning, you’ll be sleeping with the president.”
Well, the next morning they wake up to the bad news. Muriel looks at Humphrey and says, “So is Dick coming here, or am I going there?”
And that’s just about it, ladies and gentlemen, except one final thing. If anything, I hope this series has inspired you to think about the mystery of Richard Nixon’s popularity. In fact, I think it’s such a huge question that only a new Web series such as Big Questions can tackle it, so please, head over to the Big Questions Web site and help get it off the ground so we might ksolve the mystery of Richard Nixon’s life and career once and for all.
Until next year, Happy Richard Nixon Chanukah everyone.
Now on to a Spiro Agnew Christmas!
In the early 1950s, Life magazine’s Philippe Halsman got the zany idea of photographing famous people while they were jumping. He got nearly 200 people to leap into the air for his camera, an exercise he called “jumpology.”
One of the people he convinced to make the jump was the then vice president of this great country, Richard Nixon.
Jump ahead 25 years, and I’m sitting in the office of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, and next to me, Alger Hiss is opening his mail. From one envelope he removes the umpteenth version of Halsman’s photo of Nixon jumping along with a request for him to sign and return it. Alger signed just about anything for anyone who asked, but he drew the line at photos of Richard Nixon, the former Congressman from California who teamed up with Whittaker Chambers to send Alger to jail for a crime he most certainly did not commit. This being America, a man who spent his entire adult life serving this country honorably ends up in Lewisburg, while a pair of thieves and liars like Nixon and Chambers live out their natural lives in physical â€” if not emotional â€” comfort. Alger, by the way, lived out the rest of his life in both physical and emotional comfort. Good for him!
Anyway, Alger looked at the photo and laughed and handed it to me. “You keep it,” he said. I was too respectful to ask him to sign it in part because he would have done it for me. I suppose that would have made this a valuable souvenir, but then it might not have been the perfect gift for Richard Nixon Chanukah, Night Seven.
So here is the photo that Alger handed me, of Richard Nixon jumping. Clearly, it is the jumping style of a man so uptight, he would wear the same shoes and socks he’s wearing in the picture on long strolls up and down the beach at San Clemente. As for the stain on the lower left of the picture, I prefer to say that it was actually in the shot, that Nixon being the true dog that he was, had a tendency to mark his territory in the White House, but, alas, it’s not, it’s just the remnants of a cup of coffee.
Perhaps Alger signed it after all.
Photographic proof that white men can’t jump, especially this tighty whitey
Tonight, for your viewing pleasure on this, the sixth night of Chanukah, we present what surely will become a classic commemorative photo of Louis the Dog doing to Richard Nixon what he did to the country for six years.
Before we go, however, how about a classic Richard Nixon joke (told to me years ago by my buddy Eric Effron)?
It was the day after Richard Nixon’s inauguration in January 1973, certainly the high point of his life (unless you count the day he found out he was going to spend World War II playing poker in a PX instead of actually fighting for his country). It was such a nice sunny day that he decided to take a walk around the neighborhood of the White House. Suddenly, though, there in the snow, written in urine were the words, “Richard Nixon is a lying asshole.”
“This is terrible,” said Nixon to the Secret Service agents accompanying him. “This isn’t just an attack on me; it’s an attack on our country and everything it stands for. You must find out who did this.”
So the agents called in the FBI, and the FBI carefully cut out the big chunk of snow with the handwriting on it, put it in a freezer truck and carted it off to its lab.
A few days later, the head of the FBI called.
“Mr. President, we have good news and bad news about the message in the snow.”
“Good news and bad news? What could it be? Give me the good news first.”
“Yes, sir, the good news is we were able to detect the perpetrator by analyzing the urine.”
“That is good news, but who is the scoundrel?”
“Well, Sir, it was Henry Kissinger.”
“Oh, no, how terrible. It was Henry, I thought he loved me like everyone else. But wait a minute, if that was the good news, what was the bad news?”
“The bad news, Sir, is that the message was written in your wife’s handwriting.”
Say your favorite GOP couple and their charming kids, little Trish and little Julie are coming over dinner. It’s important to set a nice table, so tonight we have a gift suggestion that that will not only impress your guests but also be the perfect conversation starter about the glory days of the Southern strategy or when Dick put those incorrigible long-haired Jewish hippie war protesters to shame when he proved he knew more about college football than they did.
Here it is. If he were still alive and a reader of the Kisseloff Collection (and who isn’t, at this point?), Richard Nixon would have taken the opportunity during this holiday season to express his admiration and personal affection for the Jewish race â€” those tapes, be damned â€” he was just kidding. After all, I’m sure he’d add, his best friend, Henry Kissinger, is Jewish, and make no mistake about it, there isn’t a finer example ofÂ the true noble and peace-loving nature of his people than Henry.
Now, one of the Kisseloff Collection biggest donors, Ms. Deborah Frost (a Jewess of the highest order), suggested that Philip Glass’s “Nixon in China” would be the perfect gift to go along with our theme. Alas, Ms. Frost makes two mistakes. 1) she is not quite familiar with the rules of the Kisseloff Collection as set down by its Board of Directors. According to page 120, paragraph 4, section 3 of the Kisseloff Collection constitution, any items on display must actually be in the possession of the blog’s proprietor; or 2) if she indeed has gone over the published rules and regulations of the boardÂ she has overestimated the proprietor’s culture and taste.
However, because of Ms. Frost’s commitment to the financial health of the collection, we have made a special effort toÂ accommodate her wishes, so we present the Kisseloff Collection depiction of the meeting of Nixon and Mao: