Saturday, November 2, 2013

Is the Tea Party Really All About Alger Hiss? By Walter Russell Mead.

Is the Tea Party Really All About Alger Hiss? By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, November 2, 2013.

How the Alger Hiss Case Explains the Tea Party. By Cass R. Sunstein. Bloomberg, October 29, 2013.


The Tea Party is a huge intellectual problem for blue model liberals. It sprang up out of nowhere, it lacks a formal leadership structure, and despite many obituaries in the MSM, it remains a significant force in the Republican Party and in American politics as a whole. It is everything Occupy Wall Street hoped to become, and the MSM did everything possible to make OWS flourish. It was hailed as a movement of historic impact, the start of a global trend, one of those epochal developments after which nothing will ever be the same—and it guttered out ignominiously.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, has flourished despite non-stop efforts to smother it in the media. While its record is mixed and, from a Democratic point of view not all bad (arguably, without unqualified Tea Party-backed candidates, the GOP would now have control of the Senate), its persistence annoys. It is almost as if the MSM’s power to shape American politics is on the wane.
. . . .
This is a surprisingly lame ending to the piece. After all, if Chambers’ attack on the Ivy League “reflected an important strand in American culture,” then the Tea Party must have deeper roots than one half-forgotten cause célèbre. It’s also not clear what he means by the reference to false accusations against liberals for holding positions that they abhor. Is that what Sunstein thinks the Tea Party is about? That if those unfortunate and paranoid folks understood liberals better, they would oppose them less?
There are some tinfoil hat types out there who think that President Obama and his cohorts are hiding Qu’rans in the White House and looking to introduce both socialism and Sharia as soon as they can. Nut jobs on both the left and the right and all kinds of cranky positions in between are an enduring part of American politics. But if Sunstein thinks that this is the energy that powers the Tea Party, he is very far from understanding either this phenomenon or American politics as a whole.
The Tea Party is mostly something much more conventional: a libertarian, small government protest against the centralization of federal power, and a populist resentment of snooty Ivy League professors who think the common people aren’t very smart. We’ve had these movements in America ever since colonial times; when Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams’ re-election bid in 1828, the 19th century forerunners of the Tea Party were in full cry.
We aren’t seeing a right-leaning populist surge today because of Alger Hiss; we are seeing it because many Americans believe that President Obama’s liberal and technocratic agenda represents a threat to a way of life they value. We are seeing it because many Americans blame the establishment of both parties both for the financial crisis and for the vast transfer of resources to the wealthy that came after the crash. We are seeing it because whether you look at foreign or domestic policy, the technocratic suggestions of the Great and the Good have not been helping ordinary Americans much for the last 20 years.
Via Meadia isn’t a Tea Party house organ, and any tea parties at the stately Mead manor are more about Earl Grey than Ayn Rand. But we don’t think Tea Partiers are wrong to see President Obama’s political goals as fundamentally opposed to their own vision of what America should be. They aren’t angry because they are stupid, and deep disagreement with technocratic liberalism is not a mental disease.
Some zealous Tea Partiers put two and two together and get eight, giving the Obama administration and its liberal backers credit for more foresight and cunning than they possess. There were those in 1800 who thought that John Adams was planning to introduce a monarchy into the United States. There were those on the right who thought that Franklin Roosevelt was a socialist; there were those on the left who thought Ronald Reagan was a fascist and that Margaret Thatcher hated poor people. But to confound a major current of American politics with the lunatic fringe is not a recipe for healing the nation or even for helping your side put some points on the board. There are birthers in the Tea Party, but the Tea Party is not the voice of birtherism.
But Professor Sunstein does have a point. The Hiss case was not a cause of the Tea Party, or even of the anti-intellectual tradition in American politics that Richard Hofstader analyzed in the early 1960s. It was, however, a prominent manifestation of the class snobbery and intolerance that so often shapes elite liberal responses to political events and that so frequently fills so many Americans with loathing and disgust.
. . . .
Liberal apologists for Hiss do bear some significant responsibility for the virulent anti-Communism of Joseph McCarthy and his ilk. Seeing so many powerful liberals defend an obvious traitor and deny the possibility that Communists were active in the FDR and Truman administrations drove many people to embrace McCarthy and other overzealous investigators. Blacklists and anti-Communist hysteria (as opposed to rational and necessary anti-Communist vigilance) must be laid in part at the door of the vain and feckless liberals who let the country down in a critical time.
If Professor Sunstein is hoping to launch a broader conversation among liberals about ways their own missteps have contributed to American polarization, then I certainly wish him the best. But it’s important to remember that the kind of behavior so painfully on display in the Hiss era is still with us today; it was not all that long ago that those who doubted that President Obama’s plans for humanitarian intervention in Syria constituted a masterful plan for ending the mass death were dismissed as raving loons and partisan hacks.

Slaves as Burial Gifts in Viking Age Norway? By Elise Naumann et al.

Slaves as burial gifts in Viking Age Norway? Evidence from stable isotope and ancient DNA analyses. By Elise Naumann, Maja Krzewińska, Anders Götherström, and Gunilla Eriksson. Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 41, No. 1 (January 2014). Also here.


Ten Viking Age individuals from the northern Norwegian site at Flakstad were analysed for δ13C, δ15N and ancient mitochondrial DNA fragments. The material derives from both single and multiple burials with individuals treated in different ways. The genetic analyses show that the individuals buried together were unlikely to be maternally related, and stable isotope analyses suggest different strata of society. It is, therefore, suggested that slaves may have been offered as grave gifts at Flakstad. A comparison with the remaining population from single graves shows that the presumed slaves had a diet similar to that of the common population, whereas the high status individuals in multiple graves had a diet different from both slaves and the common population. The results provide an insight into the subsistence of different social groups in a Viking Age society, exposing unexpected patterns of living conditions and food distribution.

Vikings Beheaded, Buried Slaves as “Grave Gifts,” New Study Suggests. By Meredith Bennett-Smith. The Huffington Post, November 1, 2013.

Viking Graves Yield Grisly Find: Sacrificed Slaves. By Tia Ghose. LiveScience, October 30, 2013.

Odd tale of headless Norse men: Slaves buried with masters. By Traci Watson. USA Today, September 24, 2013.

This Viking man, in his 20s, was buried with a headless woman,
who was in her 20s or 30s. Elise Naumann.