As with so much in American politics, Obama’s “guns or religion” gaffe calls to mind an episode in the life of Richard Nixon. As a young House member, he investigated communist spy Alger Hiss. During a hearing, Hiss mocked Nixon’s background: “I attended Harvard Law School. I believe yours was Whittier.” (It was actually Duke.) Whittaker Chambers, the repentant ex-communist who exposed Hiss, later made an observation about Nixon and others on his side.
For the contrast between them and the glittering Hiss forces is about the same as between the glittering French cavalry and the somewhat tattered English bowmen who won at Agincourt. The inclusive fact about them is that, in contrast to the pro-Hiss rally, most of them, regardless of what they had made of themselves, came from the wrong side of the railroad tracks.
Chambers drew a larger lesson about American politics: “No feature of the Hiss case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think, and speak for them.”
By mentioning Hiss, I’m not questioning Obama’s loyalty. He is a patriot. But like many patriotic liberals over the past sixty years — Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, Gary Hart, Al Gore, John Kerry — he is also a snob.