Earl Weaver: Words from a baseball master

By , Published: January 19

The Washington Post

In the 1970s, when female reporters were first allowed in baseball locker rooms, I was leaving Earl Weaver’s office one night after his smart, sarcastic postmortem of a tough Orioles defeat. I realized that the only woman on the beat, a relative newcomer, had missed Weaver’s performance.
Entering his office as we all left, she looked worried. Weaver dressed down reporters for dumb questions and at times demanded what you would have done — and why — before he would give his own answer. His office was sometimes a funny place, but also electric with tension: Baseball spoken here.
Eavesdropping is a clubhouse sin. But I wanted to see how cruel Weaver might be. To that point, I’d never met anyone in baseball with much grasp that a female journalist had every right to be there.
“So,” said Weaver, businesslike, “do you want it all or just the highlights?” And he started repeating his best answers as she wrote.
Earl Weaver died late Friday night at 82. Whatever you think he was, you’re right. But he was probably also, to some degree, the opposite as well. Whenever you assumed he was a man of his time, defined and limited by immersion in his sport, he often showed he was ahead of the times and also, frequently, ahead of his sport.
In death, we will see images of his tirades at umpires, be reminded of his funny wisecracks and of his sense of strategy that predated several “Moneyball” theories by a generation. We’ll see a hard, smart man with a Chesapeake crab’s shell, little social polish and a need to overcompensate for his lack of size and ability as a minor league ballplayer. We all saw that.
But in nine years of covering the Orioles beat, I saw another Weaver, one that doesn’t contradict the first, but rather broadens him. He didn’t open up often, but when he did, you were floored. He knew himself — why he was who he was and why he managed the way he did — as well as anyone I ever covered. We knew he had examined baseball and hadn’t missed much. But he’d also examined himself and analyzed in detail everyone around him, too.
The distance Weaver kept from his players, with no desire whatsoever to be their friend, but rather to be their leader, was his defining trait to me. That distance gave him authority and made every day at the park feel just a little bit dangerous. What would Earl do? What might he not do, if he felt like it? No contemporary team, in my experience, was on its toes in the sense that Weaver’s Orioles always were.
Reggie Jackson only played one season for Weaver but said: “I loved the little Weave. If you made a mental mistake, you saw him waiting for you on the top step of the dugout when you came back in. He’d just say one word, ‘Why?’ And you better have an answer. On his team, if you didn’t ‘think the game,’ you had a problem. He was right in your face.”
“We are all on speaking terms. We have a little rapport. Not too much,” Weaver told me, regarding his relationships with his players. “You learn the lesson the first day in Class D [what the lowest rung of the minor leagues was once called]. You’re always going to be a rotten bastard, or in my case, a little bastard, as long as you manage. That’s the rule. To keep your job, you fire others or bench them or trade them. You have to do the thinking for 25 guys and you can’t be too close to any of them.”
Weaver never allowed managing to be a pleasure to him. It was work. And while he loved a loose, goofy clubhouse with characters and high jinks, one where you argued and let off steam one day, then started fresh with clean air the next, he never pretended to be a friend to anyone except his coaches. Every star he ever had “except Brooks Robinson,” ended up denouncing him, refusing to believe it when The End came to their careers.
That strain, of being a true authority figure, is perhaps the main reason his career was so short. He retired at 52, was begged and bribed back, but retired for good at 56. Two other reporters and I sat in the dugout one evening in ’86 before a game when Weaver began ruminating on how he returned but couldn’t fix the team and knew it and should quit. Then he said he had to go see the general manager and he left.
“Did Earl just decide to retire?” we asked each other. He did at the end of the ’86 season.
For Weaver, the strain of the game was his certainty that he was often one of the few adults in the room. “You must remember that anyone under 30 — especially a ballplayer — is an adolescent,” he once told me. “I never got close to being an adult until I was 32. Even though I was married and had a son at 20, I was a kid at 32, living at home with my parents. Sure, I was a manager then. That doesn’t mean you’re grown up.
“Until you’re the person that other people fall back on, until you’re the one that’s leaned on, not the person doing the leaning, you’re not an adult. You reach an age when suddenly you realize you have to be that person. Divorce did it to me. It could be elderly parents, children . . . anything. But one day you realize, ‘It’s me. I’ve got to be the rock.’ ”
Finally, he got sick of being that rock, never showing his players how much he cared about them, always being the adult bringing bad news. No manager ever yearned for retirement more than Weaver.
“I know exactly what I need to live on, have since ’57. I’m always going to do the same things. I grow all my own vegetables. I stuff my own sausages. Pork shoulders will be coming on sale next month. I look for chuck roast on sale to use in stew or grind up for hamburgers,” Weaver said. “Doing that takes time and I enjoy it. I’ll have plenty [of money] to play golf every day, run out to Hialeah or the dogs, take [wife] Marianna out to dinner in Fort Lauderdale, and take a walk on the beach. . . .
“I don’t want to spend my whole life watching the sun go down behind the left field bleachers.”
Weaver’s Orioles were always amazed that he retired so young, stayed in Florida and always seemed content, especially compared to the constantly wired Earl of Baltimore, whenever they saw him again. They assumed he was worried about his health or didn’t want his ritual postgame drinking, to unwind after games, to get the better of him. What they missed was his wisdom. One of his owners, the distinguished lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, talked constantly about “competition living” and how little else mattered. Weaver looked at him amused and grew tomatoes in the bullpen.
Many will remember him for his wins, his arguments and his quips. “I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than my first wife.” Or, on seeing slumping Al Bumbry heading to chapel services, cracking, “Take your bat.” He never met an authority figure, in a blue ump’s uniform or a general manager’s office or a state trooper’s cruiser, that didn’t bring out the hell raiser in him.
That’s Earl. But there was plenty more. He thought about everything in baseball with a unique freshness, as if it was unexamined before he arrived. He loved to analyze the psychology of his players, adding every new detail to his mental portrait. And, in a game where consistency is worshipped, he actually enjoyed changing his mind, reworking the puzzle.
“Why?” we asked him.
“Everything changes everything,” he said.
And now that he’s gone, even more so.

For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit

More on Earl Weaver: Boswell recalls his favorite Weaver quotes Davey Johnson reflects upon death of mentor Obituary: Former Orioles skipper dies at 82

California at Twilight

California at Twilight
Posted By Victor Davis Hanson On January 29, 2013 @ 12:01 am In Uncategorized | 21 Comments
We keep trying to understand the enigma of California, mostly why it still breathes for a while longer, given the efforts to destroy the sources of its success. Let’s try to navigate through its sociology and politics to grasp why something that should not survive is surviving quite well — at least in some places.
Conservati delendi sunt
The old blue/red war for California is over. Conservatives lost. Liberals won — by a combination of flooding the state with government-supplied stuff, and welcoming millions in while showing the exit to others. The only mystery is how Carthaginian will be the victor’s peace, e.g., how high will taxes go, how many will leave, how happy will the majority be at their departure?
The state of Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, and George Deukmejian is long dead due to the most radical demographic shifts of any one state in recent American history — as far away as Cicero was to Nero. One minor, but telling example: Salinas, in Monterey County where the murder rate is the highest in the state, just — at least I think the news story is not a prank — named its new middle school after Tiburcio Vasquez [1].
A convicted murderer.
He was the legendary 19th-century robber and murderer who was hanged for his crimes. But who is to say that Vasquez is a killer, and Henry Huntington a visionary?
The New Demography
California has changed not due to race but due to culture, most prominently because the recent generation of immigrants from Latin America did not — as in the past, for the most part — come legally in manageable numbers and integrate under the host’s assimilationist paradigm. Instead, in the last three decades huge arrivals of illegal aliens from Mexico and Latin America saw Democrats as the party of multiculturalism, separatism, entitlements, open borders, non-enforcement of immigration laws, and eventually plentiful state employment.
Given the numbers, the multicultural paradigm of the salad bowl that focused on “diversity” rather than unity, and the massive new government assistance, how could the old American tonic of assimilation, intermarriage, and integration keep up with the new influxes? It could not.
Finally, we live in an era of untruth and Orwellian censorship. It is absolutely taboo to write about the above, or to talk about the ever more weird artifacts of illegal immigration — the war now on black families [2] in demographically changing areas of Los Angeles, the statistics behind DUI arrests, or the burgeoning profile of Medi-Cal recipients. I recall of the serial dissimulation in California my high school memorization of Sir Walter Raleigh:
Tell potentates, they live/Acting by others’ action/Not loved unless they give; Not strong but by affection; If potentates reply/Give potentates the lie.
There were, of course, other parallel demographic developments. Hundreds of thousands of the working and upper-middle class, mostly from the interior of the state, have fled — maybe four million in all over the last thirty years, taking with them $1 trillion in capital and income-producing education and expertise. Apparently, they tired of high taxes, poor schools, crime, and the culture of serial blame-gaming and victimhood. In this reverse Dust Bowl migration [3], a barren no-tax Nevada or humid Texas was a bargain.
Their California is long gone (“Lo, all our pomp and of yesterday/Is one with Nineveh and Tyre”), and a Stockton, Fresno, or Visalia misses their presence, because they had skills, education, and were net pluses to the California economy.
Add in a hip, youth, and gay influx to the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and coastal Los Angeles that saw California as a sort of upscale, metrosexual lifestyle (rule of thumb: conservatives always find better restaurants in liberal locales), and California now has an enormous number of single-person households, childless couples, and one-child families. Without the lifetime obligation to raise $1 million in capital to pay for bringing up and educating two kids from birth to 21 (if you’re lucky), the non-traditional classes have plenty of disposable income for entertainment, housing, and high taxes. For examples, read Petronius, especially the visit to Croton.
Finally, there is our huge affluent public work force. It is the new aristocracy; landing a job with the state is like hitting the lottery. Californians have discovered that, in today’s low/non-interest economy, a $70,000 salary with defined benefit public pension for life is far better than having the income from a lifetime savings of $3 million.
Or, look at it another way: with passbooks paying 0.5-1%, the successful private accountant or lawyer could put away $10,000 a month for thirty years of his productive career and still not match the monthly retirement income of the Caltrans worker who quit at 60 with modest contributions to PERS.
And with money came political clout. To freeze the pension contribution of a highway patrolman is a mortal sin; but no one worries much about the private security’s guard minimum wage and zero retirement, whose nightly duties are often just as dangerous. The former is sacrosanct; the latter a mere loser.
The result of 30 years of illegal immigration, the reigning culture of the coastal childless households, the exodus of the overtaxed, and the rule of public employees is not just Democratic, but hyper-liberal supermajorities in the legislature. In the most naturally wealthy state in the union with a rich endowment from prior generations, California is serially broke — the master now of its own fate. It has the highest menu of income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation, and about the worst infrastructure, business climate, and public education. Is the latter fact despite or because of the former?
How, then, does California continue? Read on, but in a nutshell, natural and inherited wealth are so great on the coast that a destructive state government must work overtime to ruin what others wrought.
Also, when you say, “My God, one of every three welfare recipients lives in California [4],” or “California schools are terrible,” you mean really, “Not in Newport or Carmel. So who cares about Fresno, or Tulare — they might as well be in Alabama for all the times I have been there.”
So Much Taxation, So Little in Return
Thank God for Mississippi and Alabama, or California schools would test dead last [5].
Somehow, in just thirty years we created obstacles to public learning that produce results approaching the two-century horrific legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. About half the resources of the California State University system are devoted to remedial schooling for underperforming high school students (well over half who enter take remediation courses; half don’t graduate even in six years; and well over half have sizable financial aid). The point of CSU’s general education requirement is not so much any more to offer broad learning (who is to say what is “general education?”), but rather to enter a sort of race, class, and gender boot camp that allows some time off to become familiar with how the culture and politics of the state should continue.
The majority of the once-vaunted upper-tier University of California campuses now resemble second-tier CSU of old. Yet I think a Fresno State graduate of 1965 was far better educated than a UC Irvine or UC Santa Cruz student of today.
The state’s wealthiest and best-prepared students are perhaps only well-taught at its elite schools — the two UC campuses at Berkeley and UCLA, Stanford, Caltech, USC, Pepperdine, or Santa Clara — while the poorer but still serious students increasingly enroll in the new private online and tech schools that sprout up around failed CSU campuses. Why pay for the farce of GE, when you can just get the nuts-and-bolts job skills cheaper and quicker at a tech school?
Stagecoach Trails
Little need be said about infrastructure other than it is fossilized. The lunacy of high-speed rail is not just the cost, but that a few miles from its proposed route are at present a parallel but underused Amtrak track and the 99 Highway, where thousands each day risk their lives in crowded two lanes, often unchanged since the 1960s.
The 99, I-5, and 101 are potholed two-lane highways with narrow ramps, and a few vestigial cross-traffic death zones. But we, Californian drivers, are not just double the numbers of those 30 years ago, but — despite far safer autos and traffic science — far less careful as well. There are thousands of drivers without licenses, insurance, registration, and elementary knowledge of road courtesy. Half of all accidents in Los Angeles are hit-and-runs.
My favorite is the ubiquitous semi-truck and trailer swerving in and out of the far left lane with a 20-something Phaethon behind the wheel — texting away as he barrels along at 70 mph with a fishtailing 20 tons. The right lane used to be for trucks; now all lanes are open range for trucking — no law in the arena! The dotted lane lines are recommendations, not regulations. (Will young truck drivers be hired to become our new high-speed rail state employee engineers?)
When I drive over the Grapevine, I play a sick game of counting the number of mattresses I’ll spot in the road over the next 100 miles into L.A. (usually three to four). Lumber, yard clippings, tools, and junk — all that is thrown into the back of trucks without tarps. To paraphrase Hillary: what does it matter whether we are killed by a mattress or a 2 x 4? In places like Visalia or Madera, almost daily debris ends up shutting down one of the only two lanes on the 99.
Wrecks so far? It is not the number, but rather the scary pattern that counts. I’ve had three in the last 10 years: a would-be hit-and-run driver (the three “no”s: no license, no registration, no insurance) went through a stop sign in Selma, collided with my truck, and tried to take off on foot, leaving behind his ruined Civic; a speeder (80 m.p.h.) in L.A. hit a huge box-spring on the 101 near the 405, slammed on his brakes, skidded into a U-turn in the middle lane, reversed direction, and hit me going 40 m.p.h. head-on (saved by Honda Accord’s front and side air-bags and passive restraint seat harnesses; the injured perpetrator’s first call was to family, not 911); and a young woman last year, while texting, rear-ended me at 50 m.p.h. while I was at a complete stop in stalled traffic in Fresno (thank God for a dual-cab Tundra with a long trailer hitch). She too first called her family to try to help her flee the scene of her wrecked car, but my call apparently reached the Highway Patrol first.
Drive enough in California, and you too, reader, will have a ‘”rendezvous with Death, at some disputed barricade.”
West and East Californias
The coastal elites unite politically with the interior poor, in the fashion of the Caesarians and the turba. I suppose that their common adversary is, as was true of Rome, the disappearing middle class. Along the coast, elites have harvested well California’s natural and acquired wealth. I’ll again just toss out a few brands; you can imagine the lucre and jobs that are generated from Santa Rosa to San Diego: Apple, Chevron, Disney, DreamWorks, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Hollywood, Napa Valley, Oracle, PG&E, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Wells Fargo, the ports of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Oakland.
So let us not speak of California decline, but of California’s decline and another California boom — one of 6% unemployment and another of 16%, one of $100,000 per capita income and another of $15,000, one of cottages sold on the first day on the market in Newport and another of vacant McMansions molding away in Stockton.
Success continues on the coast and is managed by very wealthy and mostly liberal residents of the sprawl that surrounds Los Angeles and San Francisco. For the five million or so who are enriched in enterprise zones like these — and there are thousands more spin-off and smaller such companies — life is pretty good if you keep your household small, inherited a house, or make enough money to buy something at about $500 to $1,000 dollars a square foot. In Selma, new 1800 sq. foot homes sell for $140,000; in Palo Alto, dollhouses go for $1.5 million. So who is the prince, and who the fool? Are opera tickets and a street light that still has its wire worth it?
The Cost of Doing Business
Coastal folk seem to view high taxes like Mafia protection money [6], but in the sense of psychological satisfaction and freedom from guilt. For now, sales, gas, and income taxes are not so high as to matter to those who voted for them, at least in view of the social and political advantages of coastal living: the beautiful weather, the Pacific panorama, the hip culture of recreational light drug use, neat restaurants, sports, fine wines, solar and wind romance, foreign cars, and general repugnance at religion, guns, conservatives, and traditional anything.
To the extent that “they” (i.e. you, reader) exist, the distant others are nebulous, rarely thought-about souls. Perhaps they really do enjoy polluting the planet as they generate the electricity [7], pipe in the natural gas and oil, refine the fuels, grow the food, and cut and haul the lumber that gives a Palo Alto or Santa Barbara the stuff to go on one more day.
Vote For Me Not To Represent You?
I still can’t figure out politics and culture of our vast interior, both the enormous and mostly empty state above Sacramento, and the huge Central Valley and Sierra. As my neighbors put it, life would have to get pretty awful here to be worse than in Oaxaca [8]. I once asked a neighbor why he was hauling wrecked trailers onto his small parcel. He smiled and told me California was “heaven.” From my few trips to Mexico, I could not argue.
One of the questions I always hear from strangers: “Why doesn’t everyone leave?” The answer is simple: for the coastal overdogs there is nowhere else where the money is as good and the weather and scenery are as enjoyable. How much would you pay to walk in cut-offs in February and not in three jackets in Montana? And for the interior underclass, California’s entitlements and poor-paying service jobs are paradise compared to Honduras, Jalisco, or Southeast Asia. And, yes, the middle-class small farmers, hardware-store owners, company retirees, and electricians are leaving in droves.
Weird Politics
The Latino population, I would imagine, would be in revolt over the elitist nature of California politics. Of course, thousands of second-generation Latinos have become public employees, from teachers to DMV clerks, and understandably so vote a straight Democrat-public union ticket. But millions are not working for the state, and they suffer dramatically from the ruling Bay Area left-wing political agenda of regulations, green quackery, and legal gymnastics. It is not just that the foreign national illegally entered the U.S. from Oaxaca, but entered the most complex, over-regulated, over-taxed, and over-lawyered state in the nation — hence the disconnects.
Take energy. California may have reserves of 35 billion barrels of oil in its newly discovered shale formations, and even more natural gas — the best way to provide clean electricity and, perhaps soon, transportation energy for the state. Tens of thousands of young Latino immigrants — given that agriculture is increasingly mechanizing, construction is flat, and the state is broke — could be making high wages from Salinas to Paso Robles, and along the I-5 corridor, if fracking and horizontal drilling took off. Even more jobs could accrue in subsidiary construction and trucking. And for a cynic, billions of dollars in state energy taxes from gas and oil revenue would ensure that the state’s generous handouts would be funded for a generation. Did someone forget that the California boom of the 1930s and 1940s was fueled by cheap, in-state oil?
More importantly, our power companies have the highest energy bills in the nation, given all sorts of green and redistributionist mandates. The costs fall most heavily on the cold winter/hot summer interior residents, who are the poorest in the state. Those who insist that the utilities invest in costly alternate energy and other green fantasies live mostly in 65-70 degree coastal weather year-round and enjoy low power bills.
Yet the liberal coastal political lock-hold on the state continues.
No one in San Joaquin or Tranquility cares about a baitfish in the delta, but they do vote nonetheless for the elites who divert water from farms, put the poor farm worker out of work, and feel good about saving the smelt in the process. Go figure.
Soft Apartheid

How then does the California coalition work, and in some sense work so well?
The coastal elite offers an agenda for more welfare funding, scholarships, class warfare, public unions, diversity, affirmative action, open borders, and amnesty, and in response the interior voter signs off on everything from gay marriage, solar and wind subsidies, gun restrictions, mass transit schemes, and the entire progressive tax-and-spend agenda. Most of this coalition never much sees one another.
The young Mountain View programmer keeps clear of Woodlake. He even has only a vague idea of what life is like for those who live in nearby Redwood City and make his arugula salad at the hip pasta bar in Palo Alto. In turn, the Redwood City dishwasher has an equally murky sense that the wealthy kid who works at Google does not wish to deport his uncle — and so the two become unspoken political partners of sorts. One of the state’s wealthiest cities, a gated Atherton, is juxtaposed to one of its most Latinate communities, Redwood City. But they might as well be Mercury and Pluto. Or should we applaud that the owner of the manor and his grass cutter vote identically — and against the interests of the guy who sold and serviced the Honda lawn mower?
In the flesh, the energetic people I associate with during the week in Silicon Valley and see on the Stanford campus and on University Avenue are, it must be said, innovative folk, but soft apartheidists: where they live, where their kids go to schools, where they eat, and whom they associate with are governed by a class, and de facto racial, sensibility that would make Afrikaners of old proud.
The liberal aristocracy is as class-bound as the old Republican blue-stockings, but saved from populist ostracism by what I have called the “hip” exemption — liberalism’s new veneer that allows one to be both consumer and critic of the Westernized good life, to praise the people and to stay as far away from them as possible. Mitt Romney is an outsourcer; Google’s offshore holdings are cool.
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: 
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Is there hope? Can there be honesty about our crises and courage to address them? If there is not to be assimilation and integration at the rate as in the past, then I sometime fantasize that a new conservative movement of second- and third-generation upper middle-class, over-taxed Mexican-Americans will demand competitive schools for their children without the fantasies of Chicano studies and coastal global warming indoctrination.
They will push for energy development, beefed-up law enforcement, and reasonable taxes and power rates, and so lock horns with the coastal elites, well apart from abortion, the death penalty, and the constant alternative lifestyle agenda. Some already are heading that way; more would if the borders were closed and the old forces of the melting pot were not impeded.
Or maybe change will come from the other end of the surreal coalition. I talk to young, high-end yupster couples and wonder how they can vote for 40% federal income taxes, 11% state income taxes, Obamacare, and payroll and Medicare surcharges on their hefty incomes when increasingly they don’t use the public schools. Or if they have children, they pay exorbitant prices for private schooling and coastal housing that anywhere else would be laughable. I don’t think Menlo-Atherton High School, or the average paving on any residential street in Palo Alto, or the security on Willow Avenue, or the square footage of the typical Menlo Park bungalow is all such a great deal for losing 55% of your income to the local, state, and federal redistributionists.
Will Howard Jarvis return, with Birkenstocks and ponytail?
Would some young visionary see that just a few ecologically correct new dams, and a well-run development of the Monterey shale formation, would enable vast new increases in California energy and agriculture — food and fuel are what sustains mankind — and launch another Gold Rush?
Then I wake up and accept that contemporary California is a quirk, one governed by a secular religion [9], a non-empirical belief system that postulates that natural gas is bad because it produces heat and that dams that store precious water are unnatural [10]. So far the consequences of such thinking rarely boomerang on the cocooned fantasists.
We are like the proverbial spoiled third-generation progeny [11] of the immigrant farmer: the first-generation toiler lived in a hovel until he bought his 80 acres with paid cash. The second remodeled the old house, had a nicer car than a tractor, doubled the acreage, but took the weekend off and had less money in the bank than did his dad. The third fantasized and puttered about in his hiking boots, went through the inheritance, mortgaged the land — and was as glib and mellifluous as he was broke.
California is a tired idea.
For the sword outwears its sheath, 
And the soul wears out the breast.
(Thumbnail on PJM homepage by [12].)

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Whittaker Chambers: Taking Freedom's Part, Irritating Everybody in the Process

Posted By Lauren Weiner 
PJ Media
On January 18, 2013 @ 7:00 am In History,Ideology,Literature,Marxism | 6 Comments
Whittaker Chambers, 1901-1961
Witness by Whittaker Chambers recently turned 60, and journalists and scholars met at Yale University to celebrate this literary landmark and seminal text of the conservative movement. The discussion brought out divisions on the Right that actually go back to the Cold War.
This classic memoir, about the author’s defection from communism and testimony against one of his former comrades, Alger Hiss, was an instant bestseller in 1952. Chambers pulls the reader into his strange life: his service to Soviet military intelligence, his disillusionment and flight from the communist underground, and the obloquy he faced when the East Coast establishment circled the wagons around Hiss, a veteran of the U.S. State Department.
When Random House published Witness, Hiss sat in prison for having denied under oath that he passed government documents to the Russians. The international context was one of steady gains for communism: the Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia, Mao’s triumph in China, and the Kremlin’s acquisition of the bomb. This is why Chambers wanted to make his book more than a spy story. Emulating Dostoevsky, he cast his account in dramatic philosophical and historical terms:
The simple fact is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades.
Hiss and others in government had helped the Russians in the 1930s. They were drawn to the Bolshevik cause during the economic crisis of the Depression, believing capitalism was doomed and state socialism was the wave of the future. At that time, the Kremlin was trolling for security and trade information not so much about the U.S. but about the Soviet Union’s adversaries in Europe and Asia. This it obtained in Washington, through Chambers and other underground party couriers, from the files of sympathetic officials at State, Treasury, and other U.S. government agencies.
New Dealers and liberals were affronted by this belated accusation against polished and articulate Alger Hiss. They believed he was innocent – not a spy but merely a whipping boy of anticommunists, a symbol by which the Right could smear the New Deal as subversive. Elite opinion scorned Chambers and defended Hiss throughout congressional hearings, grand jury investigations, and two trials at the conclusion of which Hiss was convicted of perjury.
The Hiss-Chambers case formed a partisan and ideological fault line that was to stretch across the generations. Witness solidified this effect. Its grim decline-of-the-West poetry and gripping cloak-and-dagger narrative “may have enlisted more American anticommunists than any other book of the Cold War,” said author Lee Edwards, one of the panelists at the November conference in honor of the book. Edwards, a biographer of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, recalled that Reagan could quote from memory the first pages of the foreword to Witness.
Regnery brought the memoir out in a paperback edition during the second Reagan administration. It shaped the political and cultural outlook of a new generation of readers, among them yours truly. The sufferings of the world weigh upon all of us; that much I knew. What Witness showed me was where this sensitivity could lead. The adventurous young tend to want to save the world, and in Witness, the most adventurous are the most prey to tunnel vision and a distasteful sort of hubris.
Chambers’ sharp portraits of the world-savers he met add up to a meditation on idealism that is without peer in American literature. Violence and repression on the part of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union dented some people’s – but only some people’s – dedication to the cause. Others were impervious. The book’s gallery of personalities includes more than Bolsheviks. Along with them we meet socialists, liberals, “unclassified progressives” – all people of good will who “share a similar vision [with communists], but do not share the faith because they will not take upon themselves the penalties of the faith.” The project of bringing the Soviet model to America held the appeal of a cult. This, writes Chambers, was “the root of that sense of moral superiority which makes Communists, though caught in crime, berate their opponents with withering self-righteousness.”
Sidney Hook and Norman Podhoretz, 1961.
Dismissing people for being tepid toward the revolution was Chambers’ own habit. The philosopher Sidney Hook, whom I interviewed in 1988, bore this out. Hook had met the underground communist in the 1930s through a mutual friend. Said Hook: “Chambers told Lionel Trilling after I left, ‘Lionel, I don’t trust that man, he has a Social Democratic face.’”
Hook was close to Trilling, the literary critic and Columbia University professor, and to others who first knew Chambers at Columbia in the 1920s. An expert on the ins and outs of the Hiss-Chambers case, Hook was also a walking history lesson on anticommunism – that glue holding together the otherwise fractious collection of people dedicated to defending the West in the Cold War.
One of the great anti-Stalinists, Hook was nonetheless a man of the Left. He tried to get Democrats and liberals to accept that the evidence of Hiss’s espionage was incontrovertible, all the while regretting the effect the case had on U.S. politics. Republicans made it a partisan matter, he complained, and their opportunism staved off its resolution:
You see, once the conservatives and the right-wing Republicans went on the warpath against Hiss to use him as a club to attack Truman and Roosevelt, then these people [liberals] would come to Hiss’s defense in a half-hearted way.
Hook took issue with Chambers, the onetime Stalinist, moving so much farther to the right than did Hook and the other intellectuals of their circle – radicals in their youth who later, in several cases, became identified with neoconservatism. Hook was cold to Chambers’ newfound Republicanism and to his newfound religiosity, too. (Chambers adopted Episcopalianism before seeking a home in the faith of his ancestors, Quakerism. The Friends were less than friendly; many supported Alger Hiss. This led to Chambers’ daughter being barred from attending Swarthmore College, a Quaker institution, according to Chambers’ biographer Sam Tanenhaus.)
Through it all, Hook felt for Chambers, whose sudden notoriety cost him his job as an editor of Time magazine. His predicament touched Hook’s heart. Hook believed Chambers, as did Trilling, and his wife, the writer Diana Trilling. Yet as the case unfolded, the anti-Stalinists of the Left held Chambers at arm’s length. They declared Hiss guilty; on the other hand, they thought of Chambers as histrionic, a bit extreme. Hook regretted this in retrospect:
I really almost have a sense of guilt that he should have borne all this suffering without relief or some sympathetic group which, [while] repudiating his ideas, could nonetheless accept him as a person. . . . If he had had leprosy he could not have endured more denunciation and humiliation . . . even at the hands of the government whom he was helping, because at the very last moment people didn’t know whether he was going to be indicted or Hiss.
Browsing Red publications (for which Whittaker Chambers wrote). Detail from mural by Victor Arnautoff, 1934.
That the animus against Chambers had ripple effects was something Lionel Trilling discovered when he wrote a novel with a character in it based on Chambers.  It took Trilling a while to figure out why Viking had failed to reissue his novel; this turned out to be because the man running the company, a communist, did not want to revive interest in the case “and had quietly offered his services to the Hiss [legal] defense,” in the words of biographer Tanenhaus.
During the judicial proceedings and after, Hook found impressive the way in which Chambers rose above any personal ire toward Hiss. He also credited Chambers with distancing himself from Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Wisconsin Republican, a latecomer to the issue of communist subversion, pursued spies mostly without the benefit of facts, and Chambers saw the harm that McCarthy’s recklessness did to the effort to unite believers in democracy and freedom against the threat posed by Russian and Chinese communism.
The Left today is not very interested in beating up on Whittaker Chambers. Not since the Soviet Union fell, and intelligence records became available that made the guilt of Alger Hiss, and also of atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, inescapable. (There are diehards, but they try to pick apart this or that decrypted cable from Moscow while implicitly conceding that Chambers’ account, not Hiss’s, has held up over time.)
Ironically, while Chambers no longer rankles academic and media liberals, he’s still unsettling to those who honored, and to this day honor, his lonely fight against Hiss. The writer and editor Norman Podhoretz, a former student of Lionel Trilling’s, was among the panelists at the Yale conference on Witness. In his remarks he allowed that it is a great book by a great man but emphasized his qualms about the attitude it displays toward America.
For all that Chambers turned away from socialism, said Podhoretz, he retained a dislike of capitalism that kept him from appreciating key aspects of freedom as Americans understand it. In Witness, and afterward as a founding contributor to National Review, Chambers criticized his country for “the putative crassness of its culture and its supposedly philistine indifference or hostility to things of the spirit,” said Podhoretz. No book, however great, that fails to affirm the free market can guide the Republican Party or conservatives today, he concluded.
In this age of Obama, someone who reads Chambers’ words – “socialist revolution in the name of liberalism” – might be tempted to call them prophetic. Sidney Hook, who passed away in 1989, would have said to the contrary that you can have Social Security and unemployment insurance – and maybe even Obamacare – and not be on the road to serfdom. In a free country, Hook reasoned, citizens can calibrate the size of their social safety net. How? By deciding to change their political leaders and change direction.
May it turn out to be Hook’s optimism rather than Chambers’ gloom that proves justified in the end.
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Hardness of heart and the celebration of abortion

By Michael Brown
January 29, 2013

In 1995, feminist leader Naomi Wolf called for a pro-abortion movement “that acts with moral accountability and without euphemism,” noting that, “With the pro-choice rhetoric we use now, we incur three destructive consequences -- two ethical, one strategic: hardness of heart, lying and political failure.” That hardness of heart was fully manifest in the profane video produced by the Center for Reproductive Rights celebrating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
But let’s go back to October 16, 1995, when theNew Republic published Wolf’s remarkably candid article entitled, “Our Bodies, Our Souls.” Wolf made reference to “Dr. Joycelyn Elders’s remark, hailed by some as refreshingly frank and pro-woman but which I found remarkably brutal: that ‘We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus....’”
She explained that “Second Wave feminists reacted to the dehumanization of women by dehumanizing the creatures within them. . . . Yet that has left us with a bitter legacy. For when we defend abortion rights by emptying the act of moral gravity, we find ourselves cultivating a hardness of heart.” And she urged that abortion must be treated with “grief and reverence.”
In stark contrast with that attitude, the Center for Reproductive Rights released an online video which is so obscene that author Eric Metaxaswrites, “When I first watched this ad, I thought, this HAS to be a spoof. It employs the ugly racial stereotype of a smooth-talking [black] predator celebrating his freedom to use women at zero cost to himself: Hey, baby, hook up with me—and then go have an abortion. Are they kidding? No; this was no spoof.”
The “smooth-talking predator” is actor Mechad Brooks who sits in a chair holding a red rose in one hand and a drink in the other, saying to the camera (as if speaking to his spouse), “All these years so many people said we’d never make it. They’ve been trying to tear us apart. . . Put limits on you, on me, on us.” And then, Metaxas notes, “he roars with laughter,” a sardonic, mocking laughter at that.
“We’re going to be standing right by your side, today, tomorrow, and the years to come,” he continues. “Because that is how much you mean to me, baby.” And then, once more, the laughter.
To repeat: This was not intended to be a sick joke or a demented spoof. This was meant to be taken seriously, presumably by the same kind of people who shouted their approval of abortion at last year’s Democratic National Convention. Let’s celebrate the slaughter of 55 million babies in the womb, especially in the African American community!
Metaxas quotes Ryan Scott Bomberger, an African-American pro-lifer who runs the Radiance Foundation, who noted that, “With the black abortion rate as high as it is and black fathers as absent as they are, it’s just sick to see Mehcad Brooks shill for the number-one killer in the black community.”
More graphic still are the comments of Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who asked what her uncle would do “if he’d lived to see the contents of thousands of children’s skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists’ pits?”
Naomi Wolf wrote that, “The pro-choice movement often treats with contempt the pro-lifers' practice of holding up to our faces their disturbing graphics. We revile their placards showing an enlarged scene of the aftermath of a D & C abortion: we are disgusted by their lapel pins with the little feet, crafted in gold, of a 10-week-old fetus; we mock the sensationalism of The Silent Scream.”
Yet, she asked, “How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that the truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism. Free women must be strong women, too: and strong women, presumably do not seek to cloak their most important decisions in euphemism.”
In light of these comments, I would like to make a simple proposal. The repulsive video described here has been pulled by its producer, but if someone can find a copy of it (legally), perhaps they can remake it, interspersed with these very images Wolf describes, terribly disturbing images which are now readily available online. Then let’s see if a single pro-abortion leader in the world will even attempt to minimize the horror of abortion.
Wolf argued that, “Only if we uphold abortion rights within a matrix of individual conscience, atonement and responsibility can we both correct the logical and ethical absurdity in our position and consolidate the support of the center.”
Let every American look at the pictures of these ripped up and mutilated babies and ask if it is possible for there to be an “abortion rights” movement that operates “within a matrix of individual conscience, atonement and responsibility.” And let every American ask what kind of human beings (and what kind of organization) could mockingly celebrate the slaughter of the unborn.