Remember When Americans Cared about Perjury?

by Benjamin Studebaker

My friend Nathan Robinson has written an excellent piece documenting with care and detail all the times Brett Kavanaugh appears to have committed perjury during the recent hearing. Robinson’s work is around 10,000 words long, because the number of instances of perjury or possible perjury is stunning. It’s almost as if Kavanaugh–a man attempting to be a Supreme Court justice–doesn’t think perjury matters. And it appears that to millions of Americans it doesn’t. Many still want Kavanaugh confirmed, and 11 senators voted to move Kavanaugh out of committee even after he repeatedly lied to their faces. This reminds me of another case in American history–the case of Alger Hiss.

Remember the Hiss case? Back in 1948, Hiss, who worked for the state department, was accused by Whittaker Chambers of being a communist spy. Chambers denounced Hiss before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee. But Chambers was a shaky witness. It wasn’t clear that his testimony was true, and when HUAC called Hiss into testify, the Ivy Leaguer gave a very charismatic, polished defence. It was the reverse of the Kavanaugh hearings–the accuser looked emotionally fragile and the accused looked calm and collected. These were the days before McCarthyism, and the committee was still concerned about looking like a witch hunt. It appeared they were going to have to let Hiss go.

But there was a bright young fella on that committee–a freshman congressman from California by the name of Dick Nixon. Nixon didn’t like Hiss’ story. So Nixon dug around a bit, and he managed to get evidence that Hiss was lying. They couldn’t convict Hiss of espionage, but they could get him on perjury. So Hiss was locked up for over three years, his political career utterly destroyed:

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Hiss’ supporters in the liberal establishment were furious–they believed Hiss was innocent of the espionage charges, that Nixon and HUAC had gotten him on perjury because they couldn’t get him on something else. But that didn’t matter–Hiss had committed perjury. So he had to go. After his release, Hiss was disbarred. He couldn’t even work as an attorney. More recently, evidence released from the Venona project–an American counterintelligence program begun during World War II to decode encrypted Soviet communications–strongly suggests that Hiss was indeed a communist spy. But no one knew about that evidence at the time. Hiss went down for nothing more than lying to members of congress.

Hiss wasn’t a judicial nominee, or even a judge. He was just a civil servant. But there used to be an important principle here–the principle that when you stand before agents of the American state and you swear an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you had better stick to that oath, especially if you had a job working for the American state and wanted to keep it. By locking Hiss up, the Republicans stood up for that principle. Democrats may not have liked it, but everyone accepted that perjury is perjury.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story for Nixon. The freshman congressman rode a wave of enthusiasm for his commie-busting that carried him first into the senate and then into the Vice Presidency. The Hiss Case made Richard Nixon’s political career. Without it, he almost certainly never would have become president. It was important because when everyone else on HUAC was ready to throw in the towel, Nixon kept going. “I think Hiss is lying.”

There was an opportunity here for each of the senate Democrats to have a Richard Nixon moment in that hearing last week. Each one of them could have pointed out any of lies Kavanaugh told to the committee. Each one of them could have said “I think Kavanaugh is lying.” Instead, these Democrats allowed Kavanaugh’s shouting, interruptions, and stalling to dominate the dynamic. When Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) defended Kavanaugh, Graham’s defence sounded plausible to some because none of the Democrats stood up against perjury. They didn’t need to show that Kavanaugh had definitively committed sexual assault–they just needed to show that he’s liar and remind America that we don’t tolerate it when people lie under oath.

Why didn’t the senate Democrats do that? Perhaps they aren’t as competent as Nathan Robinson or Richard Nixon–perhaps they didn’t catch the lies in the first place. Or perhaps they don’t have the courage, the backbone, the strength of conviction which Nixon drew upon when he insisted, against the views of everyone else on the committee, that Hiss was a liar.

We know there are at least two Democrats on that committee who have thought about being president–Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. These two used their time to emotionally grandstand before the cameras. They didn’t, haven’t, and won’t go to the lengths Nixon went to in his quest to bring down Hiss. Because unlike Richard Nixon, they are incompetent, cowardly, or both of those things.

Look at Booker–he doesn’t go after Kavanaugh for perjury, he’s just incredulous that Kavanaugh seems to be alleging there’s a political conspiracy:

Look at Harris–she doesn’t go after Kavanaugh for perjury, she just wants to know if Kavanaugh wants an FBI investigation (which of course he does not want):

These are not competent people, and they are less worthy of the presidency than Nixon was. Nixon knew how to destroy a political enemy and build a mighty career on the corpse. If only we had a single Democrat on the judiciary committee half as skilled, half as strong. Someone willing, even if Kavanaugh is confirmed, to impeach and prosecute him for perjury. Someone like Nixon.

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That’s where we’re at, guys. You’ve made a left-wing blogger write a piece about how great a politician Nixon was. Yes, Nixon–the guy who secretly destroyed Cambodia, covered up a third-rate burglary, and very probably conducted illegal diplomacy with the South Vietnamese government while a private citizen. Thanks for lowering the bar that far. Really appreciate it.