Liberal Discontent and the Spies Next Door
Date: Sunday, June 28, 2009 @ 00:31:52 EDT
Topic: America


"Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies," noted the Washington Post of Walter Kendall Myers, the aging New Leftist recently arrested with his wife, Gwendolyn, on charges of spying for Cuba. "But to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C.," the story continued, "it was nothing out of the ordinary. 'We were all appalled by the Bush years,' one said."

In this account and others, the Myerses seem less like shady characters out of a spy novel than like some of the more adamant residents of the leafy, left-of-center New York suburb where I live. They, too, as the Post has it, manifest "a deep and long-standing anger toward this country," and they certainly share Mr. Myers's rage, as recorded in his diary, at America's oil companies and health-care system.

Hede Massing

Associated Press

Espionage then and now: Hede Massing (above) and Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn.


Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers


That the Myerses' politics appear indistinguishable from today's garden-variety left-liberalism has not been lost on conservatives. One wag on the Web speculated that the couple would beat the rap by pleading insanity based on Bush Derangement Syndrome. "Here's the shocking part (kidding)," noted Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft. "A Walter Myers from Ashburn, Virginia donated to the Obama Campaign this past year."

In fact, the alleged spooks are walking clichés, their every political and social attitude reflecting the mix of self-righteousness and naïveté that is the basis of post-1960s liberalism. Hugely privileged -- the great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, Mr. Myers went to prep school and sailed a 38-foot sloop -- the couple idealized the poor. Seamlessly, they moved from antiwar activism to pro-abortion activism and then, in the fullness of time, along with everyone else, to environmentalism. He was an academic -- enough said. She got into politics, like so many others, via the McGovern campaign. They grew pot in their basement. And, yes, they spied on behalf of Castro's murderous regime not for the money but on principle. They'd been searching for a sense of meaning.

But here's the thing: What makes them clichés is that there are so many others like them. In left-of-center precincts across America, from the Upper West Side to the studio lot where Sean Penn is filming his latest movie, and including countless college campuses in between, Fidel Castro is even now regarded with understanding and, yes, something like affection. True enough, some have qualms about his abuse of political prisoners and, even more so, his treatment of gays and people suffering from AIDS. But, overall, people have a soft spot for the guy who not only took on the big, bad U.S., but did so with such élan. Castro would certainly be welcome at any dinner party -- as opposed to, say, a Republican!

And we haven't even gotten to that bona fide hero, T-shirt model Che.

Would others among Castro's legion of liberal admirers likewise be inclined to spy for Cuba? Probably not very many. But probably more than you think -- if they were cultivated properly, as the Myerses were, and asked very nicely. Why? Because it would be cast as work on behalf of suffering humanity, in the struggle against the forces of rapacious exploitation.

This is the romance of the left. Many conservatives wonder how seemingly intelligent souls, who recoil at the horrors of the Nazi camps or the torture cells of a Pinochet, can regard the despots of the left, many of whose murderous totals are even higher, with apparent equanimity. It is because in the emotion-fueled world of liberalism, it is words that matter most, and professed intent, not the facts.

It has always been thus. Back in 1951, a former Soviet operative in the U.S. named Hede Massing, a key prosecution figure in the Alger Hiss case, wrote a memoir detailing her espionage work. "'What about loyalty to my country?'" she recalls one prospective recruit to her network asking plaintively -- an objection she successfully countered by arguing that "loyalty to humanity" takes "precedence over any other kind of loyalty."

In various guises, such a sentiment is heard even more often today. Reportedly, the Myerses told an undercover agent they looked forward to sailing "home" -- meaning to Cuba. It is the same word by which their foolish, starry-eyed predecessors used to refer to Stalin's Soviet Union.

Mr. Stein's latest book is "I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican," just out from Encounter.


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