Alger_Hiss_(1950)Thanks to a tip from AT (to whom go grateful thanks) I am reading Richard Nixon’s Six Crises. It was written in 1962, after Nixon’s 1961 loss to John F. Kennedy and in part in response to the latter’s 1957 Profiles in Courage, which was said to have greatly improved Kennedy’s image. In a foreward Nixon explains that ‘if the record of one man’s experience in meeting crises – including both his failures and his successes – can help … then this book may serve a useful purpose. The 1948 Hiss case (the first ‘crisis’ recounted in the book) brought the then unknown junior congressman Richard Nixon into general public view for the first time. Inadvertently or not, the telling impression he gives is, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, of ‘a man who has a special talent and an ability to ferret out any kind of subversive influence wherever it may be found, and the strength and persistence to get rid of it.’ (Nixon proudly quotes this description himself!) Nixon’s account faithfully reproduces the paranoid atmosperics of Washington politics in the late 1940s, in the heyday of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Alger Hiss (picture) was a high-ranking and well-regarded State Department official with a distinguished career who was suspected of being an active Communist sympathiser and alleged to have been part of a spy ring. Judging from the Wiki account, the doubts about what exactly might have occurred rumble on and may never be entirely clarified. Nixon provides some lucid insights (particularly about the judiciary and the press) and aphorisms (‘in politics, victory is never total’). There is a wonderfully unselfconscious irony when he regrets that there were so few television sets in American homes in 1948 (notoriously, his physical appearance on the now ubiquitous TV sets in US households in the first ever televised presidential debates was supposed to have cost him the 1960 Presidency race). The publicity the Hiss affair generated pushed Nixon into the Senate in 1950 and the Vice-Presidency of the United States from 1952 to 1960. He served as President from 1969 until he resigned in 1974 and died in 1994 at the age of 81. A Presidential pardon, time and his subsequent humility put his achievements into perspective and rehabilitated his reputation to some considerable extent but could never get rid of the odour of the Watergate hearings, the threat of impeachment and his resignation. Hiss, meanwhile, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for perjury in 1950 and released after 3 years and eight months on good behaviour. He published a book, re-married, crowed publicly on an ABC programme when Nixon failed in 1962 to become Governor of California, was re-admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1975 and wrote an autobiography in 1988. He died in 1996 at the ripe old age of 92, protesting his innocence to the end. That somebody will one day make a film addressing these two lives in parallel seems to me to be inevitable.