Jonah Goldberg

What is amazing is how familiar this story is. Much the same thing happened with Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the convicted Soviet spies. Alger Hiss, a goliath of the East Coast liberal establishment, was a spy. Yet he was backed by liberals who considered anti-communism, at a minimum, gauche. In the 1960s, the saints and martyrs tumbled out faster. "Free Huey!" was the cry, and American liberals and leftists rallied to a whole pride of Black Panthers and other criminals, one more murderous and cruel than the next. While at Yale, a young Hillary Rodham volunteered for Panther lawyers. Revered conductor Leonard Bernstein held a fundraiser for the cop-murdering Panthers in 1970.

In recent years, the lies and mythmaking have become perhaps even more egregious. Tawana Brawley was lying, but Al Sharpton didn't care because he was "building a movement." Mumia Abu-Jamal is guilty, but don't say that in a faculty lounge. Stanley Tookie Williams was guilty. Matthew Shepherd did not die "because he was gay" but because he was a drug addict caught up with other drug addicts. The "Hollywood Ten" were a complicated bunch, but they were Communists, even Stalinists. "It matters not," quoth the liberals. "Print the legend."

It's difficult to find many liberal martyr-saints who haven't been burnished by deceit. Oh, of course, there were many personally and intellectually decent liberal heroes - Reinhold Niebuhr, John Dewey, Michael Harrington, et al - but when they reach icon status, the facts get inconvenient. To be sure, Martin Luther King Jr. deserves his place among American heroes. But it's worth noting that what makes him an American icon, as opposed to purely a liberal one, is his vision for a colorblind nation. And colorblindness is no longer a core tenet of the American left. President Kennedy was hardly the liberal of Oliver Stone's imagination. And his brother, Bobby, was more hostile to civil liberties than John Ashcroft, eagerly wiretapping Americans, including King.

But then, "what is history," asked Napoleon, "but a fable agreed upon?" Which returns us to Clooney, a decent-seeming fellow and certainly brighter than the dim-bulb stereotype of many Hollywood liberals. Still, he too is in the fable business: He has unilaterally beatified Edward R. Murrow as another hero of liberalism. The truth is that Murrow was just another journalist, better than average but flawed like all of them, who arrived late to the anti-McCarthy bandwagon. Never mind. Clooney's fans, like Sinclair's, always order the usual. And always seem to get it.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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