The trim, erect and impeccably dressed Alger Hiss, with his Ivy League and New Deal pedigree, clearly was "one of us." As it turned out, he was also a liar and a spy for the Soviet Union. Not only did a jury decide that at the time, the opening of the secret files of the Soviet Union in its last days added more evidence of his guilt.
The Hiss-Chambers confrontation of more than half a century ago produced the same kind of visceral polarization that Governor Sarah Palin provokes today.
Before the first trial of Alger Hiss began, reporters who gathered at the courthouse informally sounded each other out as to which of them they believed, before any evidence had been presented. Most believed that Hiss was telling the truth and that it was Chambers who was lying.
More important, those reporters who believed that Chambers was telling the truth were immediately ostracized. None of this could have been based on the evidence for either side, for that evidence had not yet been presented in court.
For decades after Hiss was convicted and sent to federal prison, much of the media and the intelligentsia defended him. To this day, there is an Alger Hiss chair at Bard College.
Why did it matter so much to so many people which of two previously little-known men was telling the truth? Because what was on trial was not one man but a whole vision of the world and a way of life.
Governor Sarah Palin is both a challenge and an affront to that vision and that way of life-- an overdue challenge, much as Chambers' challenge was overdue.
Whether Governor Palin runs for national office again is something that only time will tell. But the Republicans need some candidate who is neither one of the country club Republicans nor-- worse yet-- the sort of person who appeals to the intelligentsia.