Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Pinch Hitchers

There are occasions when I am confronted with the harsh reality that I am not a writer/commentator first and foremost, but that I have a day job with actual demands on my time (despite my own delusions of grandeur). It is during these realizations that I am thankful that Jonny is on the spot to pitch in to keep the TIA ship afloat. So I continue to exploit his blogospheric hiatus for my own gains.

Today, Jonny is commenting, in part, on a recent Christopher Hitchens sighting, which for some reason always seem to captivate me, and others on the Left. Hitchens is like a guilty pleasure personified, the person that makes me laugh even though I know the underlying subject matter is not supposed to be funny and that in many instances I disagree with his choice of targets. It doesn't help that he can, in the space of three sentences, inspire laughter and provoke anger. An equal opportunity offender, and, at times, a pompous boor, but one that I am happy to see at the dinner party, and would probably invite myself if I had the opportunity. Enough from me, here's Jonny:

The Devil You Know - Part One

I will never quite forgive the modern Republican party for making it its business to crudely quantize American political discourse, particularly in the Clinton years. Besides making the United States a laughing-stock - which was fabulous for our 'posture' in the world, BTW; thanks guys! - it steered Americans' ways of thinking about vital issues into meaningless cul-de-sacs. Mark Twain's 'lightening and lightning bug' comment comes to mind. Everything Clinton did was wrong. Everything Bush does is wrong. You're either with us or against us. Blah blah blah. Groundhog day: we're doomed to ask the same wrong questions over and over. The Republican putsch-lite of the 1990s was a power-grab, and if we on the..er..liberal/conservative/reality-based side simply react in-kind, isn't that a capitulation? After all, understanding adversaries - in the wider world or in domestic politics - is not appeasement. On the contrary, it's the only intelligent and, yes, strong, thing to do.

The lurid, throbbing personal hatred for the likes of Bill Clinton, George Bush and...Christopher Hitchens, will always end up obscuring what they actually do and say to some extent. I know I mused plenty of times in the frenzy of the 1990's that, whatever his deficiencies, Bill Clinton is just a man, after all, and not supernaturally bad - not the devil. In the last election, I'm sure there were Bush supporters who were thinking the same way about their man ('Why all the hatin'?'). Though Bush, unlike Clinton, has been an astonishingly bad president, he is not the Devil either. Being demonized can even give them cover in a way - which is one of the many things Bush/Rove did learn from the Clinton Experience ('misunderestimated' is a variation).

Anyway, Hitchens is far less predictable than either of those two, and always deserves at least probationary attention. Disagree with him all you want, as I do; ignore some of his more emotionally overwrought, tendentious journalism about Iraq (with its Stupid Debating Tricks) - by all means. But ignore him completely? I think that's a mistake. Unlike many Americans who knee-jerk attack him, and often on a personal level, Hitchens is or was a real leftist, and his critique of the Left is invaluable, including when it's wrong. Agree or don't, but completely-ignore to your own loss. Really, there's nothing to be scared of. Thinking isn't dangerous, right? And personally blaming Hitchens for Iraq is a bit misplaced. For one thing, unlike Sullivan, Hitchens was not about calling people who disagreed with him 'treasonous' or the like; he chided the so-called Left, but the Left needs chiding. And for another, Hitchens is not only not the Devil, but he's not even a politician. Foolish, perhaps, but...he's just a journalist.

Two bits of edification from 'Hitch':

He and James Warren (of the Chicago Tribune) were on C-SPAN Friday for a 90-minute call-in show. Hitchens was rather lucid and Warren was both unusually mono-toned AND fairly narrow-minded (and even a little crabby - maybe he has a cold; at one point he lashed out at the blogosphere in a gratuitous, old-fart way). A lot of the talk was about Iraq and the Sunday election, and Hitchens happened to provide - in passing - a key to his own abiding error about Iraq policy by repeating a saw he has uttered over and over before; it was almost a slip of the tongue: why should we worry about pissing off the jihadis even more than they already are? Perfectly reasonable answer, but to a very narrow question. Most questions of policy are not about the tiny fraction of violent radicals, but rather the millions of ordinary Middle Eastern Muslims who sway one way or another depending on events in their own region, i.e. Iraq, Palestine, etc. We seem to be effectively clueless about the nature of insurgency, either in Iraq or in the wider Middle East. More about that in Part Two.

But, getting back to this TV show: Hitchens delivered one of the funniest lines I've heard lately, when the conversation turned to the magnetic Henry Kissinger. Warren had an absolutely must-read 5 part series last week in the Tribune (you have to google each one individually, for some reason) about recently released telephone recordings of Kissinger and lots of people - Nixon, journalists, celebrities (These were phone taps; the person on the other end didn't know they were being taped. Kissinger was an absolute worm about taping and tapping everyone. A regular parasite). One
column is partially devoted to a conversation with Barbara Walters:

Here, NBC's Barbara Walters speaks to Kissinger on Feb. 21, 1973, about the parameters of an on-camera interview she desperately wants for competitive reasons.

Walters: When will I hear from you?

Kissinger: Are you home tonight?

Walters: I'm going out to dinner and I'll be home later this evening.

Kissinger: See, consumed by jealousy.

Walters: I know. The real reason I wanted to do this interview is just to have a few moments with you alone.

Kissinger: Oh, I knew that. With a camera. You like warriorism [voyeurism].

Walters: Should I call you when I come home or will you be sleeping?

Kissinger [later in the conversation]: Now you know I'm going to be sitting there waiting.

Walters: You're so full of baloney. How can you be so marvelous, so fantastic, so interesting, so brilliant, and so full of....That's the first question I'm going to ask you.

Kissinger: Only if you complete the sentence.

Walters: (Laughter) I'm glad you're back.

Kissinger: Thank you, Barbara.
As Brian Lamb was reading this aloud, you could hear Hitchens muttering 'Just reVOLTing!', as indeed it is. Hitchens then recounted another tape he had heard with Nixon and Kissinger, on the eve of the secret war on Cambodia. Kissinger and Nixon were in favor of the Cambodian adventure against the advice of everyone else in the relevant parts of the cabinet; chances are, Kissinger sided with Nixon on this for his usual self-aggrandizing type of reason - HE wanted to be in the cabinet himself. Always flatter the 'old man'! So, in the phone conversation, we evidently hear a very drunk Nixon telling Kissinger 'Well, if this thing doesn't work out, Henry, it's your ass!' The Walters conversation and then these two malevolent old bastards chatting blithely about the (secret) partial destruction of a small, poor, neutral country in SE Asia, caused Hitchens to quip:

You can't eat enough to vomit enough!
Even though it's Hitchens who said it, you're allowed to laugh.

[Elsewhere: RJ Eskow is much ado about Hitchens today as well, with his usual humor and wit, though he is a bit harsher than Jonny. Read at your own risk.]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?