Thursday, February 08, 2007

How Can I? Defending Christopher Hitchens

One of the better things about this country, in the idealistic sense, is that everyone despite their atrocities is due the best defense. Of course, one is free to despise them as well. If the person is a former liberal turned post 9/11 conservative who possesses the simultaneous talents of astounding erudition and an often needless acid tongue then the whole thing gets harder to suss out. I’m speaking of my favorite asshole, Christopher Hitchens.

I cannot stop reading his stuff, nor can I stop reading about him. Both are equally fun. Recently, a friend sent me the New Yorker’s profile of Hitchens. It is an interesting piece that shows the man as he is, bloated and drunk, chain-smoking and verbally adept, as well as cunning and almost dangerously brilliant. Apparently he is also willing to fuck over a friend if it also fucks over an enemy. He’d be an evil genius maybe, were he not so sodden from the bottle. As his wife says, Hitchens is an alcoholic though it does not interfere with his life and his work. Maybe he does drink constantly from afternoon to well into the night (he favors long nights of discussion and sleeping in late) but he also churns out books and articles like sweat of a jogger’s brow. And he flies all over the damn world putting himself in the situations where he feels he ought to be. (He was very upset to have missed by one day the judgment of Saddam’s sons.) Whatever else one can say about Hitchens, and there is plenty, it is clear he believes what he writes and says or he has somehow managed to make himself believe it.

I don’t really know what to think about the Hitch. I know what I am supposed to think. He’s a sexist pig, a fat drunk with gifted intellectual skills going to waste under Neo-Con dogma. He coined the term “Islamic fascism” which has made its way, in a slightly transmuted form, into the President’s lexicon. He has, as the New Yorker piece points out, a natural gift for debate and is merciless to his opponents. Who doesn’t like a good debate? The problem with Hitchens is that he loves a good fight so much that, in the absence of one, any old fight will do. Why else would he devote his talents to writing about blowjobs or how women aren’t funny? Clearly he has numerous axes to grind (Bill Clinton, religion, Mother Teresa) but when the opportunity is missing, claiming that women don’t need to be funny because they can fuck whomever they please—as opposed to men who must be funny in order to fuck women—will do.

Here’s the rub. Hitchens is clearly one of the most erudite and brilliant people walking around in public spotlight. Stacked against the salivating dogs of the west coast media machine, he shines intellectually brighter. I agree with the politics of Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, but guys like Hitchens impress me a lot more. When I wished Michael Moore would shut the hell up and stop making my side look bad, Hitchens was there to do what I knew someone inevitably would, which is offer evidence of what a moron Moore truly can be. Damn, it had to have been Hitchens, the one person who, when he pounds the right-wing hammer, sounds like he has thought about what he is saying.

Except on one point: Hitchens has been defending the War in Iraq consistently since it’s inception. 9/11 clearly altered his political leanings. As a young man he was socialist, a Trotskyite no less. But the sight of the smoldering Twin Towers changed all of that, as it did for many. Of course, Hitches has long been critical, one could say contemptuous, of religion. This only added fuel to the fire. Citing the hijackers as religion loons bent on murder in their god’s name (which is true), Hitchens made what some would consider an apology for anything the Bush Administration felt like doing in the Middle East. Of course, the Hitch would not call it an apology, as he would not see anything to apologize for. Let’s be fair, he does come out and say some coded things that suggest that he is not in favor of all that Bush and co. do. He does not seem to support wire tapping on private citizens, which many within our great, terrified nation do. I say “seems” because he does not always come out and admit that Bush is an inadequate President who happens to be doing what Hitchens thinks is the right thing. Hitch is smarter than that. Still, he has no problems clearly stating his feelings about his enemies. Clinton is a sex criminal and Mother Teresa’s connections were with despots who funded her activities. Kissinger he calls a mass murderer and a horrible person, and with that I agree. So yes, Hitchens does not shy away from saying what he thinks, unless, of course, it has to do with our President, a man he could not possibly respect but a man for which he will hold his tongue (somewhat) so long as he keeps up the fight against “Islamic fascism”.

I’ve seen the Hitch on a few C-Span televised panel discussions. During one he was promoting his book on Thomas Jefferson (it is said he finds a way to circumnavigate the owning slaves issue). During the Q and A portion, someone asked him what he thought Jefferson would have to say about a preemptive war, suggesting our current military involvement. Hitchens dismissed the question, claiming that the war in Iraq started back during Desert Storm, and that we have essentially been at war since, thus it is not preemptive. When someone else asked a similar question, pressing Hitchens to overtly defend the war, he simply said that he had already addressed the issue and to “pay attention in the back.”

Why would Hitchens, a man who has no problem articulating his views, run from these questions? The first answer was a thin justification (although he padded that out to a pamphlet in print) and the second felt like evasion. Whether or not he’d admit it, the Hitch appeared to be running. He also looked as if he is biding his time until his next drink and cigarette. For a man with so famous an appetite for public speaking, Hitchens often seems bored at these events. The footage I saw from the Miami Dade Book Fair showed him to be distant when speaking, except for the moment he took the bait and tore into Mother Teresa with his patented quick barb style (“That bitch had it coming for years.”) I suspect that the man was only truly ecstatic during that moment, the rest a mere formality until he could get his chance to say something controversial.

In case I have not stated my position clearly enough, here goes: I think Hitchens is a pig. Still, he’s a smart pig. He says some things I could never agree with, but he says them with enough vigor to make me listen. In short, I love hating the gastropod.

I wish there were more conservatives as learned as Hitchens. No one can say that he is not a compelling and accomplished scholar, a fantastic writer and in possession of a fierce intellect. He does not simply align himself with all things on the right, which I admire as well because one thing that scares me is a person fully committed to either partisan side. A good example came in the form of the New Yorker piece wherein he tore down Ann Coulter, as any thinking person would. He objected to her last book, Godless, for the same reason he opposes many things: religious foundation. Ann thought calling someone godless was insulting. Little did she know it isn’t to Hitchens, or me or a lot of people. Sorry Annie, nice try. The difference between someone Coulter and Hitchens is clear. While they both stomp for the same political side, Coulter clearly does so because it is all she knows and therefore she’ll swallow all things conservative. Also, she attacks her enemies for silly reasons, most of which have been shown to be petty and poorly researched. Hitchens, on the other hand, looks into thing, or at least he appears to. And he is infinitely more articulate and skilled at (as the New Yorker profile also points out) academic discourse to lull his opponents into a sense of safety before cunningly switching to a quick, stinging assault. Coulter just goes for the immediate shock, which wears off quickly and inevitably makes her arguments look thin.

For these reasons I do respect Hitchens more than Coulter, despite not agreeing with him on much. But I still cannot let go of my suspicion that the Hitch is guilty of many of Coulter’s worst qualities. Like Coulter, he seems to revel in shocking statements and starting fights. Why else would one publish an article claiming that women simply aren’t funny, or at least aren’t as funny as men? Like Coulter he is contemptuous of those who disagree with them, to the point of literally telling Bill Maher’s audience to fuck off. Like Coulter, his arrogance has earned him boos and ridicules (he’s a big target on the net, go look for yourself). Like Coulter he seems unable to imagine any other possibility save for a black or white situation. They’re wrong, we’re right, case closed. Howard Dean lied and therefore he’s a terrible person with no morals. Very cut and dried, but when it comes to the liars he supports the facts get murky behind the bigger concern, like riding the world of terrorists. And when it comes to addressing his betrayal of Sidney Blumenthal in order to leak a nasty bit about Bill Clinton, an act that might have resulted in Bluemnthal, Hitch's friend, getting charged with perjury, he sidestepped the question claiming he couldn’t quite remember everything going on during that time of his life. This from a critic of Reagan and Clinton. This from the man who is noted for having an exhaustive memory for historical facts. Maybe the booze is catching up to ol’ Hitch.

I could go on, but I think that’s all for now. Thanks for listening, it felt good to get that all off my chest. Back to the regularly scheduled Hungry Inferno ravings.

Ta ta.