Christopher Hitchens, as tart as ever, lets the really-too-sappy-for-this Anderson Cooper interview him. I’d imagine that Hitch’s final words will be similar to Joan Crawford’s. When her nurse started praying for her, Crawford snapped: “Dammit, don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
Hubbard posted this at 5:49 PM CDT on Friday, August 6th, 2010 as Hitch-slapped!
When discussing Christopher Hitchens, we once observed that he’d done something to offend just about everyone at one time or another in his life. His attacks on Mother Teresa probably didn’t endear him to the right; his attacks on the Clintons probably annoyed the left; his contrary defense of western civilization threw some on both the right and left for a loop. Some of us here at the Paupers adore him, others are a touch exasperated.
Still, he’s just canceled a range of speaking engagements due to esophageal cancer (H/T). We aren’t sure if he’d appreciate prayers, but we’ll lift a glass to him and toast his good health tonight.
We are fond of our categories here at Federalist Paupers, but we do fight over them at times. The Hitch-Slapped! one, for example, was originally called When I grow up I want to be Christopher Hitchens. We made the name change for two reasons: first, that the new one was shorter and punnier; second, that of all the sins Hitchens is guilty of, growing up isn’t one of them.
Theodore Dalrymple wrote a dual review of Christopher and Peter Hitchens’s memoirs. It’s painfully accurate about Chris’s strengths and flaws:
For me, indeed, there hangs over his writing the air of a clever adolescent alarming the less clever grown-ups with pronouncements he knows they will find outrageous or annoying; and, taking to heart his mother’s dictum that the one unforgivable sin is to be boring, he has eschewed moderation because it is so rarely amusing. This air of the naughty boy is present even when (in my opinion) he is quite right; and, unlike religion, it spoils everything.
Christopher Hitchens might be misstating the church’s position on contraception and homosexuality—I’m not enough of an expert on Catholic dogma to know the exact teachings here—but he’s very much right about the problems of pedophile priests:
Almost every week, I go and debate with spokesmen of religious faith. Invariably and without exception, they inform me that without a belief in supernatural authority I would have no basis for my morality. Yet here is an ancient Christian church that deals in awful certainties when it comes to outright condemnation of sins like divorce, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality between consenting adults. For these offenses there is no forgiveness, and moral absolutism is invoked. Yet let the subject be the rape and torture of defenseless children, and at once every kind of wiggle room and excuse-making is invoked. What can one say of a church that finds so much latitude for a crime so ghastly that no morally normal person can even think of it without shuddering?
It’s interesting, too, that the same church did its best to hide the rape and torture from the secular authorities, even forcing child victims (as in the disgusting case of Cardinal Sean Brady, the spiritual chieftain of the Catholics of Ireland) to sign secrecy oaths that prevented them from testifying against their rapists and torturers. Why were they so afraid of secular justice? Did they think it would be less indifferent and pliable than private priestly investigations? In that case, what is left of the shabby half-baked argument that people can’t understand elementary morality without a divine warrant?
For the record, I believe that the Catholic Church is one of the great forces for good in the world, but unless it cleans house, whether it will so remain is an open question. I realize that Hitchens is hardly a friend of religion, but some things are true about the church even if he says them.
But the problem with populism is not just that it stirs prejudice against the “big cities” where most Americans actually live, or against the academies where many of them would like to send their children. No, the difficulty with populism is that it exploits the very “people” to whose grievances it claims to give vent.
This [President Obama's] naiveté is worrying, and it means that among the global Muslim audience, the wrong sort of people were laughing at us, while the ones who ought to be our friends and allies were shedding a disappointed tear. – Christopher Hitchens
And Hitchens has particularly lost it when discussing Sarah Palin:
And it must be easy for a woman who couldn’t, when first asked, name a single newspaper or magazine that she had ever read…
The subtle distinction between “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t” isn’t one that Hitchens would normally miss, and one he particularly should not ignore in a column defending a man who defended terrorists. I wouldn’t complain about the “low blows” of others if, in the same column, I dishonestly painted the most popular governor in America as illiterate.
Christopher Hitchens here writes about how terrible it is that McCain and Palin are railing against some of the billions of dollars the federal government spends on research. In the midst of which, we get this:
We never get a chance to ask her in detail about these things, but she is known to favor the teaching of creationism in schools (smuggling this crazy idea through customs in the innocent disguise of “teaching the argument,” as if there was an argument), and so it is at least probable that she believes all creatures from humans to fruit flies were created just as they are now.
A. All the recent stories have been that Palin is the only one of the four major candidates frequently having discussions with the media. It seems that lots of people get to ask her questions these days.
B. It doesn’t require a federal research grant to search the interwebs and find that Palin actually doesn’t promote the teaching of creationism. Hitchens has no excuse for peddling lies, though the irony of doing it in this particular column made it worth my time to read this. Flippin’ Wikipedia even got this one right.
C. I don’t think that Sarah Palin has said whether she’s a creationist or not, so the last line of speculation is largely baseless. I actually like that she doesn’t talk about that, since it’s a complete non-issue what our politicians think about the vast majority of scientific issues.
For someone so concerned about science and research, this was a remarkably fact-free tirade.
Hitchens then proceeds to a lengthy paragraph of unhinged and unsupported speculation about Palin as a religious fanatic. There’s not too much actually connecting Palin personally to religious fanaticism (and, by any historical or global standard, Pentecostals are some pretty mild religious fanatics), though I’m not sure it’s a terribly American past time to begrudge politicians their peculiar theological beliefs. It’s interesting for Hitchens, who hates all religion, and who understands the finer points of Christian theology about as well as a hammer understands a wine glass, to involve himself in such a discussion.
When Walter Cronkite declared that the Vietnam War was a lost cause, LBJ reportedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the nation.”
Christopher Hitchens is no Walter Cronkite, but McCain today should probably be thinking, “If I’ve lost Hitchens, I’ve lost the 9/11 Democrats.” From Hitch today:
It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the “experience” is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke. One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.
In the realm of pure speculation, let’s try to figure out his mindset if Obama, understanding that he wasn’t really ready for the presidency but wanting some practice, ran in 2008 thinking that he wouldn’t win the nomination. So his plan would be that 2008 was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the real event in 2012. Winning the nomination would put him in the position of a dog who suddenly caught the Honda Civic. He hadn’t planned for this, and on some psychological level didn’t want to abandon his original plan of coming up short in 2008.
But an intelligent person, which Obama surely is, would try his best to adapt. He’s brought in a small army of consultants. For all his intelligence, Obama didn’t anticipate winning, and that’s scared him somewhat, made him trust his judgment less. It was one thing for him to luck into his Senate seat, where his primary and general election opponents self-destructed; it is quite another for him to luck into the White House. Expecting, quite reasonably, to lose, and then winning, would make anyone question his judgment and look for someone with a sounder grasp of affairs. Unfortunately for Obama, he’s surrounded by true believers, whose judgment is (almost by definition) lacking. My hunch is that Obama doesn’t have anybody in his inner circle who tells him the bad news, not because they’re afraid of his reaction, but because they’ve all drunk the Kool-aid.
So we have an intelligent but unsure man, isolated from dissenting opinions, who perhaps doesn’t want to do what everyone around him wants him to do. His advisers, convinced of his inevitability, probably wanted someone who could plausibly take charge of the presidency if, God forbid, something should happen to Obama. Meanwhile, Obama himself probably wanted someone intelligent and experienced, who has Washington insider knowledge and foreign policy background that he himself lacks, and who is independent of the true believers. Picking Biden—chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a senator for 36 of his 66 years on earth, a former sharp critic and rival for the presidency—fits the bill. It also satisfies Obama’s subconscious desire to lose.
By the end of that grueling campaign season, a lot of us had got the idea that Dukakis actually wanted to lose—or was at the very least scared of winning. Why do I sometimes get the same idea about Obama? To put it a touch more precisely, what I suspect in his case is that he had no idea of winning this time around. He was running in Iowa and New Hampshire to seed the ground for 2012, not 2008, and then the enthusiasm of his supporters (and the weird coincidence of a strong John Edwards showing in Iowa) put him at the front of the pack. Yet, having suddenly got the leadership position, he hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with it or what to do about it.
Look at the record, and at Obama’s replies to essential and pressing questions. The surge in Iraq? I’ll answer that only if you insist. The credit crunch? Please may I be photographed with Bill Clinton’s economic team? Georgia? After you, please, Sen. McCain. A vice-presidential nominee? What about a guy who, despite his various qualities, is picked because he has almost no enemies among Democratic interest groups?
Ah well. We’ve still got about 6 weeks to go. If Obama really wants to blow it, he’ll do something screwy in the debates.
You often hear it said, of some political or other opportunist, that he would sell his own grandmother if it would suit his interests. But you seldom, if ever, see this notorious transaction actually being performed, which is why I am slightly surprised that Obama got away with it so easily. (Yet why do I say I am surprised? He still gets away with absolutely everything.)
This flabbergasting process, made up of glibness and ruthlessness in equal proportions, rolls on unstoppably with a phalanx of reporters and men of the cloth as its accomplices. Look at the accepted choice of words for the ravings of Jeremiah Wright: controversial, incendiary, inflammatory. These are adjectives that might have been—and were—applied to many eloquent speakers of the early civil rights movement. (In the Washington Post, for Good Friday last, the liberal Catholic apologist E.J. Dionne lamely attempted to stretch this very comparison.) But is it “inflammatory” to say that AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it? No. Nor is it “controversial.” It is wicked and stupid and false to say such a thing. And it not unimportantly negates everything that Obama says he stands for by way of advocating dignity and responsibility over the sick cults of paranoia and victimhood.
Its a great read and well worth your time. Read the whole thing.
Jamie posted this at 5:17 PM CDT on Monday, March 24th, 2008 as Hitch-slapped!
Amusing lunch between Hitch and Edward Luce at the Bombay Club:
Then Hitchens says that he and [Bill] Clinton had shared a girlfriend at Oxford. I was startled. Was this sequential or simultaneous, I ask? “No, no, no, not at the same time or in the same room,” says Hitchens, laughing. “And I won’t say who she is,” he continues. “She wouldn’t really mind now. But she managed to survive talking to a lot of hacks in the 1992 US presidential election and they all respected her request for anonymity — she’s now a very well-known figure in radical, lesbian, feminist studies in Britain.”
After dating both Hitchens and Slick Willy, I can see how one would swear off men.
Hubbard posted this at 2:20 PM CDT on Saturday, January 12th, 2008 as Hitch-slapped!
Purportedly unaware that her license was still suspended, a result of being found with a whiff of alcohol on her breath, she also discovers that the majesty of the law will not give her a break. Evidently as bewildered and aimless as she ever was, she is arbitrarily condemned to prison, released on an equally slight pretext and—here comes the beautiful bit—subjected to a cat-and-mouse routine that sends her back again. At this point, she cries aloud for her mother and exclaims that it “isn’t right.” And then the real pelting begins. In Toronto, where I happened to be on the relevant day, the Sun filled its whole front page with a photograph of her tear-swollen face, under the stern headline “CRYBABY.” I didn’t at all want to see this, but what choice did I have? It was typical of a universal, inescapable coverage. Not content with seeing her undressed and variously penetrated, it seems to be assumed that we need to watch her being punished and humiliated as well. The supposedly “broad-minded” culture turns out to be as prurient and salacious as the elders in The Scarlet Letter. Hilton is legally an adult but the treatment she is receiving stinks—indeed it reeks—of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse.
I cannot imagine what it might be like, while awaiting a prison sentence for a tiny infraction, to see dumb-ass TV-addicted crowds howling with easy, complicit laughter as Sarah Silverman (a culpably unfunny person) describes your cell bars being painted to look like penises and jokes heavily about your teeth being at risk because you might gnaw on them. And this on prime time, and unrebuked. Lynching parties used to be fiestas, as we have no right to forget, and the ugly coincidence of sexual nastiness—obscenity is the right name for it—and vengefulness is what seems to lend the savor to the Saturnalia. There must be more than one “gossip” writer who has already rehearsed for the day that Paris Hilton takes a despairing overdose. And what a glorious day of wall-to-wall coverage that will be!
I would agree with Hitchens if Miss Hilton had something redeemable about her; she lacks even this. She has courted publicity shamelessly, and her every action reeks of a sense of self-entitlement. I’m less than fond of populism, but for the widespread loathing of Paris Hilton is a sign that people can still spot scum when they see it.
Still, I wonder if prison will help her grow up; it certainly changed Charles Colson for the better. As Eric Hoffer once noted: “Passionate sinning has not infrequently been an apprenticeship to sainthood. Many of the insights of the saint stem from his experience as a sinner.”