Monday, November 01, 2004


The All-Important Hitchens Endorsement

Being a professional crank - especially a brilliant one - must be terribly hard work. Hitchens has said that he thrives on anger and outrage, is fueled by it. It's kind of a shame that he came up in the US just when anger-and-resentment was blooming here into a high-growth, very profitable industry. It has cheapened him to swim in this pool; he's been seduced into thickets of real-time political controversies he just isn't built to negotiate very well. He's a fine critic (often very fine) and can be an excellent historian. But he's often simply clueless about the American politics he is steeping in. Wanting to be Orwell, he's ended up being Midge Dector. Hitchens is more myopic about events of the day than average, for a usual reason: being terribly, stubbornly willful.

Until recently, CH was unequivocally pro-Bush. He's now neutral, which I think is as it really should be.

Here he is today (election-eve) with his non-endorsement:

At a campus event quite late in her life, when asked in a whiny way by a member of the audience "why have you not endorsed gay lib?" [Lillian Hellman] paused briefly. Her thick and darkened spectacles were opaque. "The forms of fucking," she finally declared, "do not require my endorsement."

That would be vaguely analogous to my view of this depressing and trivial election campaign, in which I do not in any case yet have the right, let alone the inclination, to vote.

This is as close to admitting error as Hitchens gets, and notice how ultra-grouchy - surly - he is to have to get so close. Yes, Christopher, it has indeed been a trivial and depressing election campaign. (If you were eligible, would you be voting for the campaign? It's an odd sentence). Your erstwhile Standard Bearer's side has been responsible for the lion's share of the triviality and debasement. (Unfortunately for your formulation of US politics, Michael Moore is not part of the Kerry campaign, but John O'Neill is, all but technically, part of the Bush one.) Strangely, us Americans 'outside the beltway' don't think it's a trivial election at all. Pity us poor rubes who actually think it really does matter who wins it - or at the very least who loses it.

From his original non-endorsement at Slate:

I do think that Bush deserves praise for his implacability...

Yes, Mr Hitchens, that's you all over.

....and that Kerry should get his worst private nightmare and have to report for duty.

Hitchens hates Kerry for touting his service in Vietnam in this campaign. He reckons that service as nothing to be proud of, which is a defensible argument. However, he carefully elides Kerry's own later fight against that war; for all CH's righteous indignation about Vietnam, Kerry's anti-war (and then reconciliation) efforts were more consequential than anything Hitchens did or could've done at the time or since. And CH says nothing at all about the smear campaign against Kerry because of his protest of, rather than service in, the war. Oh well, 'adjustments' like that must be made when you're a person like Hitchens, and....implacable (a euphemism for 'never wrong').

Christopher Hitchens hasn't chosen to become an American citizen for a very good reason: he isn't really an American in any meaningful way; rather, he's a cosmopolitan, one whose portfolio includes the US. In no sense do I mean this as a criticism of him. He is probably more useful - and is definitely more interesting - from his perspective as a true 'citizen of the world', anyway. I also don't mean to suggest that he's 'disloyal' or that he shouldn't be welcome to become a US citizen if he chooses to do (he has American children). But as a writer and critic, he doesn't see the world through the eyes of an American. I repeat without any irony or snark: there's absolutely nothing wrong with that - the reverse, in fact.

CH writes so incredibly well about things he understands, that when he's writing about something he doesn't understand - in this case, the USA - it's glaringly obvious; check out his reviews of art or music, for instance (luckily, he admits to not understanding them very well). I think the America outside the beltway, outside the largest cities, and off the campuses, frightens and bewilders him. I don't think he has a clue about it. His characterizations of the American People are, perhaps inadvertently, condescending, hollow. His answer to our fear and anger about Bush's degradation of our government: 'there, there now children, settle down; Bush won't be president forever and it'll all be alright, so just simmer down' (a paraphrase). He couldn't care less. Perhaps he shouldn't. Fine. We shouldn't take his domestic political opinions very seriously, either, for the most part. Hitchens is fascinating and has much to teach, but his journalistic American political writing has become a kind of glittering garbage since 9/11. Embarrassingly bad. Strange phenomenon, isn't it?

<< Home

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