HITCHENS ON KERRY IN THE TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Well, it could be worse.
Hitch refrains from the sort of unbridled hate he deals out to Bill Clinton or, say, Princess Di; he even acknowledges that Kerry has done one or two good things -- acknowledges it with a wince, like a politician acknowledging an affair:
His service in the Senate, while not describable as stellar, has featured some important moments of gravity and responsibility.
Hitch's praise for Kerry's work in a couple of areas is almost fulsome -- but then there's the flick of the tail:
... I vividly remember the way in which [Kerry's] Senate office and then his subcommittee became the clearinghouse for a whole series of seemingly unbelievable rumors about the Iran-contra connection, most of which turned out to be true. And much credit belongs to Kerry for winnowing out the genuine stuff, about drug running and death squads and slush funds and secret deals with foreign dictatorships, from the conspiratorial garbage. He had played a similar role in the Vietnam veterans' movement, keeping the Pol Potists in their place at the admitted cost of some rhetorical excess on his own part. Two-sidedness has its uses.
"Two-sidedness has its uses." Yup -- having examined Kerry and read three new books on him, Hitchens, who now prides himself on being above ideology, on being no side's lackey, concludes that Kerry is ... a flip-flopper!
How remarkably harmonious with the Bush campaign's talking points.
Granted, Hitchens doesn't say this in so many words. Neither "flip" nor "flop" appears in his review, in any form. Kerry is, rather, "ambivalent"; he's "Janus-like"; his campaign book, "if it were to draw its title from any popular song, ... would have to bow toward Joni Mitchell and announce itself as 'Both Sides Now.'"
Now, Hitchens is an independent man; after he calls Kerry "Janus-like," he's not going to feed you an example of flip-floppery straight from the archives of the Bush campaign. So what he offers instead is this:
In 1982 he was running for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Two men, Michael S. Dukakis and Edward J. King, were vying for the gubernatorial nomination, and at the endorsement convention that year Kerry's staff had two sets of buttons printed, reading "Dukakis/Kerry" and "King/Kerry," to demonstrate their man's utter readiness to serve the ticket.
Excuse me, but what's wrong with that? It's perfectly commonplace behavior in American politics. The lieutenant governorship of Massachusetts doesn't come with a lot of power or responsibility, but it's a stepping-stone position; American politics is full of positions like that, and many, many ambitious men and women of both parties would do just what Kerry did in pursuit of such an office.
The Hitchens review is full of nonsense like this. He chastises Kerry for getting his first marriage annulled ("How odd that he would invoke one of the Roman Catholic Church's most pitiless dogmas"), not realizing (or not acknowledging) that a number of Catholics of Kerry's generation who had political ambitions pulled strings to get annulments rather than divorces, at least until very recently, in the belief that this was necessary to maintain political viability with more traditional Catholic voters. (This is not limited to Kennedys -- there was an annulment in the fourteen-year first marriage of Rudy Giuliani, whose Republican convention speech Hitchens will, I suspect, admire greatly.)
Hitchens chides Kerry for publishing a dull campaign manifesto -- as if this a unique failing -- while praising John Edwards because his "sprightly and punchy campaign biography was co-written, in another first, by a distinguished scholar of Henry James." (In fact, calling it a "campaign biography" is rather deceitful -- the book was Four Trials, and its subject matter wasn't policy, but rather the stuff of ER and Dateline NBC -- "two medical malpractice suits, a wrongful death suit, and a corporate negligence suit," according to Booklist.)
And he mocks Kerry for apparently seeking to put John McCain on the ticket before settling on John Edwards. Admittedly, this was an odd episode -- but is it any odder than what his opponent is doing with regard to McCain? Bush now embraces the man whom he beat in the 2000 primaries thanks to a sewer campaign; Kerry and McCain, by contrast, have worked well together for years. Seeking out McCain is, for both candidates, a way to try to reach swing voters -- but McCain is admired, or at least respected, by much of Kerry's base while Bush's base largely despises McCain (or did so, at least, until he fell into line with Bush). Who's acting against principle here?
But Hitchens won't say a discouraging word about Bush. (Even in an aside about alleged embarrassing deeds by Kerry's brother, Hitchens invokes Billy Carter and Roger Clinton -- heaven forbid he should mention Neil Bush.)
Hitchens believes that, in the war on terror, our choices are Bushism or death. This has been obvious for nearly two years. Since he's clearly concluded that a Kerry presidency could lead to the end of civilization as we know it, what's the point of asking him to review these books?