A MODEST PROPOSAL
On the cover of this week's New York Times Book Review is Michael Kinsley's review of the new anti-God book by Christopher Hitchens.
I realized before I read the review that Hitchens has been a popular host and guest in D.C. for quite some time, but I hadn't quite grasped the extent to which his social life defines him among the political/media elite. To them, it seems, he's a society wit first, and only secondarily a writer.
...First in London 30 or more years ago, then in New York and for the last couple of decades in Washington, Hitchens has established himself as a character.... Hitchens is the bohemian and the swell, the dashing foreign correspondent, the painstaking literary critic and the intellectual engagé. He charms Washington hostesses but will set off a stink bomb in the salon if the opportunity arises.
His conversation sparkles, not quite effortlessly, and if he is a bit too quick to resort to French in search of le mot juste, his jewels of erudition, though flashy, are real. Or at least they fool me. Hitchens was right to choose Washington over New York and London.
Right to choose Washington? Oh, sure. Inclined to set off stink bombs? Well, it depends what's meant by that.
It occurs to me that two of Hitchens's two most gleefully deployed sustained-release stink bombs -- his campaign against Bill Clinton and his unstinting support for the Iraq War -- weren't regarded as stink bombs at all in his social circle. They fit the received wisdom of the David Broder/Sally Quinn Beltway establishment just perfectly. Perhaps he went after Clinton, and went gung ho for the war, hoping to please the members of his crowd. And his nastiest ad hominems are probably just regarded as merely amusing by his pals (because he always spares them).
So the D.C. swells who are his friends don't see him as provocative. They seem his as someone who makes a good living provoking other people, and they admire his skill at that.
Remind you of anyone?
Perhaps of a certain now-disgraced radio host?
We've come to my modest proposal. What I'm thinking is that CBS Radio and MSNBC are looking in the wrong places in their attempts to replace Don Imus. They shouldn't be looking at radio people. They should just hire Christopher Hitchens.
Oh, sure, the language will be a bit more polysyllabic than Imus's, and the accent a bit plummier. But the misogyny will stay the same. So will the utter contempt for most liberals. And so will -- and this is the most important part -- the utterly cozy relationship with the D.C. powers-that-be.
Basically, that's what Hitchens is -- a shock jock with an Oxbridge accent. His aim in life is to seem offensive and startling to ordinary citizens while he chums it up with the powerful; that makes him an Imus clone.
Oh, sure, one or two things will have to change. Morning drive-time radio hosts have to get up before dawn, and that will never do for the Hitch. His show will certainly have to be pre-taped, probably the night before, starting at two in the morning somewhere next to the liquor cabinet.
But I don't think most people will find the two shows all that different. They certainly won't in the next year or so if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee -- I'm sure Hitchens would say the same nasty things Imus would have, with a very similar supporting cast chuckling along.