Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Hats off to Atrios for spotting the self-canceling presidential endorsements of Christopher Hitchens. I'm sure Hitchypoo will dismiss this with airy and arrogant words of contempt: we blinkered simpletons can't properly appreciate the breathtaking complexity of his reasoning; he is Hitch, ergo this was not what any fool can see it actually was -- a screw-up.

In the longer endorsement (the one in The Nation, for Bush, as opposed to the Kerry endorsement in Slate), Hitchypoo pulls off something remarkable: He constructs a Guinness-world-record straw man, something so monstrous it should be displayed at a Midwestern state fair, next to a fifty-foot-high cow carved out of butter:

"Anybody But Bush"--and this from those who decry simple-mindedness--is now the only glue binding the radical left to the Democratic Party right. The amazing thing is the literalness with which the mantra is chanted. Anybody? Including Muqtada al-Sadr? The chilling answer is, quite often, yes. This is nihilism. Actually, it's nihilism at best. If it isn't treason to the country--let us by all means not go there--it is certainly treason to the principles of the left.

What the hell?

This is a joke, right? Is he actually saying that when we use the word "Anybody" -- knowing full well that it means "Any of the tiny number of U.S. citizens who can survive the nominating process" -- we mean "Anyone on the face of the earth"? Is he serious?

Flashback: It's 1976. An unknown governor is on his way to the Democratic nomination for president, and those in the party who are wary of his candidacy try to stop his momentum by mounting a campaign known by the acronym ABC -- "Anyone but Carter." In the previous year the sitting president, Gerald Ford, has been the target of two assassination attempts.

Now, I don't want to claim that the 1970s were a simple, folksy time, but it's simply unimaginable that a political commentator could have cashed a paycheck for suggesting in print that Carter's Democratic opponents would have supported the nomination by their party of Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. But that's the equivalent of what Hitchens is saying here.

What's ironic is that it would be entirely appropriate to say about Hitchens what he says about the left -- there wouldn't be a bit of hyperbole in it. That's because he has been an unswerving supporter of Bush's war in Iraq from the start, and among the consequences of the war is precisely the rise to power of Sadr:

Mr. Sadr's stated intention [is] to form a political party...

Mr. Sadr's new party and the older Shiite groups are likely to form the basis for a unified list of candidates that should capture at least 55 percent of the vote in January - and possibly more if Kurdish and Sunni groups can be brought into the fold.

Hitchens's position, in other words, has been "Anybody but Saddam." And if he were to be asked, "Anybody? Including Muqtada al-Sadr?," his continued cheerleading for the war makes clear that his answer would be yes.


There are times when Hitchens reminds me of George W. Bush -- the history of drinking, the belittling self-righteousness. But he's no George Bush, really -- in fact, I think he's the new Camille Paglia.

First off, there's the narcissism. Paglia as egomaniac we all know about; regarding Hitchens, consider this: In David Corn's Nation endorsement of Kerry, which bookends the Hitchens endorsement of Bush, there are 1020 words; the personal pronoun appears 5 times. The count for Hitchens? Words: 1314. "I": 36.

And the Hitchens message is almost indistinguishable from the Paglia message. The point of much of Paglia's writing is: Millions of people imbibed 1960s values, but I alone embody those values now. Everybody else's version of the 1960s is a grotesque distortion. Substitute "Left" for "1960s," and that's essentially what Hitchens says in everything he writes now.

Here's Hitchens in 1999 hanging out with the Free Republic crowd; here's Paglia in 1999 chatting up Rush Limbaugh.

Madonna? No musical talent, but boy, could she concoct a media stunt and get the public to sit up and take notice. Paglia swooned. Bush? No talent for governance, but boy, did he make the puyblic believe that Iraqi mushroom cloud sounded scary. Hitchens continues to swoon.

That's the weakness Hitchens and Paglia have in common: They're both idealists, but they're both willing to fall for whoever most cleverly packages snake oil as idealism. Thus Madonna becomes a hero of feminism and Bush a champion of human rights.

Paglia, thankfully, is not so much with us these days -- she seems to be retreating to plain-vanilla literary criticism. Maybe Hitchens will go back to grousing about Princess Di and Mother Teresa.

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