Monday, May 24, 2010


This caught my eye, in an interview with Christopher Hitchens that was published in the U.K. over the weekend:

[Hitchens] blames his former comrades for failing to be persuaded by his case for invading Iraq: "Yes, absolutely. I was right and they were wrong, that's pretty much it in a nutshell." He laughs.

But another way of looking at it would be to blame himself for failing to convince them.

"What you're trying to say is, couldn't I be a bit more," his lip faintly curls, "
sales conscious."

Where's the point in engaging in a battle of ideas if you have no interest in being persuasive? "That seems like an invitation to soften the tone and be more agreeable." Doesn't he want to win the battle? "Sure." Why, then, did he tell an interviewer in 2001: "I don't really care whether people agree with me"? He looks momentarily surprised. "Oh, that's too bald. What I mean is that I'm not going to soften a case in order to make it more presentable. When I've flung down the pen, I want to be sure that I've made the strongest possible case I can make -- and also," he adds tellingly, "really had fun doing it."

Isn't the measure of its strength how many people he persuades? "No, it's interesting because I don't want to make that the test. It isn't what gets me out of bed -- how many people can I win over today? No, it isn't. It's the enjoyment of the combat -- in part for its own sake, sure -- but also to give a good representation, I hope, to the people whose principles are in common with mine."

I think Hitchens has never really wanted to persuade his former comrades. I think Hitchens is delighted that he hasn't persuaded them. I think, if he'd actually staked out a position that his former comrades found persuasive, this all would have been a lot less fun for him.

This is why Hitchens fits so well with the American right. The right doesn't want to persuade its opponents. The right wants to rally the base, gull or intimidate the center, and antagonize the opposition as much as humanly possible (which is the main technique it uses to rally the base). When righties have power, they do what they want, while simultaneously declaring themselves under attack, and they dare 50% plus one of the public to stop them.

That's how we got into Iraq, isn't it? Democrats and the vast majority of the public supported the idea of retribution against Al Qaeda and Afghanistan's Taliban government. But that would never suffice, would it? It clearly wasn't good enough for the Bush administration. Far better to have a war in Iraq -- it would infuriate the left (and paleocons on the right) and possibly trouble the left-center and center. The GOP didn't want a national consensus -- the GOP fled from a national consensus. The war in Iraq seemed like a good idea to the GOP in large part because the left was unpersuaded. (The GOP knew the right and center would fall in line. And it worked. Beating the Iraq war drum worked in the 2002 election cycle, the war worked for 2004, and it would have continued to work if the postwar plan hadn't been so incompetent and even if a few WMDs had been found, and if Katrina and Terri Schiavo hadn't mucked everything up.)

Oh, and what else was like this? Clinton's impeachment. It was a bridge too far for much of the country -- so the GOP did it anyway, even after losing seats in the '98 midterms. America never supported this -- yet the Republicans came out triumphant in the next election cycle. And Hitchypoo was right there with them in their Clinton-hate.

He can't quite bring himself to throw in his lot completely with them, but I'm not sure why. In their mutual desire to antagonize, they seem to make a perfect match.

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