Obit For A Former Contrarian

A friend and protégé tries to make sense of what's happened to Christopher Hitchens

This is the high point--the place where Hitch got it and fluently expressed it. Though hardly soft on Saddam, he still understood the imperial pecking order, the context in which vast power is wielded, the cynicism of it, the horror. He eviscerated the Bush gang with substance and style, and ripped through its apologists. Hitch was hitting all cylinders when he came across Bill Clinton in New Hampshire. Christopher had met his match: an Arkansas political pro with blood money behind him, a hustler and charmer impervious to journalistic assault, a con man so skilled at lying that even those wise to his game were impressed with his performance. Hitch, of course, went straight for Clinton's throat. But he never could get his hands on Clinton, and this fed a frustration that became an obsession.

By this time, Hitch and I saw each other intermittently, spoke by phone occasionally. I'd learned all I could from him and moved on. But I continued to read him and catch his TV appearances when possible. I was sympathetic to his anti-Clintonism, but there was something different about him. Hitch seemed harsher, meaner, sloppier in his attacks. His hatred of Bill and Hillary led him to link arms with the likes of Ann Coulter and the insane David Horowitz, a man who shouts "TREASON!" every 90 seconds. What the fuck? I thought. Why was Christopher going this twisted route? Whenever I asked him about it, he'd be polite but vague. He maintained that he wasn't bound by ideology, so appearing with Coulter at a Free Republic gathering meant little compared to the larger fight against Clinton. "I'll take what I can get," he said.

There was one thing Clinton did that Hitch approved of: bombing Serbia. Opposing it at first, Hitch soon banged the NATO drum in every available outlet. Milosevic wasn't a mere regional thug with blood on his hands--he was a genocidal monster who, if left alone, would wipe out every Muslim and Kosovar he could catch. Stopping him now would spare Europe another Hitleresque nightmare.

Erica Blair

Well, maybe. As Hitch once told me, anybody is capable of anything: "Never be surprised by grim disclosure. Welcome it." But it appeared that Hitch's nuanced takes on global events and imperial designs were becoming grimmest black and white. Question his support for the bombing and you risked being called a pro-Slobo dupe. He was energized by the violence. Plugged into the Machine.

By the time of Clinton's impeachment, Christopher became better known for outrage than as a talented essayist. For every literary piece he'd pen for the ed'cated set in the London Review of Books, there were outbursts on Hardball and in his once-fine Nation column. Even though Clinton had stopped Milosevic from gobbling all of Europe, Hitch still couldn't stand him. And his distaste for Clinton led him to testify in the impeachment process, which soon led to charges that he betrayed his friend, the Clinton loyalist Sidney Blumenthal.

I felt bad for Hitch--he was getting raked good in the press, and old allies like Alexander Cockburn penned truly nasty attacks on his character. I wrote a long defense of Christopher in answer to Cockburn's "Hitch the Snitch" tirade, but I wasn't fully behind him. Like many on the left, I too wanted to see Clinton impeached, but for heavier crimes than lying about blowjobs. And I didn't want to help advance Tom DeLay's agenda. But Hitch could care less about this. Getting Clinton was all that mattered, and this mania drove him to shift his attacks to Al Gore during the 2000 campaign, supposedly on behalf of Ralph Nader, but also in the cynical service of George W. Bush.


And thus the table was set for the final course, which came on 9/11/01. Osama bin Laden provided Christopher the carnage-strewn opening he was waiting for, and soon after the Towers fell and the Pentagon's fires were put out, Hitch went off like he's never gone off before. Everybody to his left was a terrorist stooge. America was no longer an imperialist power. George W. Bush was a Noble Warrior for Enlightenment Values. From the wreckage of 9/11 came a new American Dawn, and Hitch soaked in its rays.

At first I was flabbergasted by the venom Hitch directed at people like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn (though, curiously enough, not at his old friend Edward Said, who didn't join Christopher's Liberation Squad). Then, after reading his arguments for smashing the Taliban and their al Qaeda "guests" in Afghanistan, along with Ahmed Rashid's fine book Taliban, I eventually came out in favor of the U.S. hitting those who backed the 9/11 attacks, if only to scatter them and knock them off balance.

When I explained my hesitant conversion to Hitch over the phone, he seemed delighted, and told a mutual friend that I was moving to "the right side."


It's true I was pissed about the attacks on New York, my adopted hometown. And it's true that I took (and take) al Qaeda seriously and support undermining if not destroying them through international cooperation and effort. But I'm not a supporter of Bush's regime by any stretch, and was adamantly against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, knowing full well that plans for that attack predated 9/11 and had nothing to do with "liberation" or democracy, much less self-defense. Whatever goodwill the U.S. garnered after al Qaeda's hit was squandered by the administration's lust for expansionist war on its narrow terms. Can't support that.

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