Truth on Ann Coulter finally comes out - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-08-2005, 01:18 PM Thread Starter
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Truth on Ann Coulter finally comes out

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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-08-2005, 02:08 PM
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RE: Truth on Ann Coulter finally comes out

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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-08-2005, 05:21 PM
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Thought you jr high schoolers might want to expose yourself to a reasoned criticism

The Passion of Christopher Hitchens
by Michael Kazin

Love, Poverty, and War:
Journeys and Essays
by Christopher Hitchens
Nation Books, 2004 475 pp $16.95

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, an unsettling matter has roiled certain precincts of the left: Christopher Hitchens’s zealous support of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, in particular its war in Iraq. How could the once fearless radical polemicist have become a cheerleader for the neoconservative project to remake the world? Why must he revile former comrades as either traitors or slackers in the struggle against terrorists? Why, this June, did he join David Horowitz to conduct a ten-day tour of London, featuring private visits to the House of Lords and the estate of Winston Churchill?

Some believe Hitchens’s apostasy began in 1989 when an Iranian fatwa—which still stands—demanded the murder of his close friend the novelist Salman Rushdie. A few connect his militant patriotism to his applying for American citizenship or even the discovery that he had Jewish ancestors. Others prefer to fault his personality instead of his politics. Hasn’t Hitchens always been an arrogant individualist, eager to bash the illusions of the left? Perhaps all that good whiskey and champagne finally curdled his synapses?

Turncoats can fascinate, particularly when they are such brilliant and prolific writers. For decades after the 1947 hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee, left-wing commentators tried to psychoanalyze Whittaker Chambers; they alleged that spurned affection, perhaps even lust for Alger Hiss drove the squat, anxious journalist to target the suave, handsome diplomat. Hitchens is certainly Chambers’s intellectual equal, although the sum of his opinions will never match the historical significance of the former spy’s testimony to Richard Nixon and his fellow red-hunters.

What tempers the furor over Hitchens is the recognition that he has not really become a soldier for the right. Browsing through his ample writings during the first quarter of 2005, one finds, alongside support for the war in Iraq, a variety of opinions that many American leftists would applaud: a slap at the late Pope John Paul II for “saying that condoms are worse than AIDS,� praise for John Brown as a prophet “who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it,� and a tribute to Tom Paine as “our unacknowledged founding father . . . the moral and intellectual author of the Declaration of Independence.�1 Hitchens also continues to oppose the death penalty and to advocate putting Henry Kissinger on trial as a war criminal.

He does seem perverse at times; why indeed would any non-disciple of David Horowitz choose to do business with that screeching bully? But Hitchens, who put in many years as an editor of New Left Review and a columnist for the Nation, has clearly stuck by many of the convictions that made him a radical back in the 1960s. And nearly everything he writes is full of sly observations and delicious prose—even when one finds something to disagree with on every page.

There is one constant in his torrent of publications since the end of the cold war—whether the topic is literature, politics, or history. Strange as it may sound, Hitchens is a romantic—and a particularly ardent one at that. His romanticism harks back to the beginnings of the Anglo-American left and of modern literature—to Paine’s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s passionate engagement with the French Revolution but revulsion at the orgy of the guillotine, to the early socialists who imagined they could build a cooperative order that would do away with class distinctions, and to the writers and artists inspired by Wordsworth’s maxim “that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . �

For Hitchens, too, it is unforgivable to compromise one’s principles, to flirt with lies, to heed the sirens of realpolitik over the call of the heart. His anger at such corruptions shouts, elegantly, from the brief introduction to this collection of his pieces written from the early 1990s to 2004: religion is “the most base and contemptible of the forms assumed by human egotism and stupidity�; Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and Mother Teresa are all “despicable� figures; American schools are “designed to bore� students “to death with second-rate and pseudo-uplifting tripe.� “I wake up every day,� Hitchens confesses with a certain glee, “to a sensation of pervading disgust and annoyance.�

This style of moral outrage at wicked, mendacious authorities was stoked by the Enlightenment and burned on through countless manifestos, anthems, and the oratory of socialists and anarchists over the next two hundred years. Formidably well-read, perpetually self-confident men like Bakunin, Trotsky, and Max Shachtman were masters of the idiom. The counterpoint of such invective is a strong sympathy for those whom priests, presidents, and principals are fooling and pushing around. It is not surprising that, in his title, Hitchens chose to give “love� top billing. Although celebrated for his sardonic hauteur, he has always championed intellectuals he believes fought the good fight for ordinary people.

Elsewhere, Hitchens has revealed, in a doleful tone, that he no longer calls himself a socialist. But here, in a review published in 2004, he fairly gushes about Trotsky, from whom “a faint, saintly penumbra still emanates.� Hitchens salutes the “Old Man� for predicting that Stalin would sign a pact with Hitler and for sternly admonishing leftists in the 1930s who saw little distinction between the Nazis and the older, aristocratic right they toppled from power. Trotsky, he writes, set down “a moral warning against the crass mentality of moral equivalence.�

Alas, a taste for romantic heroes often leads one to neglect their flaws. Hitchens says not a word about Trotsky’s infamous crushing of the 1921 revolt at the Kronstadt naval base, which alienated many independent radicals from the Soviet cause. Nor does he mention that the Old Man remained, until the end, an Old Bolshevik, insisting he could pick up where Lenin left off, if only Stalin, the Oriental despot with a poor education, could somehow be whisked into the dustbin of history. But when Hitchens loves you, it’s no good unless he loves you all the way.

That spirit also animates his essays on literary giants. Byron’s poem “The Isles of Greece� “can still start a patriotic tear on a manly cheek� even though it “was originally composed and offered as a self-parody.� Hitchens lauds Kingsley Amis for demonstrating in Lucky Jim, his satire of British academia, the “crucial human difference between the little guy and the small man.� The novel’s protagonist, “like his creator, was no clown but a man of feeling after all.� Bellow, Borges, and Proust all get the same smart, adoring treatment. Hitchens makes no apology for writing solely about “the gold standard� in modern literature, with “the sort of words that hold their value.� Romantic critics from Thomas Carlyle to Harold Bloom would warmly agree.

The longest essay in the collection describes a different sort of love, that between a tourist and the great, mostly late American West. One recent summer, Hitchens—outfitted, presumably, with a large expense account from Vanity Fair—cruised the length of Route 66 in a bright red Corvette convertible, the same model driven by two buddies in a not-quite-forgotten television show named after the highway. “It winds from Chicago to LA, more than two thousand miles,� and Hitchens got as many kicks as he could on the journey. He praises the hamburgers and “terrific jukebox� at a St. Louis bar; marvels at the skills of the auto mechanics in Elk City, Oklahoma, who patch his tires; gapes at a huge meteor crater in the Arizona desert; and orders too much food from “a hauntingly beautiful Spanish waitress� before he heads into California.

But Hitchens is appalled to see how the crude and greedy are trashing what remains of this quaint and seductive cultural landscape. Drug dealers and prostitutes hassle him outside his motel, and Indians peddle “bogus beads and belts and boots� by the side of a mountain. “Surely,� he laments, “a decent silence could be observed somewhere, instead of this incessant, raucous, but sentimental battering of the cash register.� One can share his opinion yet be amused by his naiveté. Learned folks have been deploring the commerce in culture since the Renaissance, if not before. Hitchens is nostalgic for an America he never knew and that never existed.

That passion for an idealized homeland may help explain his unqualified fury at the antiwar left. Hitchens has no patience with a politics of difficult choices. In the waning years of the 1990s, he and I held two debates about the merits of Bill Clinton and the Democrats—one at a Dissent meeting, the other in print. Hitchens, in high moral dudgeon, thought it “contemptible� to defend the president on strategic grounds, as a figure who had blocked the advance of the Gingrichite right, even if he hadn’t done enough to advance a progressive agenda. To him, Clinton was the vilest member of the political species, a man whose “mock-compassionate and pseudohumanitarian bilge� concealed the raw ugliness of his egomania. Realists like me were cowards who did not want the knave to be humbled and driven from office.

The attacks of 9/11 roused Hitchens to a greater, and more justifiable, fury. True to character, it was mingled with righteous joy. “I felt a kind of exhilaration,� he wrote a few days after the Twin Towers came down, “. . . at last, a war of everything I loved against everything I hated.�2 Hitchens had not supported the first Gulf War. During one appearance on CNN, he dared Charlton Heston to name all the nations that bordered Iraq. When the aging conservative fumbled the attempt, his antagonist remarked that such ignorance was typical of Americans who believed their might gave them the ability to forge a new world order. Yet a year later, Hitchens was reporting on the valiant Kurds who, protected by U.S. warplanes, had carved out a liberated enclave for themselves in northern Iraq. “They have powerful, impatient enemies,� he wrote, “and a few rather easily bored friends.� In Hitchens, the Kurds now had an ally as steadfast and articulate as they could desire.

The shock of 9/11 finally persuaded him to abandon his troubled romance with the left and begin another. In war, he embraced the cause of a country he had always held at arm’s length when it was at peace. Enraged by the coldly reflexive anti-imperialism of such figures as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, he abandoned his previous ambivalence about the perils of deploying the American military in the Islamic world. He hailed the United States for “bombing� Afghanistan “back out of the Stone Age� and reported happily that children in post-Saddam Iraq chanted “Boosh, Boosh!,� while weeping men declared, “You’re late. What took you so long?� To a right-wing interviewer, Hitchens complained, “Most of the leftists I know are hoping openly or secretly to leverage difficulty in Iraq in order to defeat George Bush . . . this is a tactic and a mentality utterly damned by any standard of history or morality. What I mainly do is try to rub that in.�3

It’s the stance of a man whose passion outruns his reason. Hitchens knows there are many liberals and some radicals who cheered the fall of Saddam Hussein yet also cursed Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair for lying their way into Iraq and then doing more to cover their tracks than to rebuild that devastated nation. Such ambivalence is the main reason no mass antiwar movement exists today, despite widespread aversion to the administration’s conduct before and after the invasion. But the arrogance and brutality of empire are not repealed when they temporarily get deployed in a just cause.

What defines Hitchens’s great talent also limits his political understanding. It is thrilling to read and argue with a gifted writer who evinces no doubt about which side is right and which wrong and who can bring a wealth of learning and experience to the fray. We judge public intellectuals partly on their performance, and few can hold an audience as well as he.

Still, the most romantic position is not often the most intelligent one. It is unheroic but necessary to explain how the Bush administration threw Americans into a bloody morass and might now get them out. A lover of absolutes would label this task an act of bad faith; I would call it common sense. In a luminous recent essay about successive translations of Swann’s Way, Hitchens observed, “To be so perceptive and yet so innocent—that, in a phrase, is the achievement of Proust.�

The author might also have been speaking about himself, a self-made patriot who has added to his love of fearless rebels a fierce apology for the neoconservative crusade.

Since Bush’s reelection, some of Hitchens’s old left-wing friends have urged him to come back home, to confine himself to the elegant slashing of powerful hypocrites on which he built his writerly reputation. But their wish is unlikely to be granted. Christopher Hitchens, you see, is already home.

Michael Kazin is the author of William Jennings Bryan: A Godly Hero , forthcoming in January. He is a member of the Dissent editorial board and teaches history at Georgetown University.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-08-2005, 11:08 PM
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RE: Truth on Ann Coulter finally comes out

Your ability to dig up ideological mental masturbations leaves me breathless.

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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-09-2005, 11:04 AM
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RE: Truth on Ann Coulter finally comes out

That is a good essay. I have the desire to dig more into both men's writings, which I will. Thank you.
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