September 28, 2004


Flirting With Disaster (Christopher Hitchens, Slate, September, 27th, 2004)

What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around? Americans are patrolling a front line in Afghanistan, where it would be impossible with 10 times the troop strength to protect all potential voters on Oct. 9 from Taliban/al-Qaida murder and sabotage. We are invited to believe that these hard-pressed soldiers of ours take time off to keep Osama Bin Laden in a secret cave, ready to uncork him when they get a call from Karl Rove? For shame.

Ever since The New Yorker published a near-obituary piece for the Kerry campaign, in the form of an autopsy for the Robert Shrum style, there has been a salad of articles prematurely analyzing "what went wrong." This must be nasty for Democratic activists to read, and I say "nasty" because I hear the way they respond to it. A few pin a vague hope on the so-called "debates"--which are actually joint press conferences allowing no direct exchange between the candidates--but most are much more cynical. Some really bad news from Iraq, or perhaps Afghanistan, and/or a sudden collapse or crisis in the stock market, and Kerry might yet "turn things around." You have heard it, all right, and perhaps even said it. But you may not have appreciated how depraved are its implications. If you calculate that only a disaster of some kind can save your candidate, then you are in danger of harboring a subliminal need for bad news. And it will show. What else explains the amazingly crude and philistine remarks of that campaign genius Joe Lockhart, commenting on the visit of the new Iraqi prime minister and calling him a "puppet"? Here is the only regional leader who is even trying to hold an election, and he is greeted with an ungenerous sneer.

The unfortunately necessary corollary of this--that bad news for the American cause in wartime would be good for Kerry--is that good news would be bad for him. Thus, in Mrs. Kerry's brainless and witless offhand yet pregnant remark, we hear the sick thud of the other shoe dropping. How can the Democrats possibly have gotten themselves into a position where they even suspect that a victory for the Zarqawi or Bin Laden forces would in some way be welcome to them? Or that the capture or killing of Bin Laden would not be something to celebrate with a whole heart?

Once again, Mr. Hitchens makes an artful, impassioned case that will resonate with many Americans. Yet it is hard to believe this old savvy trotskyite who argued that Mother Theresa was a contemptible fraud and Henry Kissinger a war criminal is as scandalized as he makes out. From Lenin onwards, the recognition that war, depression and other disasters are to be wished for and welcomed as useful in promoting political ends is introductory political re-education stuff for the cadres. Is Mr. Hitchens shocked by the fact that some people would ever think this way or by the realization that marxist analytical tools have become so mainstream they now roll blithely off the tongues of even the horsey set?

Posted by Peter Burnet at September 28, 2004 1:30 PM

I'm just happy he's voting for Bush. If we can bring Hitch around, we can bring lots of others too.

Posted by: pj at September 28, 2004 2:32 PM

My impression is that Hitchens is someone who's been more concerned about ideology than party politics. Thus he's upset when he sees Democrats and leftists toss important aspects of their supposed ideology overboard for the sake of party politics.

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 28, 2004 5:38 PM

I think Mr. Hitchens would rather be referred to as an "old savvy trotskyist." IIRC, he once said that a trotskyist is to a trotskyite as a socialist is to a socialite.

Posted by: jd watson at September 28, 2004 7:03 PM

>marxist analytical tools have become so
>mainstream they now roll blithely off the
>tongues of even the horsey set

Revolutionary Fanboy-ism has been part of "the horsey set" since 1789, when the minor sons of noble families in England formed the "British Jacobins" and used Mummy & Dadsie's money to cheer on the French Revolution from safely across the channel -- the more extreme and revolutionary, the better.

Posted by: Ken at September 28, 2004 7:43 PM


Everything he has written since 9/11 has made my heart soar, but I can't shake the feeling he could lurch off in opposite directions at any moment.


Apologies from an old Reaganist/Thatcherist

Posted by: Peter B at September 28, 2004 7:44 PM


Ever read a bio of William Bullitt of "I've seen the future and it works." fame? A book on WW1 I'm just finishing says that it is not true he was born with a silver spoon in this mouth. His mouth knew only pure gold.

Posted by: Peter B at September 28, 2004 7:48 PM

I think if you scratched Hitchens' surface right now, you'd still find someone who believes organized religion is anethma to modern society. What he can't believe is that people on the left with whom he once shared common views are perfectly willing to overlook the far more dangerous actions of radical Islamists because they could help defeat George W. Bush in November.

It will be a while, if ever, before Christopher comes around on Mother Theresa. But he does know she and her followers were less dangerous than Osama bin Laden and is angry because he doesn't think the left can't see the danger, but is willfully ignoring it in hopes of short-term political gain.

Posted by: John at September 28, 2004 9:26 PM

Peter B:

Didn't Lincoln Steffens say that line?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 28, 2004 11:06 PM


Yes, thanks, you are right. The two were together on the mission to Moscow where they were the first in a long line of useful fools, eating lots of caviar and seeing the ballet while starvation abounded around them. But the line is indeed Steffin's.

Bullit did say of Lenin: "Face to face Lenin is a very striking man--straightforward and direct, but also genial and with a large humor and serenity."

Posted by: Peter B at September 29, 2004 6:01 AM