New Part Three - Mar 1
James Fallows - Feb 26
Christopher Hitchens - Feb 27
Part One - Feb 21:
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and The Nation. His books include Hostage to History, The Elgin Marbles, Prepared for the Worst, Blood, Class, and Nostalgia, For the Sake of Argument, The Missionary Position, No One Left to Lie To, Unacknowledged Legislation, and (forthcoming) The Trial of Henry Kissinger. He is Professor of Liberal Studies in the Graduate School at the New School, New York. He won the Lannan Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 1992.
James Fallows is The Atlantic's national correspondent and the author, most recently, of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (1996).
Previously in Fallows@large:
Darwin Had It Backwards (January 17, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.
More by James Fallows
More on books
More on politics
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Atlantic Unbound | March 1, 2001
Dialogues with James Fallows
From: Christopher Hitchens
To: James Fallows
Subject: Re: Literature, Politics, Kissinger—and Our Man Bill
Well, I'm tempted to just give up on the Kissinger point. This will make the third time that I have stipulated that my two essays were about HIM and not about Nixon, Scowcroft, Haig, Ford, John Foster Dulles, Robert E. Lee, or Henry V. You are perfectly entitled to draw the conclusion that what I say about him can or should be extended, mutatis mutandis, to his political bosses. And I've now told you twice that that is fine by me. But my point was to make the case against one reputation, of a still-active politician, and to test my general theory of the inverse (and perverse) standard our culture uses in judging actions and reputations.
As for Clinton, I'll begin where you do, with the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. This cold-blooded snuffing of a brain-dead black man took place, as you will recall, during the New Hampshire primary, when Clinton was tumbling because of his obvious lies about the draft and Ms. Flowers. Thus the connection between what he did and why he did it—distract attention from the boudoir by calling attention to the lethal chamber—made it impossible for me to "compartmentalise" from then on.
Now, not to boast, but I wrote a few columns about Rector at the time and so did Murray Kempton and (I think) Pete Hamill. And that was that. The liberal press gave Clinton a pass on it. Imagine, say, your friend Anthony Lewis if a Republican governor in a tight race had done such a thing. Mr. Rector's fame would have outpaced that of Mr. Willie Horton by some distance. So I knew we were in for some denial.
In a comparable way, I noticed when the Lewinsky affair first broke that Revlon money had been used to try and sweeten her; just as it seems to have been used in the case of Webster Hubbell. Thus it would have been quite wrong for Starr not to have extended his investigation, in order to see if such tactics constituted a pattern. Almost nobody could be brought to see this simple point; they babbled on about Salem instead.
The "privacy" or peccadillo defense always seemed contemptible to me. It was the first alibi the White House offered when the Center for Public Integrity asked who had been using the Lincoln bedroom. We won't tell you because it's private! In addition to its cheapness, this tactic was revealing; we think the White House is OUR house. (Or until it comes time to violate our own privacy in a First Lady book that charges $1m per year of occupancy.)
Then what about Sudan? All the evidence now is that Clinton hit Khartoum in Lewinsky week as a conscious "wag the dog." See my chapter on this in my Clinton book, and also the New York Times story about all the State, Defense, CIA, and Joint Chiefs personnel who either advised against hitting a bogus target or were kept out of the loop. Is this personal misconduct, in your own opinion?
And doesn't it bother you that Clinton won't even deny the highly convincing and multiply corroborated allegation of rape by Juanita Broaddrick? This guy is not a philanderer; he's a man who has abused power to hit on women and who gets nasty when they complain. I don't think of that as a private question and nor—after those dubious Thomas hearings—does American liberalism. Or supposedly it doesn't.
Dick Morris's dalliances were little enough in themselves, but their exposure did help to uncover a freeloading milieu based on an amazing violation of the campaign-finance laws in 1996, where the shadiest foreign influence-peddlers from China and Indonesia and Lebanon could walk right into the White House showing fat checks as their security clearance. All this was known at the time of impeachment, also.
Now apply the above to the Rich matter. The President evidently used a political privilege for private ends. He evidently caucused with foreign string-pullers under the color of diplomacy; he even says as much (so that's that for his alleged Camp David efforts—he was franchising foreign policy). He has repeatedly lied about it. And I shan't be very surprised to read that Mrs. Rich made the supreme sacrifice in some corner of the White House Map Room in order to seal the deal. If so, that will be (as ever) the least of it but also a key part of it.
So, yes, those who affect shock at the blatancy of it all have not been paying attention these eight years. What's more, they open themselves to the suspicion that they can see through Clinton at long last only because he no longer has his Praetorian Guard and his arsenal of patronage.
Of course, he did "give" us the Family and Medical Leave Act.... Even Nixon went further on national health care. I rather like your RMN comparison; I certainly always wondered how anyone could look at either man and not see what they were (especially when they were talking to crowds). But I wasn't raised to be grateful to politicians for what they give me with my own taxes; they are to be regarded as civil servants who are hired for short-term contracts and should be fired if caught stealing or lying. We want and need a democratic republic, not a banana charismocracy run by demagogues and frauds.
You kindly asked how I manage to get so much typing done. I don't want to give away all the trade secrets, but one of them is this: the utter laziness of the mainstream hacks means that I'm given a constant stream of easy targets. The rest is supplied by a delight in literature as a revenge for all that.
This has been as enjoyable as anything unpaid can be. Thanks for writing.
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