Hitchens is a hero of mine. I still recommend his Letters To A Young Contrarian to anyone under 30. God Is Not Great is truly masterful polemic. His meditation on the word nigger is the definitive. I respected the point he made when he left The Nation about the dangers of the left becoming, "the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden." I even understood his pro-Iraq War stance. That he was dead wrong, and still can't admit it is disturbing and is, for sure, a sort of intellectual cowardice. Hitchens writes like others of us breathe--which is to say constantly. Much of what he produces is quite good. And quite a lot of it really isn't. That's fine. I've served up my share of clunkers, and I don't write nearly as much as him. That said, with the publication of this piece, in which Hitchens--without a shred of evidence--blames the Wright fiasco on Michelle Obama, Hitchens completes his transformation into a part-time hack.
If I were teaching an op-ed class I would use it as Exhibit A in how not to nail someone. It's rambling, mean-spirited and glib. With no actual evidence to back up his point--that Michelle Obama is responsible for Barack's association with Rev. Wright--Hitchens resorts to reciting a litany of black conspiracy theories, and taking shots at the writing style of a college student. The core claim is deceptive, and given Hitchens own past as a Trotskyist, it's hypocritical. Here is Hitchens "evidence" that Michelle is to blame for the couple remaining in the flock of Rev. Wright:
I direct your attention to Mrs. Obama's 1985 thesis at Princeton University. Its title (rather limited in scope, given the author and the campus) is "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community." To describe it as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be "read" at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn't written in any known language. Anyway, at quite an early stage in the text, Michelle Obama announces that she's much influenced by the definition of black "separationism" offered by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton in their 1967 screed Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America.
That's it. Nothing else. Watching Hitchens resort to cracks about a college student's writing style is a sign: The gun-slinger has no ammo. In fact, I took Hitchens's advice and had a look at Michelle Obama's thesis, and--there is no other way to say this--Hichens is just lying. He claims that Michelle "announces that she's much influenced by the definition of black 'separtionism' offered by Stokely Carmichael." In fact what the relevant passage says is that Carmichael guided her in forming a definition for her thesis--she says absolutely nothing about how it influenced her personal views. Here is the text:
Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton's (1967) developed definitions of separationism in their discussion of Black Power which guided me in the formulation and use of this concept in the study
Hitchens twists that statement and uses it to associate Michelle with some of Carmichael's worst moments:
I remember poor Stokely Carmichael quite well. After a hideous series of political and personal fiascos, he fled to Africa, renamed himself Kwame Toure after two of West Africa's most repellently failed dictators, and then came briefly back to the United States before electing to die in exile. I last saw him as the warm-up speaker for Louis Farrakhan in Madison Square Garden in 1985, on the evening when Farrakhan made himself famous by warning Jews, "You can't say 'Never Again' to God, because when he puts you in the ovens, you're there forever." I have the distinct feeling that the Obama campaign can't go on much longer without an answer to the question: "Are we getting two for one?"
Let me see if I follow this argument: If I wrote in a paper that Mein Kempf influenced my definition of Nazism, then I must be a Nazi sympathizer. Truly, logic worthy of Bill Kristol. But more than bad logic, there is something really creepy at work here, a continuation of a refusal to accept the fact that Barack Obama is what he says he is--a biracial black man. There are those, desperate to hold on to their cartoonish imagery of black people, who need to believe the former, and disregard the latter. They find all sorts of ways to "un-black" Obama. He's post-racial. He's not really black. He's Tiger Woods. But now finally we come to the realness--it's the bitch who's corrupting him. She's the reason he's pledged himself to that dumb dark order. It's an old argument extending from Macbeth to Doggy Style--woman as the corrupter of all things noble. What a crock. And the sight of the once heroic Hitchens trafficking in such fetid waters is simply sad.
But take heart kids, there is a lesson. I bid you, listen up: This is what happens when you don't much care about what you do or who you're doing it for, when you mistake your ability to be really smart about a few things, for the ability to be really smart about anything. You end up confusing speculation that shouldn't make it past morning conversation with your wife, for studied insight. And, perhaps most tellingly, you end up concluding articles by humorlessly mocking the diction of blacks. "Don't be giving me any grief about asking this," he chides us in reference to Michelle. Fair enough, say I. But don't be transcribing your lastest cocktail party ramblings and passing it off as half-intelligent commentary. That it ain't. Good sir.