The Moment of Truth — October 31, 2004

Hitchens Versus the Reality-Based Community

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How nice to see Christopher Hitchens back, with “Why I’m (Slightly) for Bush,” this time to report to Nation readers what it’s like outside the reality-based community. He seems to be enjoying himself. But for those of us Left Behind, not raptured out of our minds by the Savior from Crawford or some insidious ideological mad cow disease, Hitchens’ penchant for challenging conventional lefty wisdom has outlived the clarity of his perspective.

In an attempt to highlight what he asserts is the unstable footing of the radical left vis-à-vis electoral politics, Hitchens asks, “Do you know anybody who really, deeply wishes that Carter had been re-elected, or that Dukakis had won?” What can this mean? I don’t believe Reagan brought down the USSR, and I’m pretty sure Hitchens doesn’t either. I do deeply wish the White House had gone to the Dems in the 80s. Why not Carter? Carter at least had the guts to cut backing for Somosa when the moral outrages perpetrated by that regime finally became too obvious for even a US president to ignore. A Death Squad couldn’t rape enough nuns to get Reagan’s attention. And how firmer a moral footing would the US have been on with the Sandinistas and the rest of Latin America, had our government not illegally organized and managed the terrorism visited by the Contras daily upon Nicaraguan civilians? I can think of any number of people on any number of continents who either deeply wish Reagan had never been president, or would if they weren’t dead.

And if GHW Bush hadn’t sketched out the policy paradigm that squandered the peace dividend, would the states’ budgets have fallen $90 billion short this past year? Hitchens’ critique of the “false antithesis between spending money abroad and ‘at home’” doesn’t hold much water for those of us down here in the public streets whose teachers and cops and neighborhood infrastructures are still having their resources sucked into the pockets of Bush/Cheney/Halliburton/Carlyle et al. But things always look different through a think tank window than they do at ground level. Hitchens says he will take pleasure when Kerry learns Zarqawi is a more dangerous foe than bin Laden. Presumably this revelation will be made through some horribly violent event, but I guess, here in the reality-based community, our families will rest easier when our sons and daughters are mutilated and killed in that event, knowing their deaths will have afforded Hitchens a good, smug chuckle. What an ass.

Hitchens’ rhetoric against “the left” since 9/11 has reflexively blurred the division between two arguments: 1) that arrogant anti-democratic and imperialist US policy in the Middle East has greatly exacerbated the conditions that breed terrorism, including that of al Qaeda, and that we need less, not more, of it; and 2) that Osama bin Laden is or ever was a champion of the downtrodden Muslim. The former is, to my mind, inarguable by anyone in the reality-based community. The latter was a knee-jerk delusion, a wrong position taken mainly by those terrified—it turns out rightly so—that 9/11 would mean carte blanche for the New American Century war and oil profiteers. Most people I know have recovered their senses and re-evaluated ridiculous things they said and did immediately after 9/11. I really had hoped Hitchens would do so as well. And it seems The Nation is still hoping he will.

Hitchens makes it clear that there is little reason for hope, however. Consider his disdain for those who supposedly want to portray Iraq as some kind of paradise before the invasion: can Hitchens, who’s been to war-torn places all over the world, really deny that Baghdad, for those not busy getting their ears cut off, was a place where people went to work and children played before its most recent bombing? No one claims it was a paradise, or that Saddam was benevolent, not even Michael Moore. Apparently, to assert that children in Iraq were better off alive than killed by US ordnance is some kind of treason. That’s the post-9/11 Hitchens setting up another straw man, one the GOP had already set up and knocked down with equally embarrassing self-satisfaction in New York City, in an internationally televised event that left the majority of Americans and the nations of the world dumbfounded for days by its joyful mockery of the empirically observable universe.

Hitchens’ credibility was already flagging by the time the Towers were attacked. He seems to have taken the opportunity to jump on a new bandwagon, perceiving ≠ as somewhere inside he may still, though I doubt it—that the Right isn’t particular about things like ethics, rational discourse, not to mention reality.

He writes of extending the “fraternal paw.” Yeah, dog. Hitchens is kind of like Old Yeller. The Nation needs to dry its sentimental tears and do what has to be done. That dog ain’t no good to no one no more.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

In the message I emailed yesterday regarding Christopher Hitchens recent article in The Nation, I reveal that I completely missed his point; in doing so I brought in arguments and buzzwords from past articles of his, often from other publications, or even from other persons entirely. I also collapsed Anastasio Somoza’s name with that of Sammy Sosa, creating an Indian appetizer where none was relevant. I did this all in the heat of the moment, and because I am a crank.

I do stand by my overall argument about Hitchens, though, which is this: his posturing as someone who has transcended the left/liberal analytical quagmire is annoying enough, and when he goes on to imply that he’s transcended that quagmire into a reality unburdened by fallacious ideological ballast, it’s really too much to choke down. His articles are replete with demonstrations that his judgment is contorted by adherence to an ideology-generated parallel world. I think he calls this “being contrary.” The ideology he adheres to, of course, is still Hitchens-ism, as it’s always been, except that now he’s incorporated the refreshing superstitions of the self-serving class. Where my previous letter mocks him for this in an appropriate and/or humorous manner, I stand by it.

Often where the left/liberal quagmire discounts certain arguments as simply beyond the pale, it’s with good reason. Bicycle wheels are round for good reason, and it isn’t necessary to try out all the other shapes again every morning before getting on with one’s day. Likewise, militaristic chauvinism has proven itself time and time again to get us nowhere but to our starting point. Hitchens finds it a relief to be able to challenge progressives with the idea that the nature of our enemy’s evil requires military action as the urgent and only course. I don’t think humanity is in any danger of letting that novel strategy escape notice. But the progressive is looking to progress, and Hitchens is prodding in the wrong direction. As a tool for progressive self-discovery, Hitchens is broken beyond repair.

See Eminem’s new anti-Bush video, Mosh. It’s very good.