My old friend Christopher Hitchens will be in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 15, for a debate at the Wiltern Theater. A few weeks ago, I engaged him in this e-mail banter after seeing some rather shocking quotes attributed to him in the Washington Post. "Id vote for Bush," read the quote. "The important thing is this: Is a candidate completely serious about prosecuting the war on theocratic terrorism to the fullest extent? Only Bush is." Could this really be Hitch speaking? I almost fell off my chair. Hitchens is, of course, the prolific, best-selling polemicist whose dramatic resignation from The Nation as its star columnist created such a media flap not long ago. Granted, Id become increasingly distressed by the bitterness of Hitchs ever-rising intemperate attacks on the undifferentiated "left," his former spiritual home, as a coddler of terrorism for opposing war in Iraq as if the "left" did not encompass many points of view, including a majority of visceral Democrats who find the sadistic Saddam Hussein revolting and who believe terrorist slaughter of the innocents is unjustifiable under any circumstances. But Hitchs declaration of support for Bushs re-election in an interview with an obscure right-wing quarterly called Doublethink (appropriate title under the circumstances) seemed to me to be a seismic shift on the part of my old chum. I e-mailed Hitch to see what was up, and there ensued an electronic exchange on the subject, relevant excerpts from which are published here with Christophers kind permission.
Hitch, did the Doublethink interview cited in todays WashPost quote you correctly? I can hardly believe it. As ever, Doug
Doug, No. I told them Id vote for Bush if the election was today, over any feasible Democrat, because of the war. And I was for Bush over Gore, though that didnt come up. I havent checked the mag, whatever it is, but though they made it sound a bit stark it wasnt that much out of context. Hope you thrive, fraternally, Hitch
Hitch, But did you really mean to say that the only issue that matters in deciding whether Bush should remain president is terrorism, as the right-wing rag reported? Regards, Doug
Doug, Roughly speaking, yes. I am single-issue as far as the war is concerned and have lived long enough not to credit the Democrats in any case where other "issues" might be held to trump this one. Much of what I know under the second heading, I might add unctuously, I learned from you. So if the vote were today I wouldnt think it even worth paying the removal expenses to transfer Lieberman or Kerry or any of them to 1600 Pennsylvania. Rather to the contrary. Yours for regime-change and revolution quand meme, Hitch
I appreciate your clarification of your views. You and I are two stubborn old mules, and neither will ever convince the other on these questions. I could suggest many reasons as to why supporting Bush seems to me deeply misguided from the dismantling of the federal work force (and setting up a new spoils system) to tax cuts (which will never be restored once passed, and will redound on the poor forever) to the ripping up of the Constitution, and a long, long list of other reasons. But Ill leave you with just one to mull over: You have always proclaimed and I am not aware it is a view you have renounced that you are an atheist, and Ive heard you over the years make some of the best arguments for godlessness one can proffer. But this administrations politics are riddled with theocracy, and the way in which Bush has now put the fight against AIDS and sex education into the hands of the right-wing Christers and condom opponents and the abstinence-only crowd is crippling AIDS-prevention efforts, both at home (where the CDC has just reported a dramatic upsurge in new HIV infections) and abroad.
By insisting that no fed dollars can be used for anything smacking of birth control or condoms, Bush has decimated AIDS education and prevention programs around the world. And the reorganization of foreign aid into the new Millennium Challenge program creates another layer of bureaucracy to get around the slightly more rational and reasonable diplomats at State, and puts the aid in hands of political appointees who will insist that recipients toe the line on globalization and on AIDS (no condoms, dont make or purchase cheap, generic versions of AIDS meds, etc.)
The effects of denying people access to condoms and science-based sex ed, not to mention the continuing efforts by the U.S. to blackmail countries on access to AIDS drugs and sabotage the WTO agreement at Doha that public-health crises take precedence over patents, means that millions and millions more will become infected and die between now and 2050, the earliest possible date by which the scientists now tell us we might reasonably begin to hope for an AIDS cure.
These are not just people whove had sex, but their many children. Thats more than Saddam Hussein has killed, more than will be killed in the coming war (unless Dubya starts chucking around the nukes he has now authorized). There would be a huge difference on this issue between Bush and the likely (from here) Democratic nominee, Kerry. Just in terms of sheer numbers of dead, Kerry trumps Bush (and Saddam) on that one. Yes, I have been a sharp critic of the Democratic leadership, and will continue to be. But to go from that to supporting Bush in 04 and publicly urging others to do likewise seems to me to be a rather dangerous excursion into full-blown Stephen Spenderism, and very shortsighted to boot. So Id ask you a further question: Since you suggest your commitment to social justice is undiminished, from what I have seen of your public expressions, how do you square that with this undiluted support for Bushs re-election? Do you no longer believe in creating a democratic social-justice movement to work for change (however hopelessly)?
I remain your affectionate friend, Doug (for regime change and revolution abroad and at home)
Duggers, old horse, Its very nice of you to take me so seriously . . . and so Id propose a sit-down or phone job with all feet, cards and glasses on the table. Ill reserve comment on the AIDS material for now, since its not my subject and since you make no case that any other president (here or in Zimbabwe or South Africa) would be preferable. That was the point, was it not? Love, Hitch
Hitch, What I cant figure out is how your public support for Bushs re-election squares with your lifetime commitment to social justice and the building of movements to try to achieve that goal to the max. I cant believe you have much respect for the people running this administration youve used your scalpel on so many of them in the past. Theyre a greedy, cynical, on the whole uncultivated lot in willing hock to the theocrats, and are hell-bent on removing the few remaining restraints on corporate power. Is it really your view that we should ignore the rest of the package that comes with little Dubya and his handlers? How do you put this cry of Viva Bush together with your past work? Can you enlighten me? Love and kisses for regime change from D.C. to Baghdad, Doug
Dougie, old man, Not to quibble, but I dont give my crucial swing-vote to Bush in advance of 04. I would probably vote to re-elect him as president if the election were to be held tomorrow; but that wouldnt prevent me (now would it?) from voting for all manner of local and congressional progressive and humane and honest and enlightened types lower down on the ticket(s). Except there arent any. Worse than this realization is my awareness that many of those who lay claim to be such have also shown a fundamental, nay terminal lack of seriousness about the absolutely salient issue that faces us, which is the defense of pluralist society against both the theocrats and the surviving advocates of the militarist one-party state. This is not a "foreign policy" issue, as our hometown casualties confirm, and doesnt deserve to be glibly balanced against such "domestic" matters as (oh, take your pick) on which only a fool would have trusted the Democrats in the first place. And you, my dear, have always been among those who warned that such Demoidiocy came from an eternal source of renewable liberal credulity. So dont try and reinstruct a pupil as willing and eager as myself. Not at this stage, when all your predictions have come true. Where does this leave us? I cringe when I think of one of the few things that I can claim to have learned since the 1990s. This is quite simply that character matters. Why do the Dems now discuss candidates rather than issues? Because it has to be in that order. The "issues" can be spun, as with health care (measurably worse than when Clinton was elected), but the supposedly superficial "personality" cannot. Ive been in Washington for two decades now, and every time I hear an easy laugh at the expense of Bushs dimness I wish I could show people the general level of IQ in the Clinton administration, subjected to long division and subtraction for integrity. The collective candlepower of the current bunch, I would say as an objective matter, is noticeably higher. Nor are they as abjectly venal as the previous incumbents. (Difficult, I know, to match the heroine of Waco against the wonder of John Ashcroft. But Karl Rove as against Dick Morris? Colin Powell against Warren Christopher and Ms. Albright?) I have differences with all of the above that are wider and deeper than any quarrel I have with you. Most important to me, though, is a settled resolution to call the new fascism by something like its right name . . . You arent going to tell me that you wish Gore and Lieberman had been at the helm all this time. You just arent, are you? If not, you might want to see where the logic of this admission will conduct you. I dont especially like the logic, but I dont fight it and I dont remember being offered any respectable alternative. Fraternally, Christopher
Now, its very clever of the old Oxford debater that you are to try to change the subject to the Democratic Party, because you know Ive chronicled its sellouts over these last years. But the subject is, how do you square your public declaration of support for Bush with the rest of your lifes work pre-9/11? I see that you are now beginning to squirm away a few centimeters from your earlier statements. But, cher Christophe, your joshing reference to your "crucial swing vote" puzzles me, since as I recall youve never seen the merit in taking out citizenship papers (a subject on which I criticize you not) and therefore cant vote anyway, so all that matters is the idea behind your publicly expressed views. And in that respect, it seems to me that it is your logic which is flawed.
If Bush is worth supporting for re-election because the only issue which matters is terrorism, as you claim, wouldnt that lead anyone following your thought process to conclude that a down-the-line ticket vote for the presidents party flows from your prioritization of that issue? And the presidents party is the antithesis of everything for which you have stood lo these many years. You say your single issue includes "the defense of pluralist society against the theocrats." But what about Bush and his theocrats, who are quite busy trampling into the dust the constitutional insistence on the separation of church and state through a series of patronage boondoggles for the enhancement of the GOP-labeled "faith-based initiatives"?
And as to whose elevator goes to the top floor, we have testimony from no less a credible witness than the former head of Bushs own White House office of faith-based initiatives, who dropped a dime on the whole rotten gang in Esquire, telling us in detail what we already knew that Bush and those around him are an ignorant bunch with absolutely no real interest in policy or ideas, and who fashion every decision and prise de position to their electoral strategy. The goal in scrapping the civil-service system and trading its Hatch Actprotected employees for wage slaves of private-sector companies chosen for their political loyalty to the Republicans is just part of the grand strategy for creating a de facto one-party state, in which no opposition can get real traction against the GOP money advantage.
And such a state will inevitably be a militarist one, as the pronouncements of Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Wolfowitz, Perle and the rest coupled with the astronomical military budgets that are indebting the next several generations with an unparalleled deficit all tell us. Dubyas is the most deeply reactionary administration to occupy the White House since Calvin Coolidge, and has succeeded where Reagan failed in eradicating the barriers against federal funding of religion-based prejudice. As to your assertion that the mendacious spoiled rich kid Bush is a paragon of character, I can only ask you to pass me the airsick bag; even as a joke such a claim would be rather nauseating. But youre not joking, are you?
As an example of Bushs "character," I re-pose to you the AIDS question, which you danced away from answering in an earlier e-mail, saying, "Its not my subject." (Gee, I would have thought that this pandemic, which has already killed more worldwide than the Black Plague, was a subject for everyone.) And let me add that, if Kerry turns out to be the Dem nominee, and it smells from here as if he might well be despite the many reservations I have about him, if there is one single issue on which there is the starkest of differences between Kerry and Dubya it is AIDS. Kerry has been by far the single most pro-active senator on AIDS issues, not only in terms of legislation but in criticizing both Clinton and Bush for their unconscionable failures and their capitulations to the god crowd. (Richard Gere, by the way, was as right as rain in his criticisms of Bubba on AIDS the other day.)
So, it seems to me that your obsession with the theocratic terrorists abroad is leading you to swallow a particularly noxious, deadly, life-taking form of theocracy at home which kills the innocent way beyond our shores. And I cant recognize the friend whose writings on the Christers, like La Mere Teresa and other revealed-religion frauds, have been so deeply felt and flawlessly argued, with the chap whos now crying Vote for Bush. Did you read Dubyas remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast this week, in which he affirmed that all his policies are based on his religious views? Tell me, cher ami, that you dont buy this Texas bouillabaisse of superstitions. You dont, do you?
Well, on the last question, you ask as if you dont really need to, which, as you already know, you dont. (Same in a way with whether I vote or not; it was you who raised the question of my hypothetical "support" with all its red/blue implications for the nation. By the way, I decided in principle to apply for citizenship after 9/11 and even wrote about it; Ill get around to the application when I get a minute. Still doesnt necessarily mean Ill vote for anyone, though it would have been Nader last time, I confess.) My opposition to religion and the religious is deeper than you credit. It extends to contempt for Liebermans fundamentalism and Clintons fawning on Billy Graham (now, there was a prayer breakfast for you!), and so I dont think its a change of subject to mention the Democrats, since you imply that only a Republican vote involves faith-based politics. I wasnt trying to be clever and change the subject, I was asking you to be consistent. Or inviting you to be.
As recently as a January piece I wrote for The Wall Street Journal, which invited me to review the conservative movement, I laid the main stress on the horrors of "faith-based" politics. I could and should have said more about the swinish business of sabotaging family planning in the "tiers monde," but I have written about that elsewhere, and my whole campaign against mother T was based partly on the role she played in spreading disease and death in this manner.
However, Duggers old horse, you know better than to suggest any equivalence between American god-botherers and Osama. (The nearest to equivalence one could get would be Robertson and Falwell saying that America had it coming on 9/11: Chomsky and Fisk in clerical drag.) Nobody is going to escape their share of irony and contradiction here: Bush is actually forced to defend the secular state and to make secular allies, even if he fantasizes about some kingdom of heaven. Bin Laden makes a deal with Saddam even though one worships "god" and the other asks people to worship only himself. Secularists like Ramsey Clark make excuses for al Qaeda. Paul Wolfowitz, the smartest guy in the administration, is a secularist to the bones. And I, little me, the most committed anti-theist of us all, have decided that the overriding issue is the willingness of the U.S. to intervene in the civil war thats going on in the Muslim world, and to help make sure the other side loses. This cant be difficult to understand, surely. I dont think the Democrats are truly serious about this, and so I accept the logical and probable consequences of my decision, some of which I know will distress me, let alone you.
Finally, you of course have a point about ticket-splitting, but this is a tactical matter not a matter of principle, and can be decided when it actually presents itself.
Valentine smooch, Hitch
My dear Hitch,
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I was only turning your rhetorical question device in an earlier e-mail back against you. The contradiction is still yours, between what you believe and whom you support, it seems to me in re-reading your latest sending. I suspect that those poor invisible folks around the world who are or will be infected with AIDS because the U.S. theocrats succeeded in denying them condoms might disagree with you about who between the Christers and Osama is the more lethal, since the pile of corpses from the former is infinitely higher than from the latter.
And its worth remembering how your man Bush he of the incomparable character made common cause with those great friends of secular enlightenment Iraq, Iran and the Vatican to keep condoms and science-based education from polluting the U.N.s declaration produced by its summit on the young. Your hallucinations that the Bushies are "defending the secular state" as you put it are, on the facts, just plain loopy. Dragging in the odious Joe Lieberman whom I never have and never will support because of his Senate co-sponsorhip of Bushs "faith-based initiatives" doesnt alter the mortality rate produced by Dubya and his religious primitives. So now the progressive forces are supposed to unite behind the likes of the "secularist" Wolfowitz? I think, mon vieux choux, youve been taking too many Sam Huntington pills. Your blinkered fixation with the "clash of civilizations" is so all-encompassing that it seems to me its making you swallow all manner of horrors and leading you on an inexorable path rightward. Dont like the Dems? Fine. I supported Nader against both Bush and Clinton, as you know. But to move from distaste for the Democrats to declarations in support of Bushs re-election is such a quantum leap from simply your support for the war (however much your recent donning of the intellectual khaki troubles me) because it implies an endorsement of all the Bush crowds malevolent works.
By the way, since you bring up consistency, I note that in this latest message you say you were for Nader in 2000 but in your first e-mail you said you were for Bush over Gore. Which was it? You know, J.K. Galbraith once joked that, if Marx (your former patron saint) said that government is the executive committee of the ruling class, in Japan its really true. We are coming perilously close to replicating that diagnosis here with Bush and his well-oiled cronies. Given your history and lifes work, its a grotesque alignment for you to choose. You say that Bush and none other takes terrorism seriously. (Duct tape, anyone?) But if Bush took terrorism seriously he wouldnt be planning a first strike against Iraq absent an overt hostile action on the part of Saddam because the mad act of an aggressive U.S. war will play right into the hands of Osama and the fundamentalist mullahs, confirm their most dire preachments to the Islamic world, and guarantee that the terrorists will have incomparably more fertile terrain on which to recruit for generations. I dont expect an uneducated ignoramus like Bush to get this, but I fail to understand how someone as sophisticated as yourself doesnt. I still have trouble discerning a coherent politics of a progressive hue behind your support for the re-conduction of Bush in 04, as you claim. It seems to me that you are in contradiction with yourself. You may well say, with Whitman, So, I contradict myself. But it saddens me to see you put your feet so firmly in the camp of the paleolithic obscurantists who want to finish in a grand sweep the dismantling of the federal government which Reagan began and Clinton continued on a small scale, when this was a course you fervently denounced in previous presidencies. All the more so because, whether the U.S. and your (ex-?) compatriot Tony act alone or whether Dubya eventually succeeds in purchasing a Security Council majority, the coming war will destroy the oh-so-fragile moral authority of international law, toward the rule of which the planet has been making hesitant but positive steps in recent years (viz. the ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda). And your comparison of terrorism to the fascist menace of five decades ago doesnt hold water historically: Fascism had captured three world powers of the day Germany, Italy and Japan; but the terrorists (now that Afghanistan has been bribed for the moment out of supporting a Taliban regime) are stateless, which is why conventional warfare wont work against them. And, a propos, if you have any evidence of the "deal" to which you refer between Saddam and Osama a deal for which the U.S. and Brit intelligence services, with all the multiple billions of dollars at their disposal, have yet to provide any substantiation that will withstand scrutiny then you ought to publish it. Otherwise, its just hot air.
Well, Hitch, I shall always love my friend, but I mourn the loss of my comrade. To see such talent as yours put at the service of a truly repugnant crowd like the Bushistas makes me weep. No doubt well have occasion to continue this debate, even if well soon be squabbling about whether all those coming deaths in Iraq have helped shape a better and more secure world.