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Christopher Hitchens on Obama’s problems and the demise of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton

Thursday, June 5, 2008
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HH: Barack Obama is the Democratic Party nominee, and today, his very close friend, his business associate, his mentor, his financier of his home, Tony Rezko, has been convicted on sixteen of twenty-four counts of federal corruption. Barack Obama – nothing to hide, everything out and open. Will it work? Joining me is Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens, normally we find about candidates’ corrupt friends and radical associates after they’re in the office. This time, I guess we’re being asked to buy the corrupt guy up front.

CH: No, I don’t think that’s true. You know, I can remember Ralph Nader and Jerry Brown and myself, and Alex Cockburn and various others pointing out while Clinton was running what appalling associates he had, and always had had in Arkansas. But the terrible thing is, once you get people hooked on uplift and hope and all that, it doesn’t make any difference.

HH: But had anyone been convicted during the actual…anyone as close to Clinton as Rezko is to Obama been convicted in 1992?

CH: Yeah, I think if you look at a couple of names. I’m a bit rusty on this now, to be absolutely candid with you, but a couple of names, Lassiter would be one, I think, and a few others. Yes, you’d find there was some undesirable associations. But as H.L. Mencken used to be fond of saying, you know, if you can’t sell people on swamp stock or the Brooklyn Bridge or any other kind of underwater real estate, you can always get them for uplift and hope.

HH: Well then, let me…does uplift and hope take a hit when Father Pfleger gets up on tape and denounces America as a white supremacist country? This is, how many hits can Obama take with this sort of stuff?

CH: Well, you know, I wrote a little book called How Religion Poisons Everything, God Is Not Great, which you kindly had me on to talk about. It’s remarkable to me that with all the candidates in this election, all the serious ones, that they’ve been discredited by their religious associations more than anything else, by the pastors they’ve been hanging out with. Hillary Clinton and these rather cultish types who run the prayer breakfast, John McCain, as you know, with Mr., the Reverend Rod Parsley, sounds like a P.G. Wodehouse character, by the way, and the other one whose name just for the minute I’ve forgotten, Hagee.

HH: Hagee.

CH: Hagee, yes – nutcases. Obama, the line goes on to the crack of doom. There seems to be, you know, he can’t disown them fast enough.

HH: Now I’m going to disagree with you on your characterizations…

CH: And of course [Mitt] Romney campaigning in Nevada where there’s a huge Mormon caucus, when he should have been campaigning in the Carolinas. He was campaigning as a sectarian Mormon.

HH: I am going to disagree with your characterizations of a number of these people, but I want to focus you on Father Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright, and whether or not…

CH: Yes.

HH: …Barack Obama can survive that kind of radicalism, because I am sure you’ll agree with me, most Americans don’t view Protestant pastors like Hagee as a radical. They’ll disagree with him vehemently on some of his positions, but they don’t think he’s crazy. The Pfleger stuff, the Wright stuff, that strikes them as being incendiary and far outside the mainstream.

CH: Well look, okay, there are, after all, rabbis who have said that God inflicted the Holocaust on the Jewish people in order to get them back to Palestinian…

HH: Well, but you’re missing my point, or maybe not.

CH: No, no, no. I mean, so Hagee can say that, and he may not be as crazy to many people as it sounds. And it’s also only theological. It doesn’t say…

HH: Exactly.

CH: …you have to hate your own society.

HH: Exactly.

CH: No, I didn’t miss your point.

HH: So…

CH: And I hope you remember, you once were kind enough to credit me with it, I was early in pointing out that Obama would be in trouble for this kind of association…

HH: Yes.

CH: …and deserved it. And I’m a great collector of the form of words in which people make their dissociations. And what Obama has done is almost as bad as failing to dissociate, it seems to me, in that the worst he can find to say about these hack priests is that they’ve embarrassed him, and that they’ve acted as if they don’t care about his campaign. So he has to take distance from them. I mean, it’s…you can see the mind working. He’s doing the spin out loud. He said I must dissociate from these guys, because they’ve damaging my image. This is contemptible, I think.

HH: And see, my sense is that Americans will not condemn anyone for their theology. They don’t care, even if they disagree.

CH: Not enough. No, they won’t.

HH: But they will for their political extremism, and that he has demonstrated political extremism by participation in friendship with radicals.

CH: Yeah, well, there’s no question about that, and I wrote a column saying that what I most fear, and am forced to at least speculate, is that the person who kept him in that church long after he must have known it would have been sensible to leave was, is his wife.

HH: What do you make of the speculations about the Michelle tape that are out there, and in increasing detail? But rumors have a way of doing that.

CH: Yeah, no, I’ve heard that from all over the place. It started with some extremely liberal left friends in Los Angeles who told me, and I, then I heard it yesterday from an extreme right wing colleague at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. The reason I don’t believe it is this. I cannot believe there exists such a tape and it’s been held in reserve, that it could be played but hasn’t be played. That’s just not the way things happen. I believe that she may have made some incautious remarks. That’s easy to believe. I’ve ready her doctoral, sorry, her undergraduate thesis, which is full of them. But maybe not everyone wants to be judged by what they were like at that age. But still…but I don’t think there is a recording that someone is waiting to release. It doesn’t seem to add up, does it?

HH: No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem plausible, because Hillary would have used it.

CH: Sure thing.

HH: If it was to be found, Harold Ickes would have found it. And if it was there, they would have used it.

CH: No, Sidney Blumenthal would have had it to everyone’s desk by now.

HH: Now let’s…are you still speaking with Blumenthal? What’s that like when you bump into him?

CH: There’s no one I won’t talk to in politics, or in journalism, and so…but there are quite a lot of people who won’t talk to me.

HH: Oh, that’s their loss. Let’s go to a little Bill Clinton from yesterday, remarking on the Vanity Fair piece about him from your magazine. Here’s Bill Clinton’s response, cut number 20.

BC: It’s another way of helping Obama. You know, they didn’t do any studies about, they had all these people standing up in his church, cheering, calling Hillary a white racist, and he didn’t do anything about it. The first day, he said ah, well. But that’s what they do. He gets other people to slime her.

HH: They had put Vanity Fair in front of him, and he responded by attacking Obama. It’s delicious on a number of levels, Christopher Hitchens.

CH: Yes, and if you read Todd Purdum’s piece in the current Vanity Fair, you’ll have other reasons to think what you may already have suspected, which is that Clinton is in some way, actually several different ways, losing it. That’s in addition to the awful features of his character that have only just become obvious to a lot of people, which have been obvious to many of us for at least since 1992.

HH: Do you think that Obama can risk having Hillary on the…

CH: No!

HH: …as a vice president? Why not?

CH: Simply no, because he wouldn’t have another day’s peace in his entire life, win or lose.

HH: (laughing)

CH: He would be, he would have always on his neck, and around his neck, and over his shoulder, an absolute solipsistic megalomaniac who’s shackled by marriage to a thug, whose sources of income are still not completely understood, and who if they won would be in the Naval Observatory, continuing to make his life a misery. No, it would be an insult to everyone who voted for him on the positive side, in other words, who did want a fresh start, to break away from the old hacks in the old machine. Many, many people did that because they didn’t want the Clintons. To get the Clintons for an Obama vote is a total betrayal. It can’t even be thought of, and I don’t think he’s even contemplating it.

HH: Okay, so having said that…

CH: And after all, when you’ve been run against someone who used to claim to be the best friend of black America, and now turns into a redneck, Southern strategist on a dime, because she thinks it might suit her, that must sting a bit, and not…I think Obama is probably one of the least offended of black America’s politicians on that point.

HH: As we have seen, people can live on in the United States Senate for decades after their political trajectory comes to a sudden stop, Ted Kennedy, 1980. So putting aside the fact that Hillary will be with us for as long as she can breathe and cares to be, is she finished as a national political figure?

CH: No, I don’t believe so. I think that the only explanation for her flabbergasting behavior, not just last night in New York, but today at AIPAC in Washington, and you’ve followed this, presumably you’ve already talked about it.

HH: Yes, well, we just started, but we will.

CH: She congratulates Senator Obama on everything except having got the nomination, congratulates South Dakota on having had the last word when the votes in Montana were still being counted when she said that, now let it known that she would quite like to be vice president, a job she’s already held, in a fact, if not in law. This is unbelievable. And then before a Jewish audience in Washington, not to say, by the way, today’s a great day, the Democratic Party has nominated the first African-American candidate, I invite you all to give him a big hand, nothing. No grace, no, nothing but self-centeredness, self-obsession. This can only mean to me that this, to her, is the opening bid for the next presidential year.

HH: And so do you expect them to actively undermine Obama for the next six months?

CH: Yes, I do.

HH: How will it manifest itself? We’ve got about a minute.

CH: By lavish, by the worst possible way, by lavish, sickly demonstrations of love and praise and endorsement. It’ll happen in the most horrible way.

HH: 30 seconds…

CH: By organized, sickly, glutinous, treacly hypocrisy.

HH: Who’s going to be the next president of the United States, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: I have no idea.

HH: There must be a guess in there somewhere.

CH: No, no, I don’t do that.

HH: If you have to…

CH: You keep trying me on this kind of thing.

HH: I know.

CH: That’s the kind of commentator I’m not.

HH: All right. I should know that, because I just had…

CH: But you know, the one time you did make me do it, I said I still thought, and this was way after New Hampshire and all the rest of it, I still thought it could be Mrs. Clinton, and people laughed, okay?

HH: Oh, she may still…

CH: Okay, I still think it’s conceivable that she could rig and stack a convention. It’s thinkable.

HH: Of course it is. It’s the Clintons. Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair, always a pleasure.

End of interview.

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