Christopher Hitchens reacting to Massachusetts, and non-believer relief to Haiti
HH: But we begin as we do when we are lucky on Wednesdays with columnist for Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens, do you remember an election as surprising as last night’s?
CH: I’m sure I could if I tried. I wasn’t very surprised. Should I have been?
HH: Well, I think it would be from last month to this month, not from last week to this week.
CH: Well, I mean, it looked to me as if Martha Coakley was sleepwalking through the thing with some kind of sense of entitlement, perhaps passed on by osmosis from the hideous idea of the Kennedy charisma.
HH: 47 years the seat is in one hand in a deep blue Massachusetts. What significant do you attach to the fact…
CH: And remember, they used to be able not just to get their Kennedy in there, but to have a placeholder in there, remember, to keep the seat warm for him?
CH: …when he was a boy. I mean, it was theirs to give away. It is, in that sense, quite extraordinary, especially given the very important part played by the late Senator in swinging a lot of the party behind the Obama candidacy after, you know, I’m told, by the way, this is reliably, this was after he’d been visited by Clinton people to dish dirt on then-Senator Obama.
HH: Yes, that is actually told in great detail in the Obama fan boy book, Game Change. But I don’t want to digress. What do you make of last night? What’s the message out of Massachusetts, Christopher Hitchens?
CH: Well, it’s interesting that he seems to have got so many independent voters.
CH: That was the first thing that struck me, and that must be what terrifies the DNC. And then that on so many things that are, I hate these political talk clichés, but one can’t really avoid them, let’s call them hot button issues such as, say, waterboarding, cap and trade, immigration and so on. He takes, well, shall I just call it a populist line? But there was absolutely no mistaking what it is about the administration that he doesn’t like.
HH: And is there any mistaking the message that Obamacare is not going over well even in deep blue Massachusetts?
CH: I don’t think there’s any possible mistaking that message. It confirms to me something I’ve long thought and hate saying, but I’ve always thought that deep down, Americans do not want to be covered. They just don’t want national health. They say they do when they’re asked. They put it quite high up on the list. They feel they ought to say yes, but they don’t really.
HH: Do you expect…
CH: I mean, the nearest it ever got to being something like a national health service was under Nixon, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be that well positioned again. And I just think…you know what I think, honestly, Hugh? I sometimes think Americans want to live dangerously. They think this wouldn’t be America if you had health coverage.
HH: Oh, it could be…
CH: You and your children should be at risk. It’s funny, but it’s there somewhere.
HH: It could be leftover of pioneer days. There wasn’t much of a health service in the West as they pushed forward.
CH: Well, it may even be they’re doing that, but not that anyone remembers what the Hell that was like, and think what it was like before dentistry, and to go to some of the states where there aren’t any dentists, and see what people look like.
HH: Well, go to Haiti.
CH: I mean, it seems to me an absolutely nightmarish delusion, but I think it’s very widespread. Somehow, they feel they’d rather not have it if it comes at the price of single payer, or any simulacrum of it.
HH: And, they also might believe that it’s bankrupting, that it is a complete disaster for the economy.
CH: No, no, that’s not it. That’s not it.
HH: I don’t want to debate. I don’t want to quarrel, but I could debate you on that. Let me ask you about Haiti.
HH: We’ve invaded Haiti. We dropped troops on the presidential palace yesterday. The difference between Bush invading Iraq, and Obama invading Haiti, is that Bush had Congressional authorization. I’m glad that President Obama has done this, but don’t you find it odd that the left is all quiet as to this extraordinary exercise in presidential prerogative unguided by, unauthorized by simply unilateral on the part of the President?
CH: Yes, not seeking any international body, and as far as we know, though it’s very hard to be sure, no permission, not that I think their constitution would allow them permission, from a Haitian government, either.
HH: That’s right. I mean, we just took over.
HH: Now what do you think about that? I think it’s great, but I mean the left should have some problems with this.
CH: Well, if it’s unilateralism, it’s in a very, very high register, you’re quite right. But because there’s no oil there, there’s nothing anyone could possibly want, it must be assumed, per Contra, I suppose, that it’s altruistic, to that extent.
HH: Yes, it must.
CH: There’s nothing we want there. I mean, there was a bad time in the 20s and 30s when it was under full occupation by the U.S. Marines who actually built that damned palace that just fell down, that for so long housed the Duvalier client regime. But this just doesn’t feel like that to me.
HH: No, but as a matter of constitutional government, as a matter of who is acting more in accord with the rule of law, Bush did vis-à-vis Iraq and Afghanistan…
HH: …than President Obama has. But I don’t think that’s going to…
CH: No, we are in, sorry, excuse me, we are in Afghanistan and in Iraq under a United Nations mandate.
CH: …just as we were in Kosovo and…under, at least was first a NATO one. And there’s nothing, this is what nationalists in the Caribbean used to call backyardism when Reagan invaded Grenada. And yes, you’re right. This is what the left would normally call, Chomsky has even a word for it, the new humanitarian imperialism.
HH: Yeah, so when it comes to the left, they’re not very principled in their criticisms of the exercise of American power, are they?
CH: No, but do you remember how you and I last week decided we synch our differences on whether religious or secular charities were better, and just say to people come on, we’re in a bit of a hurry here?
HH: We are in a bit of a hurry here.
CH: I mean, if you put a carrier group into Port-Au-Prince, which I’m glad to see they have done, I mean, that’s already another airport that the Haitians have got in addition to the very bad one they have on land, and it can pump a huge amount of seawater into fresh water in a day, and it has a hospital wing and so on. No one’s going to quibble. Incidentally, Richard Dawkins and I, and a few others, did a special appeal over the weekend for non-believers, and we raised, I think, up to $350,000 dollars now in three days.
HH: That is excellent. What was the address of that for the non-believers listening right now?
CH: Well, if you go, thank you, it’s called NBGA, Non-Believers Giving Aid, but anyone who wants to go, anyone who’s listening to this who isn’t devout, and doesn’t always trust the religious charities, very generous of you, just go to the Richard Dawkins website. It’ll take you straight there.
HH: Yeah, send him a note that Hugh Hewitt sent you.
CH: And it’s piling up very, real fast. And there was another earthquake today, for Heaven’s sake.
HH: 6.1, yes.
HH: I’ve got to recommend to you, Christopher, that you visit, Google up Team Rubicon, as in the river in Italy.
HH: It is a group, it’s an extraordinary group of Americans who have simply conducted mercenaries with mercy. They’ve invaded Haiti with doctors and Special Forces medics, and they are busy practicing Civil War medicine, because that’s all they can practice there. It’s available at www.blackfive.net as well. There are going to be thousands of stories of Americans acting whether out of Christian impulse or non-believing impulse. They’re doing the right thing. I just, I think it would be interesting to talk to you or Dawkins at some point at length about what is that that is animating the non-believing giver association? Why are they doing it if not…
CH: Well, that’s easy, I mean, because we’re humanists.
HH: But humanists eventually, why do you care?
CH: Why would you care if you thought everything was in God’s hands, or that we were all playthings of a Divine will? That would make you even more inclined to apathy.
HH: Not a plaything of a Divine will, an obedient servant attempting to discern it and follow it, because it’s a good thing to do. But I mean, why does the non-believer care?
CH: Yeah, but the itinerate hands of an angry God, I mean, that’s just as much of a, much, much more fatalistic than saying we know one thing for sure that’s definitely true, which is that we are, we’re all human, and we have duties to one another.
HH: You don’t see wolves running across the continent to take care of other wolves. I mean, humanists always run up against this problem.
CH: Actually, with wolves, I’m not sure you don’t with other wolves. I’m not quite enough of a naturist, or sorry, a naturalist to say that. But with other primates, you certainly have group solidarity and family solidarity.
HH: Yeah, group and family, but not across oceans, and certainly not across communities who could never possible benefit them.
CH: Well, but that’s to state the self-evident. I mean, nor do they go and napalm and bomb and spread…
HH: Yes, it’s a fallen world.
CH: …torture and invasion and chemical warfare on each other.
HH: Got a quick exit question for you. Alan Bennett, who I’ve recently developed a taste for…
HH: His book, An Uncommon Reader, has been something through friends of mine I’ve been reading. Have you read that?
CH: I’ve not read that, but I’ve read a lot of Alan Bennett in my time, and I’ve seen many of his plays, and I should say I very slightly know him and admire him very much.
HH: Oh, okay.
CH: Yeah, terrible, terrible politics.
HH: Oh, really?
CH: These days, because the same one, we’re talking about the playwright?
HH: Yes, the playwright and his…
CH: Yeah, he has the most appalling anti-American views, a very sort of Northwest London dislike of Washington and all that kind of thing. You can read him a lot of London Review of Books. I mean, absolutely one note, but he’s very funny, dry, witty. He’s a sort of verbal equivalent to the paintings of David Hockney in some…
HH: That’s well put. I recommend highly to you An Uncommon Reader. I’d love to know your reaction.
CH: Yeah, he’s delicious in writing about books and plays…
HH: That’s what this is about.
CH: And he has this wonderful understated north country wit.
HH: Yeah, wonderful, wonderful. Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure, and once again, is it NBGA or via Dawkins?
CH: NBGA, you can probably get to it that way. But if you go, it’s called the Richard Dawkins foundation for science and reason, but if you just Google Richard Dawkins, it’ll take you straight to the site. And it’s going great guns.
HH: I hope the people who do not believe who are listening right now will in fact act on that humanist impulse, irrational as it might be, and do so. God bless you, Christopher Hitchens, for what you’re doing.
End of interview.