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Christopher Hitchens reacts to Bill Clinton unplugged.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

HH: As many Wednesdays, we are happy to welcome Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair. Christopher, welcome, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you.

CH: Thank you, and Happy New Year, I think, isn’t it?

HH: And it is. It’s our first meeting of the new year, and I appreciate your remembering that. Christopher, you’ve made something of a career watching the Clintons, haven’t you?

CH: If you could call that a career. It’s barely a life.

HH: It’s sort of like a prison sentence, actually. Well, we have some new and very exquisite Bill Clinton, vintage today, which I’ve just got to play for you. It takes four minutes, but I want to be the first to get your reaction to it. Here is Bill Clinton, earlier today:

Wolf Blitzer: Now I want to let you listen to Bill Clinton at length, going after the Obama camp and the news media in South Carolina, just a little while ago. Our Jessica Yellin asked him about a comment by a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, Dick Harpootlian. Harpootlian likened the former president to the late Republican Party chairman, Lee Atwater. Atwater, as many of you will remember, was known as the grandfather of so-called modern day hardball politics. He was widely accused by Democrats of playing the race card. So just so that you know, another name you’re going to be hearing from the former president is Dolores Huerta, a founder of the Farm Workers’ Union. Listen to this.

BC: I never, ever heard a word of public complaint when Mr. Obama said Hillary was not truthful, and how character was poll driven, when he had more pollsters than she did. When he put out a hit job on me, at the same time, he called her the Senator from Punjab, I never said a word. And I don’t care about it today. I’m not upset about it. The only thing I pointed out was that there was substantially no difference in her record than his on Iraq, and that he had said in 2004 there was no difference between his position and President Bush. And he said that was somehow dishonest, but he never answers how it’s not accurate. So this is crazy. This rhetoric is getting a little carried away here. And let me remind you, my ultimate answer is this. There are still two people around her who marched with Martin Luther King, and risked their lives – John Lewis and Reverend Andrew Young. They both said that Hillary was right, and the people who attacked her were wrong, and that she did not play the race card, but they did. So I don’t have to defend myself from Dick Harpootlian. I’ll just refer you to John Lewis and Andrew Young, and let him go get in an argument with them about it. Let him go get in an argument with Dolores Huerta, one of the founders of the Farm Workers, against what happened in Nevada. There is a fact here. This is almost like once you accuse somebody of racism or bigotry or something, the facts become irrelevant. There are facts here. And the final thing I’d like to say is you’re asking me about this, and you sat through this whole meeting. Not one, single, solitary soul asked about any of this, and they never do. They’re feeding you this because they know this is what you want to cover. This is what you live for. But this hurts the people of South Carolina, because the people of South Carolina are coming to these meetings, and asking questions about what they care about. And what they care about is not going to be in the news coverage tonight, because you don’t care about it. What you care about is this. And the Obama people know that. So they just spin you up on this, and you happily go along. The people don’t care about this. They never ask about it. And you are determined to take this election away from them, and that’s not right. That is not right. This election ought to belong to those people who are out here asking questions about their lives. That’s what I’m…

Reporter: Do you think the Obama people are stoking some of this talk about racial issues?

BC: (laughing) Well, you asked me questions based on…Harpootlian calls me Lee Atwater? I spent all my life fighting those people? And he wasn’t in Nevada. So he’s having a fight not with me, but with Dolores Huerta, who founded the Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. He should ask her. She was there. He doesn’t care what happened. He just knows he can call you a name, and you guys’ll cover it. They did not ask about this, and you don’t care what your own people care about. They care about what happens to the American people. That’s one thing John Edwards was right about in the debate.

Reporter: But do you think the Obama people are stoking…

BC: One more story. Shame on you.

HH: Shame on you. Christopher Hitchens, your reaction?

CH: (laughing) Oh, boy. It’s like the amazing speech, you remember, that he gave putting Michael Dukakis in the nomination at the Democrat Convention?

HH: Yes.

CH: …where people only applauded when he said finally and in conclusion? And somewhere, in some other dimension, I feel he’s still delivering that speech. I don’t think it ever did come to an end.

HH: (laughing)

CH: And it’s interesting, too, because it shows he is completely out of control. In other words, he has a lot of good friends who keep telling him, ‘Bill, you must stop with this. You can’t just ramble and rant on in this mad way like some tenth rate huckster instead of behaving like a former president and chief executive of the United States.’ And he knows that they’re right, but he can’t not help himself. And it’s the same with everything else.

HH: Now he does…

CH: He’s just a prisoner of his terrible appetites and his egomania.

HH: It’s a greatest hits album, actually, because he is defensive, he’s aggressive, he’s hyperbolic, he relies on John Lewis and Andrew Young, and then he gets mad at the media. It’s sort of like all of the Lewinsky scandal compressed into three minutes.

CH: Yeah, and this pathetic self-pity, which is…I mean, how ill white hair has become a fool in jest.

HH: Oh, very well done. Now tell me, does this matter, though? Because evidently, Barack Obama’s numbers are falling across the country. He got down in the dirt with these people. He got into the mud with the Clintons. And as Newt Gingrich said last night on Hannity and Colmes, you can’t beat them in a mud fight.

CH: Yes, that’s very probably true, though I can think of some other reasons why those numbers might fall. In other words, I mean, the more people look at the admittedly very charming Senator Obama, the less there is to see, you know, from any perspective. You look at him sideways, he’s practically invisible. He’s tremendously slight. He’s very, very lightweight, and I just think that the more exposure he gets, the more that that becomes plain.

HH: When Bill Clinton says to the reporter, they’re feeding you this, doesn’t that resurrect that paranoia, the vast right wing conspiracy? But this time, it’s directed at an African-American liberal, Christopher Hitchens.

CH: That’s right, but remember, Clinton is the only person, at least I think he’s the only person, who have played what certainly is the race card, and played it twice. And in my little book on Clinton, it was called No One Left To Lie To, it’s still available, I think, in paperback, I have a long section on how he went back to Arkansas from New Hampshire, when he was up against it in ’92, and slipping in the polls, to supervise the execution of a mentally retarded black convict who would have met all the ordinary conditions for clemency. He lobotomized himself by shooting himself in head, didn’t understand the charges against him. He did something that really, by any standards, if you just pictured what would have happened if a Republican had done that, I’ll leave it like that, okay?

HH: Right.

CH: He played that. You might remember the Sister Souljah fight that he artificially picked with Jesse Jackson, all of this, until it comes to impeachment, when suddenly, he’s joined at the hip with Toni Morrison and has Jesse Jackson was well as Billy Graham as one of his confessors, and he’s implicitly saying to people are you attacking me because I’m a friend of the black folks. So he manages to play the race card twice. It’s never been done, I think, twice by the same politician. And now, he’s trying to do it twice again.

HH: Well, he’s also playing the black-Latino division card when he brings up Dolores Huerta. He’s obviously playing into that animosity that’s traditional and deep between African-Americans and Latino-Americans over shares and spoils of power. Can he recover from that with blacks?

CH: Very good point. I hadn’t, I should have noticed that, the Dolores Huerta point. Yes, I mean, I think of course, you’re right. That must be a calculation, too.

HH: Of course. Everything is.

CH: A deniable one.

HH: Everything is.

CH: And of course, it is very interesting, because Lee Atwater, who is the man credited with the so-called Willie Horton strategy that was actually first tried out by Al Gore, as you will remember, you know, had the grace to apologize later for what he’d done, and to say that he wished he hadn’t, whereas with Clinton, there’s no conscience at all about any of his ethnic and racial demagoguing.

HH: Yup. So Christopher Hitchens, can any of the Republicans beat them, the Clinton-Clinton tag team from hell? Can anyone actually stop this?

CH: Well, I’ve been writing, best I can, to beseech people to think do you want this dysfunctional hillbilly family back in the White House? Do you want this guy back in the Lincoln bedroom, this interminable self-pitying, paranoid demagogue? Do you want the brothers, the Rodham brothers, remember them?

HH: Yup.

CH: Remember the charm of the Rodham, are they twins? I can’t remember.

HH: No.

CH: The bulky brothers who, the friends of Marc Rich, the authors of the Marc Rich pardon, the people who had a, what was it, a beech nut monopoly in Uzbekistan, or something, with these low-rent riff-raff, beseeching favors. She’s never been able to say no to anything they’ve ever asked of her. Do you want a second bite at this cherry? I cannot see how this doesn’t in the end, the reminder that they’re giving of what it’s like, turn into a political question, because here’s the thing, Hugh. I think because of the very tough time the United States has had at home and abroad in the last two years, those of us who thought that the Clinton years would just be an unpleasant memory, something in the rear view mirror a few years back, turned out to be wrong. To many people, including some who don’t remember it that well, the younger voters, it seems like a halcyon period.

HH: Yes, the holiday from history.

CH: Yeah. Now, now, you get ugly, crude, vulgar reminders of oh, yes, of course, that’s what it was like. All the time you had to see these bitter, twisted, selfish, needy, greedy, entitled faces in terms of voice in the executive mansion. No, no, no more of that, surely.

HH: I hope you’re right, Christopher Hitchens, from Vanity Fair. Thanks for joining us.

End of interview.

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