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Christopher Hitchens reflects on Obama’s early cabinet choices

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

HH: Well, should GM be bailed out? To answer that and many other question, we are rejoined by Vanity Fair columnist and old friend, Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens, welcome back after a long absence.

CH: It’s very nice of you to invite me again.

HH: Now do you believe we ought to be throwing money at the Big 3 – GM, Ford and Chrysler?

CH: Certainly not.

HH: Why not?

CH: And actually, I was surprised to find how much I agreed with the article by Romney that you were just talking about when I joined you.

HH: Yes, he’ll be on later in the show. He’s adamant.

CH: I thought, look, if you think of it, it’s not just the big and inefficient and already rather feather-bedded companies, but also the sort of rather lazy and outmoded United Automobile Workers, who used to once offer me a health care program through the National Writers’ Union, and they let that fall through. Not a union that I recommend to someone who wants to really defend the interest of the working class. Much more, it seems to me, just another protectionist organization.

HH: Now wait, back in the days when you were a socialist, didn’t you believe in government ownership of the various large industrial operations of Great Britain?

CH: Actually, no. It’s a confusion a lot of people have about what it was to be a socialist, even in the old days. What one believed in was industrial democracy. It was workers control, was the idea of no ownership so much as a co-ownership of things, and certainly not to increase the power of the state. The whole point of the Marxist analysis of society was the idea that the society would outlive and outgrow the state, and the state machine would wither away.

HH: And did that ever happen?

CH: It was never a utopian idea, but it was at least a libertarian utopian idea.

HH: Did it ever happen anywhere?

CH: Well, no, which is why so many of us don’t quite call ourselves socialists anymore. But as an idea, I don’t think it was a disgrace.

HH: Now I have to get immediately to the fact that your guy won, my guy lost, and your guy, Barack…

CH: Told you.

HH: Your guy, Barack Obama, has brought back your favorite politician, Hillary Clinton, who will bring Bill Clinton on in her wake to represent the United States abroad. How thrilled are you, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Well, I think it could be even worse than that. It could be that he’s offering it to her, and she is only considering it. She hasn’t decided whether she wants to do it or not. In other words, he’s bound to make a fool of himself one way if not another. If he picks her, what is all this about change? A lot of us who voted for him voted in the hope that we wouldn’t have any more Clintons to worry about, that he put the end to the Clinton era. So bringing her back, I’ll come to other reasons why that’s bad, would be negating his main promise to begin with. And second, if she’s only considering it and she might turn him down, he looks weak and like a fool in front of the whole world right away.

HH: Yes, he does.

CH: So how could he put himself in such a stupid position?

HH: Well, you tell me.

CH: Now I’ll tell you why he shouldn’t have offered it to her.

HH: Why not?

CH: Well, just take one case. And you don’t have to cast your mind very far back. The Republic of China, quite important to our diplomacy, yes?

HH: Yes.

CH: Also to our economy, no?

HH: Yes.

CH: In the hearings on the Clinton fundraising that the Senate and the House did, the very arduous and prolonged hearings, I think, I’d have to look it up, but anyone who wants to can do it who is listening now, I think it was forty people fled the country rather than testify, most of them going straight to China, which is where a lot of the dodgiest fundraising came from. I think that’s a contradiction, if not a disqualification right there. Should I remind you of the Riady group in Indonesia?

HH: Well, please do.

CH: Well, I hereby remind you of it. Should I remind you of the Marc Rich pardon?

HH: Oh, now Eric Holder reminded me of that.

CH: Should I remind you of the bulbous Rodham brothers who tried to establish a hazelnut monopoly in the Republic of Georgia, something that’s partly sinister and partly farcical, and who also took a rather big loan, or one of them did, from Marc Rich and didn’t seem to remember, or perhaps be pressed very hard to repay it. All of this is going to have to be revisited in any decent hearing on the subject.

HH: Well, do you think we’ll get a decent hearing?

CH: So Obama is dragging back all the nastiest baggage, and that’s without our starting on the ex-president’s current fundraising activities in the Gulf and elsewhere.

HH: But will we get those kind of hearings, either for a Mrs. Clinton or for Eric Holder, who passed on the Marc Rich pardon saying looks good to him, he’d probably recommend it?

CH: I said the other night to someone, I can’t remember who it was now, but it was actually David Gregory, I think, saying wouldn’t it be nice if Obama could think of somebody who wasn’t a member of the club of the Friends of Marc Rich? It’s ridiculous. Now Holder is not an unqualified lawyer, despite having been, I think, very cowardly and conformist on that occasion. He just didn’t have the nerve to raise the flag that he should have done. But his reputation as a lawyer isn’t bad. To set against Mrs. Clinton’s disgraceful associations, and those of her husband, what do we have in point of foreign policy expertise? Why would we say oh, we’d overlook all that, she’s such a genius on foreign policy. Name me one thing. Nobody can, except she invented a past for herself in Bosnia.

HH: What about the apparent return of Tom Daschle to authority at the Health & Human Services Department?

CH: (laughing) A boring guy for a boring job. And it’s an obvious payoff. I mean, nice enough chap. How exciting could you possibly get? What’s change-oriented about this?

HH: Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff?

CH: Just another machine person. Look at all the economic advisors. Look at everything he’s even considering. You can call it anything you like, but you cannot call it change.

HH: How about Lawrence Summers. Would you welcome him?

CH: …very, extremely, mediocre, tenth rate, uninspired stuff.

HH: Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard, tenth rate?

CH: I won’t say tenth rate about him.

HH: All right.

CH: That wouldn’t be fair, no.

HH: Now Christopher Hitchens, what do you make of this market meltdown? First of all, you must have felt the sting.

CH: Well, I don’t play the market much in my tiny 401K. I’m incredibly conservative. I put it all in government bonds and Treasury bills and things like that.

HH: And so, you may not have felt the sting. What do you think it’s owed to?

CH: I mean, of course I felt some, yes, and I got worried, because you know, some accounts are guaranteed by the FDIC, all this kind of thing.

HH: So do you think we’re at the bottom of the bottom, or do you think we have further to go?

CH: Certainly not. No, no, absolutely not. No, there’s a real crisis of liquidity and credit that people are just whistling their way through at present. Nobody know really where this derivative nightmare came from, and nobody knows how to get out of it, either. They’re just at the moment hoping that we can spend our way out of it, and I very much doubt that that’s true.

HH: And do you see any parallels with 1929, 1931-’32?

CH: Only that, no, mainly because, though, of the willingness of the federal government to become not just a buyer, but the spender of last resort. But that isn’t progress in many ways.

HH: All right, last question, Christopher Hitchens…

CH: Yes.

HH: You voted for Barack Obama.

CH: Yes.

HH: You actually spoke on his behalf. Do you regret your vote now?

CH: No, no, no. I mean, I didn’t expect it to be wonderful, and I had published a great number of criticisms of him, and of his campaign and his style and his past and his associates, some of which I think we discussed on the air. But it became for me morally and intellectually impossible to vote McCain-Palin. One of them I thought was senile, and the other was puerile.

HH: Do you believe…

CH: You couldn’t believe, you couldn’t cast a responsible vote for such an absolutely shambolic and stupid and really shameful campaign. And as you know, an unprecedented number of Republicans either said they would vote for Obama or couldn’t vote for this, and I don’t blame them. And I’m not a Republican myself.

HH: Do you believe that Obama will desert Iraq and Kurdistan?

CH: No. In any case, by great and good luck, if you want to call it that, and luck has been his most signal quality so far, the Iraqis are asking for the United States to be out in pretty much the next year or so, give or take a few months, in any case. I mean, it’s very, I don’t know if their parliament will actually confirm that, that is the rough consensus in Iraq as it is. So Obama’s off the hook on that.

HH: All right, Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure, we’ll talk with you again soon. Read all of his material at Vanity Fair and at Slate.

End of interview.

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