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Christopher Hitchens with some insights on the Obamas

Thursday, May 8, 2008
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HH: We begin this Wednesday as those Wednesdays when we are lucky with Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair fame. Christopher Hitchens, you thought that Hillary’s relentlessness would in the end get her back into the White House. What are you thinking this morning after she barely survived last night?

CH: What I’m thinking is that in a little while, people will be marveling over who well she’s done in West Virginia and Kentucky. And by that time, the vote will have become thoroughly racialized, if you don’t mind that rather disgusting expression. And people will be speaking about Barack Obama as having won the black vote, as if there was such a thing as if people vote with their epidermis, which they’re already saying about North Carolina. And she will be implicitly, or sometimes explicitly, and with the help of her husband, well, that’s not all there is to it. Look at how many white people want to vote for me. So what’s all this about a post-racial election? And the Democrats will be made to feel nervous on this point, and I think they’ll take it all the way to Denver.

HH: Well, I happen to agree with you.

CH: People who are unstoppable and ambitious, and psychopathically power-worshipping, are not bruised by a little thing like North Carolina or Indiana.

HH: I agree with you. She has no reason to get out, a lot of reasons to stay in, and of course, she’s got Michigan and Florida, if she can get those votes counted.

CH: As she incessantly said last night, and it’s a huge gap in the party’s ability to live with itself. In the meantime, she can be undermining the candidate who she so tenderly said she’d be working full-time for in the fall, reminding us of what she’ll really be doing, so that she can position him for a miserable four years if he does happen to win, and herself to be the next Democratic president. I mean, if you have the impression that she’ll ever stop, you’re wrong. But you don’t, of course. But some of your listeners may. On the other hand, seeing her husband over her shoulder last night, you saw that, right?

HH: Yes.

CH: Good grief. It was almost like watching a dying elephant.

HH: I don’t suppose you listened to Rush Limbaugh channeling Bill Clinton today, did you?

CH: No, I didn’t.

HH: It may be about the most brilliant ten minutes of radio I have ever heard, about his bitterness at being overshadowed by his wife, at being dismissed by his daughter, at having lost all of his black friends. It was really very funny, but it was all based upon his expression last night, mournful.

CH: Well, I couldn’t believe that they let it go on that long.

HH: I know.

CH: That he was just standing there, and nobody, there was no one in this so well spun and well handled, relatively well spun and well handled thing, who could say look for God’s sake, get him out of the shot, move him out of the shot.

HH: Yup. Now Christopher Hitchens, let’s turn to the Obamas. First of all, brilliant piece in Slate on having read Michelle Obama’s undergraduate thesis. Now it’s not really fair, because I would shudder if anyone went over to Widener and pulled out my undergraduate thesis. But nevertheless, it was impenetrable. It was gibberish.

CH: Well, yes. I mean, of course, none of us terribly want our undergraduate journalism, or even in my case, graduate journalism, be revisited. But here’s the thing. The first thing is the subject. She is a black woman at Princeton. And the subject of, the dissertation of the thesis is what it’s like being black at Princeton. I would submit to any fair-minded person that’s a slightly narrow choice of subject.

HH: Very.

CH: I mean, you can’t really claim you’re being educated if the subject of your thesis is what it’s like being me at this college.

HH: Agreed.

CH: So that, I find partly laughable, and I’d have to add slightly sinister.

HH: Now let me ask you about her…

CH: But on the other hand, okay, you get to write about yourself and your own predicament. Well in that case, you’re writing about something you know. So you should be able to be fluent, witty, self-deprecating, insightful, amusing, personal. Not a bit of it. It’s a trudge. It’s a hateful, lugubrious, boring, resentment-filled screed written in some very bad form of sociologies. The only think you can definitely tell from the attempt to read it, because I maintain it cannot actually be read, it’s a degradation of the act of reading, is that she favors, or views with favor, black separatism, or as she calls it, separationism.

HH: Have you listened to either of her most recent stump speech of the Friday and the Friday night before that?

CH: I haven’t had that privilege.

HH: I’m going to play for you just one little clip as well…I played it for John McCain earlier today, and I’ll also give you John McCain’s response to it. It takes about two minutes, but I think you’ll find it interesting. Here’s Michelle Obama and John McCain responding to Michelle Obama.

MO: what did Barack do? He became a community organizer, working in some of the toughest neighborhoods on the South side of Chicago, worked for years in neighborhoods where people had a reason to give up hope, because their jobs had been lost, steel mills shut down, living in brown fields left by those closed steel plants, unsafe streets, schools deteriorating, grandparents raising grandkids. Barack spent years working with Churches, busing single mothers down to City Hall to help them find their voice, building the kind of operations on the ground just like he’s doing in this race, block by block, person by person. And you tell me whether there’s anybody in this race who can claim to have made the same choice with their lives. You tell me, but I think that Barack Obama is the only person that can claim that kind of choice. So trust me, we’ve seen it all. Barack has seen it all.

HH: Senator McCain?

JM: Well, I respect anyone’s service to their community and their country. And obviously, I admire and respect that. But the fact is that a number of people in this country, including those who sought the presidency, and in my own record, will speak for itself. And people will judge me by my experience and service and knowledge and background, and they will judge Senator Obama, if he’s the nominee of his party. I think they will judge Senator Clinton. But I would match my record with anyone’s, obviously, but I don’t claim that my record of service is superior to anyone’s. I’m just proud of my own service, and there are many ways of serving, and I’ll continue to seek the opportunity to serve a little while longer. So all I can say is I respect anyone’s service to their community and their nation, and I will let my credentials and my knowledge and background and judgment, but most importantly, Hugh, my plan of action to bring about meaningful change, and not just talk about it, and my record of working across the aisle in order to get things done, which Senator Obama claims, but actually, to my view, is a very, very thin record.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, it’s an extraordinary claim by Michelle Obama that Barack Obama’s experience is the most unusual, and that he’s seen everything. And I thought John McCain’s response was rather understated, but it doesn’t need to be anything else. What do you think?

CH: No, both of those statements are an embarrassment to anyone who cares or thinks about politics. I mean, they have in common two things – windy, in the case of McCain, as with many of his statements, incredibly long-winded, rather querulous combined with a slight geniality in a sort of senile whistle, and unable to wrap it up, and just stop, and stop saying it all over again. Obama, not unlike her thesis, constant statements of the blindingly obvious, there is no one else in the race who has been a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. That’s the most she was able to say.

HH: I think she was making…

CH: It’s unbelievably trite.

HH: I believe it was a claim of unmatched virtue for having been a community organizer.

CH: There’s a bit of that. There’s certainly aggrandizing. It’s making the most of what you’ve got. But what all she can really say is name me anyone else who has done all this. By the way, I don’t, I didn’t think the south side of Chicago was all that famous for its steel mills.

HH: Neither did I. That came in yesterday, by the way, that there’s a very couple of eyebrows arched over that. Here’s another cut from Michelle Obama, cut number 16.

MO: And Barack Obama is one of those guys raised by a single parent, teenage mother. His mother was a young, 18 year old white woman raising a black kid in the 60’s. Now you tell me whether that sounds like, you imagine the life that she was living, and you tell me whether there was silver spoons. You tell me whether there is the creation of an elitist from that kind of upbringing. Well see, his mother had a lot of nerve on her own, right? She thought that she could be something special, even though she grew up in a little town in Kansas.

HH: Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Well now, this is why I’m sure that I’m right, that the Reverend Jeremiah, the disaster pastor, is her idea, because you can tell from that tone of voice, taking it again, an incredibly long time to say, in a very high and hysterical register, something that’s actually a fairly modest claim, who she has penis envy for. And it’s this big mouth demagogue who’s overcompensating for the fact that he’s a light-skinned black person in a white church, and feels that rather than preemptively, rather than be accused of not being down with the brothers, he’ll really show off as if he was Stokely Carmichael. It’s pathetic, isn’t it?

HH: Well, I need you to stick around, because I’ve got to follow up on that. I’m absorbing that, and there’s a lot more to talk about, because Michelle Obama has set the table. Last night’s events are merely a sideshow to the drama that’s going to unfold in the next six months.

– – – –

HH: Mr. Hitchens, by the way, I read a fascinating profile on you, and now I can’t remember where it was. Did you read it?

CH: Oh, I don’t know. You’re spoiled for choice.

HH: The brand new one that came out, the gentleman stayed with you at your apartment in Washington, D.C. It was just fascinating.

CH: Oh, it’s in Prospect Magazine.

HH: That’s it. Prospect.

CH: It’s published in London. It’s…yeah, together with Foreign Policy Magazine, they do this annual poll on public intellectuals and all that.

HH: Oh, I really enjoyed it. I’ll post a link to it. Now let’s go back to Michelle Obama. One more clip, and then let’s talk about her in depth. This is cut number 10 from the speech she made on Friday night:

MO: And see, what we did was what we thought we were supposed to do. We got those fancy degrees, and then we left corporate America and went to work in the community. And with every job we took, we made less money. My mother told us we were crazy. But we thought we were doing the right thing, and I do believe we were. But where we found ourselves, in a position like most young couples, with our PhD’s and JD’s and MPh’s, and WLMNOP’s, all those wonderful degrees, all mired in debt. We had not paid off our loan debts until just a few years ago. Barack couldn’t even run for president. You can’t be in debt running for president. So I ask people, when was the last time we’ve had a president of the United States who just a few years out of debt. Well, that would be him. And the only reason we’re not in that position today is because Barack wrote two best-selling books. And thank you for buying those books. But that was not a sound financial plan. That was like hitting the lotto. And we know we’re blessed, and we do not complain.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, what’s this telling you?

CH: Well, that’s a bit more charming, I think you’d have to admit, than the…it’s less lugubrious and less resentful than the previous ones, but it’s equally self-pitying. And it’s also equally false. I would recommend to your listeners, by the way, that they get something they probably don’t normally get, the Progressive Magazine published out of Madison, Wisconsin. Adolph Reed, who I think is by far the smartest of the…he might not want me to say black intellectuals. Just to say, he’s an intellectual, but he specializes in writing about black American issues, has a very good critique, he’s also a Chicagoan, of the Obama phenomenon, about which he’s known for a long time, in the current issue.

HH: Oh.

CH: And he says, you know, come on, come on, what is all this about how they’re hard scrabbled, working ’till their fingers are bleeding and so on. Her father, Michelle Obama’s father, is a precinct captain for the Daley machine. They were always pretty well found and pretty well looked after. A phenomenon I find personally very unattractive is those who are fortunate enough to finally get to university, and then can’t stop apologizing enough in case people think they’re acting white. This is part of the pathology that Senator Obama says he’s opposed to. So it’s a pity that his wife seems to be pandering to that. And as for all this terrible debt they got themselves into, well, they seemed to be able to borrow money from Tony Rezko all right, and from other characters in the Chicago political world, and to live pretty high on the hog. And it’s not just that all candidate do this nonsensical business of pretending they come from small towns and poverty when really they didn’t. I mean, remember Al Gore pretending he came from a pig farm in Tennessee. It’s in this case slightly worse. It’s saying that the achievements in the academy and elsewhere that they did have are things they can’t wait to apologize for.

HH: And mentioning Rezko, this is why Hillary will not drop out. The Rezko final arguments are on Monday. Anything could happen, and the four worst words that the Obamas could hear is Rezko made a deal. That would be a bad thing.

CH: Yes, you see, yeah, there are two things that, if you’re going to be the new, fresh, charming, start again, clean-sheath candidate from the south side of Chicago, don’t do two things. Don’t get involved in a racist, nationalist separatist church like Jesse Jackson and Farrakhan, this’ll ruin the Jackson company, and don’t borrow money from characters who, well, whose credentials won’t bear much examination. Obama’s hardly out of the gate, and he’s done both things in a big way.

HH: He’s also announced surrender. I want to go to the Meet the Press interview, Barack Obama this weekend, cut number two for Christopher Hitchens:

BO: At that point, we will have been in Iraq seven years. If we cannot get the Iraqis to stand up in seven years, we’re not going to get them to stand up in 14 or 28 or 56 years. And the danger we’ve got is that with our military overstretched, with acknowledgment by our own Army officials that we don’t have a strategic reserve right now to deal with other problems, we can’t get more troops into Afghanistan, and we’re having trouble leveraging NATO to send in more troops into Afghanistan to deal with a growing Taliban and al Qaeda threat, that unless we change postures in a deliberate fashion, our overall strategic posture in the region is going to be weaker.

HH: Now after the break, I’ll play the response of John McCain to that, Christopher Hitchens. But he’s clearly giving the terrorists a timeline that they have to wait out. They just have to hole up in Mosul for 14 months after he becomes president, and they win.

CH: Well yeah, but it’s also worse than that. It’s so completely ignorant. He thinks the United States engagement with Iraq began in 2003, whereas in fact, it began in, well, probably 1948. Certainly not less than 1968. It’s been a long time that we’ve had to be involved, and the reason for that is because Iraq is a keystone state in the world economy and the region, and there’s no possible way for the United States to disengage from it, even if it did want to, which it should not. It’s just terrible to have to explain this child’s play to somebody who wants to be chief executive.

HH: And scary.

CH: Well, it’s such conventional wisdom. I mean, 90% of the American people seem to believe something like that. It just happens to be a dream that there could be a disengagement from Iraq, that we could act as if there was no such country. It’s awful to see a candidate for the highest office acting as if he thinks this fantasy is real.

HH: Do you think he believes it?

CH: Yeah.

HH: Okay, have you read Michael Yon’s book?

CH: However, at least he is serious about Afghanistan, whereas the logic of most of the people who support him, the MoveOn.org types and the rest, is that Afghanistan isn’t worth fighting for, either. Indeed, there’s no point in trying to resist jihadism. No, you know what? I have not read Mr. Yon’s book. I’ve read a lot of his very impressive dispatches, though, and I can’t recommend the spirit of them, as well as the content, highly enough.

HH: I had him on yesterday, and I urge you to get the book, because it’s one of the most persuasive extended essays on what is going on there, and how we are winning. Have you been in touch more recently with your friends there? Do they share the idea that stability is there? We’ve got about thirty seconds.

CH: Let’s not call it stability, but that it’s worth fighting for, and that the alternative is unthinkable, and that there are those who’ve already had the experience of defeat in their own province, and don’t want to have it again. Yes, that’s essential, very important.

HH: Christopher Hitchens from Vanity Fair, always a pleasure.

End of interview.

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