Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

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When the glitter fades...

(The entry below, much blogged, was written after reading a speech by Congressman Ron Paul to Congress about neo-conservatives, in which he claimed that Christopher Hitchens was now a consultant for the White House. I was appalled, and wrote what follows, by most of which I stand.

However, it appears that Paul misspoke himself. Hitchens says he is not a consultant. However, he has attended the White House as a guest lunch-time lecturer for junior staff. I have amended accordingly. I have also corrected a couple of minor misspeakings of my own.)

As you will all have noticed, I somehow seem to know almost everyone.

The down side of this is that I sometimes wish I didn't, or rather never had.

Christopher Hitchens is, these days, an urbane drunken fop who still lays some sort of claim to left principles, and argues that supporting the Iraq war was a form of those principles. He made something of a name in the US by arguing for the prosecution of Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, and by debunking Mother Theresa - and by denouncing Bill Clinton as a rapist, a drug dealer, a war criminal, a signer of death warrants for political advantage and so on.

He recently lectured junior staff at the George W. Bush White House. As he himself would have been previously the first to tell us, there are no innocent dealings with any White House administration, perhaps this one least of all.

I used to say that those of us who had never supported the death penalty for anyone were entitled to condemn Clinton for making the decision that, to be effective in American politics, he had to be prepared to kill people because the American public believes in it - but that those people who, like Hitchens, admired Lenin and Trotsky, and the Marxist-Leninist concept of the necessary murder of entire classes, were not so entitled. If you regard condemning people to death as a legitimate form of politics, then it does not seem to me to make much difference whether you actually get the chance to do it..

However, Hitchens is now cosy with the junior staffers of Bush, who thinks signing death warrants is fun. Faced with a murderess who had repented in jail, for whom ministers were pleading, the supposed Christian Bush made a facile joke about it. If Clinton was a murderer for signing death warrants, as Hitchens used to claim, what does that make Bush?

Hitchens rightly denounces Kissinger for illegal war-making, the sponsoring of state terror, complicity in the murder of US citizens and so on His position on Bush's war was at one point that it must be OK because Kissinger had denounced it. Kissinger's realpolitik has been replaced with what we may call surrealpolitik - a politics that was about the amoral pursuit of narrowly conceived US interests has been replaced by a politics that actually makes no sense whatsoever in terms of US interests, or indeed at all.

And suddenly Hitchens is an accomplice, or at least a cheerleader.

Hitchens condemned Mother Theresa for running hospitals that were all about saving souls rather than saving lives, for opposing contraception as a way forward for overpopulated countries like India on the grounds that there is potentially enough divine love for as many people as can possibly be born.

And he is giving cosy lunchtime lectures to the White House staff of Bush, whose government has cut aid to any international birth control organization that has any connection with advice services that support abortion.

When Bush seemed likely to be elected, Hitchens argued that the Right were all talk, that Bush would not actually introduce much in the way of a Right agenda and that 'we' need not worry. 'We' in this context means those who are middle or upper class, and white, and male, and (these days) straight, and (these days) not a serious threat to bourgeois democracy.

Bush has presided over the cutting back of abortion rights, the appointment of anti-gay figures to e.g. senior medical positions, an attempt to put an end to positive discrimination and massive cuts in employment protection.

He is also, frankly, incompetent. If the business of the United States is business, as the head of General Motors once said, then he has not made much of a fist of it, turning a negative national deficit into trillions of dollars in less than a single electoral term.

And Christopher Hitchens is acting as an educational entertainment at the White House.

This is a man who participated fully in the orchestrated campaign to find the Clintons guilty of something. All the way through the Clinton administration, Hitchens was constantly claiming that there were really bad things that would in due course come out - and yet nothing ever did, save for Lewinsky, in spite of one of the most expensive investigations in history.

Specifically, Hitchens claimed that Clinton had raped women and got away with it. Now, this is a serious charge and a real object for concern - but the point is that it is not enough to assert criminal guilt, you have to prove it. And the way to prove it is a judicial procedure - the rule of innocent until proven guilty applies even to Presidents.

The eight years of the Clinton Presidency - of which, let us be clear, I was not especially a fan - were years during which Hitchens' pursuit of Clinton brought him into very strange company on the Right, while progressively alienating many of his old chums on the Left.

There is a tendency on the Left to distrust tall poppies, or people with wit and charm and style. There has specifically been a tendency on the part of the Left to refer to Hitchens' drinking, and his bisexual past, which would have been unacceptably personal were not that sort of abuse part of what Hitchens is entirely prepared to trade in.

I really disliked some of this, just as I disliked what Hitchens was doing, and I have tended to keep quiet except in conversation. I do not like ending even the vaguest of friendships - it is always a serious matter, even when it does not end in the sort of litigation that ended Hitchens' friendship with Clinton supporter Sidney Blumenthal.

But Hitchens is providing lunchtime entertainment to the junior staff of Bush's White House.


In 1968, when I arrived at Oxford as a gangling skinny Northerner with serious sexual identity problems, I went to a lot of political meetings. You could hardly not notice Hitchens - he was charismatic, and beautiful, and passionate in his denunciations of the Americans in Vietnam. You also ended up noticing a quiet bearded American called Bill something, who would periodically stand up and oppose the war, while defending his country's better angels. My memory, which may be faulty, is that, on at least one occasion, I heard them speak at the same meeting.

Hitchens has latterly claimed that they probably slept with at least one of the same people - who subsequently became a famous lesbian and feminist activist. The problem with this is that the most likely candidates - Oxford in the late 60s was not exactly awash with such women - either never slept with one, or never slept with the other, or never slept with either. One woman, who shared an apartment, and a girlfriend, with Clinton, claims to remember vaguely once necking with Hitchens when she was drunk.

What is the case is that they were having sexual adventures in roughly the same quarter of the forest, with the exception that Clinton was only sleeping with women.

I knew Hitchens slightly and Clinton only at second-hand; for various complicated reasons - having mostly to do with a friend/enemy now some years dead - I did not get to know the Clinton circle until after he had returned to the US to work for McGovern. My friends in his world were literary people with political interests, rather than pols - but at tea-parties in the early 70s, I met future associates of the Clinton White House and paid them remarkably little attention.

They just were not as likable, or as attractive, as Christopher Hitchens. On at least one occasion, I cried on Hitchens' shoulder over an unhappy love affair of mine; on several others, his then girlfriend, and his then boyfriend, with whom I had been at school, severally cried on mine over him.

I spent a Christmas holiday room-sitting in a house shared by a group of Hitchens' women comrades in what was then International Socialism and later became the Socialist Workers' Party. The male comrades who came to the house were interestingly unpleasant about Hitchens - they hated him for being a star and used his bisexuality against him, taking the view that anything other than heterosexuality was a bourgeois phenomenon which would disappear under socialism and arguing with more justice that Hitchens was spending too much time with effete would-be aristocrats. In fairness to them, at least one man with whom his name was linked at Oxford was a minister under Thatcher.

Interestingly, after years in which the SWP has taken a progressive line in sexual matters, their desire to liaise with Islamic fundamentalists over the peace movement has led to their deciding to 'de-emphasize' feminism and gay rights. Hitchens' current rudeness about his former comrades is more or less justified in some respects.

In those days, left-wingers like Tariq Ali and Paul Foot still stood for office in the Oxford Union - which was and is a private club that ran a debating society. These days, it is a right-wing talking shop, mostly, but it wasn't then. Hitchens was Secretary of the Union and was bullied out of standing for the Presidency, as Tariq had, by orders from IS's central committee. I was present when he agonized in the bar about this and decided to do what he was told.

I really dislike being bullied, and am not a joiner, so I did not think better of him for caving under pressure. And said so - he said that I did not understand what real political commitment was all about and that it was about more than personal advancement.

He left Oxford and went to be a journalist in London, working on the New Statesman, where he was still remembered with affection during my own NS days about two decades later.

He was still in Oxford a lot though. When I won the Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize, which effectively meant that my college could not throw me out over my involvement in a sit-in over gate hours, and therefore could not throw out any of my comrades either, we held a huge party and Hitchens turned up at it.

He stood on a table and toasted me - 'And here's to you, Kaveney. May you not always be on the outside looking in.' And I smiled sweetly and said, ' And here's to you, Chris. May you not always be on the inside looking out.'

We didn't have much to say to each other in the years after that. I got involved in the Gay Liberation Front and started to come out as trans; Hitchens now says, and it tallies with my memory of things that he wrote at the time, that he thought the personal politics of the 70s were a delusion and a snare.

The last time I saw him in the flesh, we were both at a party given by the woman who shared a flat with Clinton, and Hitchens arrived very drunk and collapsed on a chaise longue where he lay asleep for hours with a full glass balanced on his chest.

We vaguely tracked each other over the years - we were writing for some of the same periodicals and had some of the same acquaintances. He certainly knew when I transitioned and expressed only moderate amusement.

Much more recently, during the Clinton years, I contacted him when a mutual friend died. He was unable to come to her funeral, but spoke long and intelligently about her charm and abilities. She and I had quarreled at Oxford and been estranged for many years before making it up three years before she died - like several other people, Hitchens assumed, when I rang him, that something had happened to her and was surprised to learn that the quarrel had lasted so long, because he always thought of us as a double act. This was either true, and charming, or untrue, and deeply sensitive to my feelings.

I admire his writing, and in particular the recent book on Orwell - even when I disagree with him, he writes good prose.

I used to have a huge crush on him, that I never felt remotely smart or pretty or interesting enough to voice; and he has always shown considerable kindness to me personally.

But Christopher Hitchens is lecturing Bush's junior staff.

There is that exchange in Buffy 6.6 where Dawn says 'This is going to be one of those things where you are not angry, just very disappointed' and Giles says ' Yes, except for the not being angry part.'

Oh Christopher, Christopher, how could you at once embody and betray the hopes of your generation so totally?

(As I said, when first corrected, to become a consultant or courtier to Bush would have a seedy depraved corrupt glamour; to hang out in the Bush White House as a lecturer to junior staff is merely sad.)
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