Monday, March 31, 2008


I picked up a very old copy of The New Yorker from the endless pile and started reading a profile of Christopher Hitchens. I'm relieved that it is highly unlikely that I will ever meet Mr. Hitchens; I'm grateful to circumstances for keeping us apart. The author describes an interaction between Hitch and another person at a restaurant gathering:

And then the young doctor to his left made a passing but sympathetic remark about Howard Dean, the 2004 Presidential candidate; she said that he had been unfairly treated in the American media. Hitchens, in the clear, helpful voice one might use to give street directions, replied that Dean was “a raving nut bag,” and then corrected himself: “A raving, sinister, demagogic nut bag.” He said, “I and a few other people saw he should be destroyed.” He noted that, in 2003, Dean had given a speech at an abortion-rights gathering in which he recalled being visited, as a doctor, by a twelve-year-old who was pregnant by her father. (“You explain that to the American people who think that parental notification is a good idea,” Dean said, to applause.) Dean appeared not to have referred the alleged rape to the police; he also, when pressed, admitted that the story was not, in all details, true. For Hitchens, this established that Dean was a “pathological liar.”
“All politicians lie!” the women said.
“He’s a doctor,” Hitchens said.
“But he’s a politician.”
“No, excuse me,” Hitchens said. His tone tightened, and his mouth shrunk like a sea anemone poked with a stick; the Hitchens face can, at moments of dialectical urgency, or when seen in an unkindly lit Fox News studio, transform from roguish to sour. (Hitchens’s friend Martin Amis, the novelist, has chided Hitchens for “doing that horrible thing with your lips.”) “Fine,” Hitchens said. “Now that I know that, to you, medical ethics are nothing, you’ve told me all I need to know. I’m not trying to persuade you. Do you think I care whether you agree with me? No. I’m telling you why I disagree with you. That I do care about. I have no further interest in any of your opinions. There’s nothing you wouldn’t make an excuse for.”
“That’s wrong!” they said.
“You know what? I wouldn’t want you on my side.” His tone was businesslike; the laughing protests died away. “I was telling you why I knew that Howard Dean was a psycho and a fraud, and you say, ‘That’s O.K.’ Fuck off. No, I mean it: fuck off. I’m telling you what I think are standards, and you say, ‘What standards? It’s fine, he’s against the Iraq war.’ Fuck. Off. You’re ‘Any liar will do. He’s anti-Bush, he can say what he likes.’ Fuck off. You think a doctor can lie in front of an audience of women on a major question, and claim to have suppressed evidence on rape and incest and then to have said he made it up?”
“But Christopher . . .”
“Save it, sweetie, for someone who cares. It will not be me. You love it, you suck on it. I now know what your standards are, and now you know what mine are, and that’s all the difference—I hope—in the world.”

Who's the nutbag? Just reading that gave me an anxiety attack.


Night Editor said...

Except, now I'm completely compelled to use Hitchens's phrase sometime . . . anytime: "A raving, sinister, demagogic nut bag." Even if I could just get in a "raving nut bag" I think I'd be satisified.

hammersox said...

Christopher Hitchens has become a very odd character of late. For years, he was a slightly toxic but usually reliable columnist for The Nation. He split with them not long after the invasion of Iraq, which he supported but The Nation (of course) despised. Since then, there's been this long descent into lunacy that I've found mildly fascinating. In the past, he seemed to take great pains to look meticulous. Now he usually looks puffy and disheveled. I sense that there may have been some demons that had been circling him for years have finally taken over.

This seems to happen with political and/or political media personalities every now and again, and I'm usually intrigued by what might have happened to them. Dan Rather is another case in point - I've always wondered what broke him into becoming such a worthless toady after so many years as a relatively thoughtful and reasonable journalist. Ditto for Mike Hatch, who seemed to run his last gubernatorial campaign with a midlife fatalism where he had a profound sense that most everything on which he had based his public life was utterly meaningless.

May they all serve as profound examples of what not to become...

Sassmaster said...

HS, you should check out the New Yorker profile. It's online. It's from 2006 and I haven't finished it yet, but I think it's attempting to explain some of this stuff. And yeah, what is UP with Rather? Can no one but Walter Cronkite maintain their dignity into their dotage? Dang.

NE, you're right, he does have some good lines. I saw him on a panel with some religious folk talking about his most recent book -- an pro-atheist screed. He's often very intelligent, but he uses his words like fists.

Anonymous said...

"You love it, you suck on it". I would use that line if I was getting dissed by someone, but probably only after the consumption of cocktails. If you put the ranting in a context where you really dislike someone and want to chew his/her ass off, then this is good. As it is, it is just plain scary.