11.06.2006

Hitchens Knows What This Election Is All About

Christopher Hitchens knows what this election is about. Brace yourself as we explore the depths of not only this election, but into the heart of the author himself. Prepare yourself for One Thousand Words from the Mind of Christopher Hitchens
IN EVERY election cycle there is a dispute among pundits and between candidates as to precisely what the election is “about”. The results can then be analysed according to how they provide a verdict on this topic, or topics.

There is usually more than one “about” about, and sometimes the “abouts” are related. In the past US presidential contest there was general agreement that the dispute between the candidates was “about” Iraq, but also “about” the relative military qualifications, in the late 1960s, of the two contenders. For a while, though this requires an effort of memory, it was also “about” the right of homosexual couples to marry.


This is about a one thousand word opinion piece, and the search for the perfect filler. We can justify this clever wordplay by tying it into the title. Otherwise, the editor might want to replace it with something... well, something interesting.

The present US midterm election campaign, however, is principally “about” the fact that federal law mandates a vote in November, and thus that there have to be candidates, issues, spending contests and all the rest of it. A mere month or so ago, a shrewd guess might have been that the main quarrel would have been “about” Iraq. Now, the war is only a minor quibble among a slew of issues that this campaign is “about”.


No, Mr. Hitchens. The war is can not be categorized as a minor quibble during this election cycle. The candidate's support of this President's war is THE issue in every race. If the candidate has blindly supported the war, then the voters are questioning whether the candidate can be trusted with any important decision. That's what this election is about, and it is implicitly referenced in nearly every discussion this election season.
A common American expression for a general agreement on a common topic is to say that we are “all on the same page”. Today this homely usage from the schoolroom would reek of a faint indecency. From nowhere, the hidden issue of 2006 turns out to be possible impropriety between a hitherto obscure right-wing congressman and a group of young congressional attendants named for the days when Europe had courts and courtiers.

I can't believe it's taken four paragraphs for Hitchens to get to the real naughty stuff. You want to know how hidden this issue is? I haven't heard one single mention of it today while watching political news coverage. But I can rest assured that Hitchens is on the case...
I write that last sentence and then I wonder what I am going to tell the interviewer from the BBC World Service when he calls me later for our chat about the fate of the world’s most powerful democracy.

How am I to explain, to listeners in New Zealand and Argentina, that a Congress that makes big decisions for the entire world is being selected in this way? This audience is educated enough to have heard a great deal about President Bush, whose policies might be assumed to be an important element in the discussion, but recently the chief executive announced that he did not consider himself to be an issue in the election at all. (This may be an historic first: I shall have to check the political almanacs.) More astonishingly still, candidates from his own party and from the Democratic side appear to concur. They would all much rather talk about something else.


The die was cast with Bush many months ago. The Dems can't just campaign against Bush, because that meme is dead. That's why Dems are attacking the Republican candidates hard and fairly. The accusation lingers in the air: "You support Bush." We all know if our Senators and Representatives have supported Bush over the last few years. We're either mad has Hell to vote them out, or we feel proud to go back in and re-elect them. Even though there is plenty of news about Iraq, it has only served to confirm what we have already known or suspected. That's why it isn't featured so prominently in the news, because we've known for months that Iraq's blown and nobody is really sure what our best option is right now.
I live in the nation’s capital, which isn’t allowed representatives in Congress, so the nearest race that concerns me is in neighbouring Virginia.Here, a rich menu of issues confronts the electorate. The incumbent senator, George Allen, a Republican, was considered until recently to be a safe bet for re-election and a possible standard bearer for his party in two years’ time. Now he is in the deepest of trouble because — let me see if I have this right — he isn't “really” from the South, wears cowboy boots though there are no cowboys in Virginia, made a cryptic remark to a questioner from the Indian sub-continent and reacted oddly to the news of his mother’s hidden Jewish parentage.

A cryptic remark? I've never heard the word 'macaca' before Allen said it, but he obviously used it as a slur against a non-white person in a public place on video. Mr. Hitchens really isn't from America, or he'd realize that Allen hit the holy trifecta of political faux pas. He's lucky to be in contention after that.
These are the issues that the pundits are squabbling over, yet this race is taking place in a state where the military adds $34 billion to the economy annually and employs more than 208,000 Virginians, according to the state commission. Ninety-three residents have been killed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention that Democratic challenger James Webb, a Vietnam vet and former Secretary of the Navy, contends that US troops should pull out of Iraq and fight the war from neighbouring countries.

Most reasonable people would predict that US foreign policy would be an important issue in this race. They’d be wrong. Yes, I assure the polite BBC man. If you give me some extra airtime I can indeed explain all this. I can also elucidate the significance of the combat boots worn by Webb: boots apparently worn in solidarity with his son, who’s serving in Iraq. They appear to have turned the tide against non-existent cowboys.


Oh good grief. People are fed up with the war, and we know that some type of change in course is due. Are we going to keep the people that have a record of making bad decisions, or do we change guard and hope that the new people make better decisions? That's what this election is about. The rest of it is just filler from talking heads that desparately need to fill air/web space to justify that weekly paycheck. That's what this article is about, and that's what the BBC guy is looking for. Americans have discussed US foreign policy ad nauseum for five years straight. You would be mistaken to think that foreign policy isn't a major driver in nearly every electoral decision today.
Let us be generous and concede that some pressing Washington questions do also figure in Virginia’s calculations. Allen, for example, is the son of a former coach of the Washington football team, which is named the “Redskins”. (Actually, everybody calls the players “the Skins”.) This fall, the burning question is whether or not the team should change its name to avoid offending the susceptibilities of Native Americans. The only political posters in my neighbourhood have been concerned exclusively with this matter, on which, of course, Allen, until recently a possible future president, is also expected to take a view. The BBC man says he’ll have a word with his editor and call me back.

Somebody's really stretching for word count now, or maybe Hitchens is just a little hung up on Allen. I don't blame the BBC man for backing out of this interview. I bet he can find another wacky Brit with similarly relevant political analysis, somebody like Isabella Blow.
It has been a quarter of a century since I moved to the United States but now it comes back to me how I used to resent the way in which Americans made up their minds. In the first election I was able to follow — the Nixon-Kennedy race in 1960 — there were American nuclear bases in Britain, and great American decisions to be taken about free trade and other matters that affected us all directly. Yet from the American press I learnt that the whole thing hinged on Nixon’s unshaven jowls as exposed in the first televised debate.

These days I spend a good deal of my time defending my adopted country from what I have to call anti-American attitudes, many of them based on what seem to me a mixture of envy and ignorance. But, yes, I tell the BBC man when he finally calls back, there is quite a lot of argument this fall about whether or not American schoolchildren should be exposed to the ideas first promulgated by Charles Darwin in the mid-Victorian epoch. Indeed, the subject has begun to open a split in the Republican Party, as well as between it and its critics. There is a brief silence on the line.

Oy, this poor chap from the BBC. This must be worse than interviewing John Kerry. Equally as patronizing, but at least Kerry would've been sober...

This really is Hitchens at his best. This piece tries to focus on sex (Mark Foley), patronizes the Left (for attacking Allen), ignores the real issue (Iraq); all while delivering a narrative about the author. I know that it's wrong to attack the messenger and not the message, but there's nothing to attack here but the author's amusing (mis)perceptions of American politics.

1 Comments:

Blogger Fried Catfish said...

First of all, I can't stand it when a Limey criticizes our government and democracy. Last time I checked, I DO have a Bill of Rights, and I don't answer to a Queen.

And I really can't stand it when that Limey is Christopher Hitchens. As for his mention of Mark Foley, not too surprising coming from an author whose last major contribution to Vanity Fair was the History of the Blow Job. If Hitchens is concerned by the minor hangups that influence American voting, let's talk about his hangup over something equally minor - Clinton's blow job. Americans can't be concerned with racism, or a war they shouldn't be involved in, or possible pedophilia, but they sure as hell better be concerned with who's getting a blow job.

As for the minor issues that Americans seemed to be hung up with this election, I point the finger squarely at you, Mr. Hitchens. You are a member of the media, and it's the media that chooses to conflate and explode these issues. The media chooses the debate, and thus, you are to blame Mr. Hitchens. How dare you criticize us.

2:18 PM  

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