Farewell Christopher Hitchens. Gone but not forgotten. A memorial for Hitchens (he died in December) was held in late April in New York City. The New York Times announcement of the event touched on some high points of Hitchens’ career, including his 20 year stint as columnist at Vanity Fair. It also mentioned that Hitchens â€œhad no compunction about jabbing his pen into sacred figures, like Mother Teresa, or ripe targets, like Henry Kissinger.â€ Not mentioned was the jab Hitchens gave President Bill Clinton. But then, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton wasn’t a jab, it was a dissection. CSI with razor wit and moral scalpel.
No One Left to Lie To was originally published in 1999. Other editions followed and– silver lining to a cloud– it’s been reissued in light of Hitchens’ death. I just read it for the first time. A word of caution; reading No One Left aloud while a passenger in a moving vehicle is extremely dangerous. (It should probably be outlawed like texting while driving.) While zooming along the Thruway recently, my husband almost swerved off the road laughing as I read Hitchens’ skewer of a scene from Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village…
One morning back in 1986, Bill, Hill, and child Chelsea were sitting round the breakfast table in the Arkansas governor’s mansion. Hill was explaining to Chelsea that Daddy was going to run for governor again. Saying that if he won â€œwe would keep living in this house and he would keep trying to help people. But first we have to have an electionâ€. The nasty part (besides the necessity of an election) was that bad people would be telling lies about Daddy to try to stop him from being re-elected:
‘Like most parents, we had told her that it was wrong to lie, and she struggled with the idea, saying over and over, â€œWhy would people do that?â€ I didn’t have an answer for that one. (I still don’t.)’
It Takes a Village was published in 1996. That Hillary was still pondering why people lie at that late date seems to support Christopher Hitchens’ perception of her as “quite devoid of reflective capacity”.
When No One Left to Lie To first appeared a major flash point was Hitchens’ assertion, which he swore to in an affidavit during the impeachment process, that Sidney Blumenthal, prominent journalist and senior advisor to Bill Clinton, tried feeding him (Hitchens) a line about Monica Lewinsky being a delusional stalker who’d been “threatening” the president. (This was before Bill’s precious bodily fluids were found on Monica’s blue dress.) Blumenthal swore under oath he said no such thing.
Incidentally– or not– the question of Blumenthal as a Clinton funnel to the press arose again during the 2008 presidential race via a rumor that Blumenthal, who was affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was leaking negative info about Barack Obama.
Sidney Blumenthal and Christopher Hitchens were professional friends. They also shared a background on the left. Hitchens was deeply disappointed in Blumenthal’s willingness to toss aside ethics and ideology in order to protect Bill Clinton. In general, Hitchens was appalled by the willingness of so many liberals to do likewise. The calculating fealty of party hacks wasn’t surprising. What bothered him profoundly were the delusions and moral evasions of those who felt that in protecting Clinton, they were protecting progressive liberalism.
The dissection of Bill (and Hill) by Hitchens in No One Left to Lie To was particularly irksome to Clinton defenders because it didn’t come from a member of the vast right wing conspiracy, but from someone who believed Clinton’s policies, foreign and domestic, betrayed liberal ideals. Hitchens also believed Bill Clinton’s political character was rotten to the core and that his sex scandals reflected that rot. Hence they were not purely personal and were open to scrutiny.
Finally, Hitchens believed the protective coloring Clinton received from the left helped him pull off the biggest lie of all; his lionization as Man of the People.
Clinton’s non-qualifications for that title are laid out extensively in No One Left. Among other things, Hitchens cited Clinton’s wag-the-dog bomb drops in Sudan and Iraq, his pandering to the middle class while whittling down welfare, and his embrace of capital punishment (in particular, his personal oversight of the execution of brain damaged Rickey Ray Rector) in order to dodge the Dukakis soft on crime bullet. Financial corruption and cronyism? No need to cover miles of familiar ground. Let’s just say Hitchens ran it down.
As for the sex scandals, Hitchens stressed abuse of power. As Arkansas attorney general and governor, and as president of the U.S., Bill Clinton consistently hit on women who were beneath him socially and susceptible to pressure. After the lovin’, Bill (and Hill) were never reluctant to go to war against inconvenient women. Enlisting official colleagues and political connections as needed.
One of the most searing sections in No One Left to Lie To deals with Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of nursing home operator Juanita Broaddrick in 1978, when Bill was Attorney General of Arkansas (the state’s chief law enforcement officer) and making his first run for governor. Hitchens lays out a convincing case for believing Broaddrick. Read it and weep. Or not.
Disclosure: In the 1970′s, I did volunteer work at several rape crisis centers. As a councilor, most of the stories I heard were totally believable. A few seemed to contain elements of falsehood. When Broaddrick first went public with her charges in 1999, I didn’t immediately assume Bill Clinton’s other scandals made him capable of rape. But after seeing Broaddrick tell her story on TV, reading pro and con accounts, and comparing her to women I’d known as a councilor, I believed her. My own experience of rape (in the 70s, most rape crisis centers were staffed by rape survivors) made that conclusion extra disturbing.
Also disturbing was how little the possibility that Broaddrick’s story was true mattered to Clinton’s defenders on the left. These were the people who were supposed to be pro-woman. Saying rape wasn’t about sex but power. Decrying the social stigma that kept women silent. Urging them to come forward, promising support and belief. Juanita Broaddrick might well have asked â€œAin’t I a woman?â€
The chapter in No One Left titled Is There a Rapist in the Oval Office? closes with this: â€œthe mute reception of Jaunita Broaddrick’s charges illuminates the expiring, decadent phase of American liberalism.â€
Before wrapping the chapter, Christopher Hitchens had a high time describing how presidential candidate Al Gore dithered and dissembled when a woman in the audience at a 1999 campaign event asked him if he believed Juanita Broaddrick.
When Hitchens was good, he was very very good. But he did have bad hair days…
Hitchens’ anti-religious writings too often read like screeds. One picks up a whiff of obsession. And his support for the war in Iraq was rife with the same types of moral evasions he derided in Clinton’s enablers. Hitchens’ passion for truth-above-all went south. That 9/11 was used by the Bush administration as an excuse to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with the attack mattered not. If the American public was manipulated into supporting that war through lies about WMD and images of incipient mushroom clouds, the end justified the means.
This from the man who wrote Why Orwell Matters.
Which by the way, is an excellent book. And as the memory holes open around our feet, a perfect election year read.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff