Cherishably grumpy as ever, the Hitch is on the case


It may be that, like me, you’ve grown a little tired already with the euphoria surrounding Barack O’Bama, significant though his victory undoubtedly is. Are you in the market for something a little sceptical, even sour? Well, there’s no better man for the job than the Hitch, whose last column on the subject was a real stinker:

Anyone would think we had just elected a hip, skinny and youthful replacement for God, with a plan to modernise Heaven and Hell – or that at the very least John Lennon had come back from the dead.

The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as President of the United States must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation. At least Mandela-worship – its nearest equivalent – is focused on a man who actually did something.

I really don’t see how the Obama devotees can ever in future mock the Moonies, the Scientologists or people who claim to have been abducted in flying saucers. This is a cult like the one which grew up around Princess Diana, bereft of reason and hostile to facts.

Oh come now, Peter! I take your point, but isn’t that putting it a little strongly?

If you can believe that this undistinguished and conventionally Left-wing machine politician is a sort of secular saviour, then you can believe anything. He plainly doesn’t believe it himself. His cliche-stuffed, PC clunker of an acceptance speech suffered badly from nerves.  It was what you would expect from someone who knew he’d promised too much and that from now on the easy bit was over.

He needn’t worry too much. From now on, the rough boys and girls of America’s Democratic Party apparatus, many recycled from Bill Clinton’s stained and crumpled entourage, will crowd round him, to collect the rich spoils of his victory and also tell him what to do, which is what he is used to.

Well, that’s a point with a little substance behind it. And, for all those who had hoped for a radical break with the past, the sheer number of Clinton retreads should be a bit of a warning signal. I’ve mentioned before our old friend Zbigniew Brzezinski, that greyest of Democrat eminences, emerging as Barack’s foreign policy guru. The appointment of Rahm Emmanuel – a man who in 1991 actually left his job in Washington to enlist in the Israeli army – as chief of staff doesn’t bode well either if you thought the likes of Feith and Wolfowitz were passing into history. There’s even speculation that that evil bastard Holbrooke may be making a comeback. If you want to judge the new Emperor, look at his appointments.

Sorry, Peter, you were talking about Barack’s acceptance speech:

He reached depths of oratorical drivel never even plumbed by our own Mr Blair, burbling about putting our hands on the arc of history (or was it the ark of history?) and bending it once more toward the hope of a better day (Don’t try this at home).

I am not making this up. No wonder that awful old hack Jesse Jackson sobbed as he watched. How he must wish he, too, could get away with this sort of stuff.

And it was interesting how the President-elect failed to lift his admiring audience by repeated – but rather hesitant – invocations of the brainless slogan he was forced by his minders to adopt against his will – ‘Yes, we can’. They were supposed to thunder ‘Yes, we can!’ back at him, but they just wouldn’t join in.  No wonder. Yes we can what exactly? Go home and keep a close eye on the tax rate, is my advice. He’d have been better off bursting into ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony’ which contains roughly the same message and might have attracted some valuable commercial sponsorship.

Well, at least the new president will have to do some stuff. He can’t go around spouting Chauncey Gardiner aphorisms forever. So, he will accumulate a record we can judge him on.

Peter then mutters darkly about the Chicago Democratic machine and Tony Rezko. I don’t know, Peter, you’ve been flogging the Rezko angle for months and it hasn’t taken. Even the Bill Ayers story that you were so assiduous in promoting eventually died a death – fair enough, the McPalin camp made some play of it, but even the moose-shooting hockey mom couldn’t really get much traction in trying to tar O’Bama with what Ayers was up to forty years ago, on the basis of what seems little more than a nodding acquaintance. The categories of “news” and “things Peter Hitchens finds hugely significant” are not always coterminous.

Peter then picks up a little with his discussion of racial politics in modern America:

They also know the US is just as segregated as it was before Martin Luther King – in schools, streets, neighbourhoods, holidays, even in its TV-watching habits and its choice of fast-food joint. The difference is that it is now done by unspoken agreement rather than by law…

I was in Washington DC the night of the election. America’s beautiful capital has a sad secret. It is perhaps the most racially divided city in the world, with 15th Street – which runs due north from the White House – the unofficial frontier between black and white. But, like so much of America, it also now has a new division, and one which is in many ways much more important. I had attended an election-night party in a smart and liberal white area, but was staying the night less than a mile away on the edge of a suburb where Spanish is spoken as much as English, plus a smattering of tongues from such places as Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan.

As I walked, I crossed another of Washington’s secret frontiers. There had been a few white people blowing car horns and shouting, as the result became clear. But among the Mexicans, Salvadorans and the other Third World nationalities, there was something like ecstasy.

I’m not sure I like where this is heading…

They grasped the real significance of this moment. They knew it meant that America had finally switched sides in a global cultural war.

Yes! The Third World has conquered Washington!

The United States, having for the most part a deeply conservative people, had until now just about stood out against many of the mistakes which have ruined so much of the rest of the world.

Suspicious of welfare addiction, feeble justice and high taxes, totally committed to preserving its own national sovereignty, unabashedly Christian in a world part secular and part Muslim, suspicious of the Great Global Warming panic, it was unique.

Do we hear an echo here of Palin’s “real America”? You know, completely ignoring the fact that most Americans nowadays don’t live in all-white small towns? With the implication that the big cities on the coasts are some sort of ersatz America – it’s a pity nobody told Bin Laden that.

These strengths had been fading for some time, mainly due to poorly controlled mass immigration and to the march of political correctness. They had also been weakened by the failure of America’s conservative party – the Republicans – to fight on the cultural and moral fronts.

They preferred to posture on the world stage. Scared of confronting Left-wing teachers and sexual revolutionaries at home, they could order soldiers to be brave on their behalf in far-off deserts. And now the US, like Britain before it, has begun the long slow descent into the Third World. How sad. Where now is our last best hope on Earth?

Brilliant stuff. Melanie Phillips, eat your heart out.

And eat your heart out, Gail Walker. As a devout follower of the US Republicans our Gail, of course, can’t bring herself to outright praise O’Bama, but she does employ some fancy footwork. One notices immediately that her enormous girl-crush on Sarah Palin has vanished down the memory hole. And all this lauding of the wonderful US system of government is a quite obvious dodge.

Anyway, what’s all this talk about change? Even if O’Bama really was going to bring serious change, it wouldn’t be the sort of change Gail would like. Let’s remember that unionism doesn’t sit well with change. If unionism was a rock band, it would be called Status Quo. It might even be Status Quo Ante. That’s why the most successful Official Unionist leader I can remember is the quirky nonagenarian Jim Molyneaux, whose idea of leading unionism was to say and do as little as possible. On one famous occasion, he actually put out a statement to say he wouldn’t be putting out any statements for the foreseeable future.

Gail does manage to get around this by stripping the politics out of politics and getting it down to personalities, which is more her shtick. And I’m not wholly unsympathetic to the complaint that politics here is dominated by a bunch of uninspiring old grey men who’ve seemingly been around forever. But, given our political system, Gail’s proposal for elected mayors isn’t going to change that. So what do we have? Basically, the problem with our politics, as per Gail, is that there aren’t enough young, energetic and good-looking people around. I suspect she may be confusing the political process with X Factor.


  1. Dr Paul said,

    November 12, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Dinner Hitchens might be entertaining. Do Peter and Christopher ever meet these days?

  2. Dr Paul said,

    November 12, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Sorry, my post was garbled. It should have read:

    Dinner with the Hitchens family might be entertaining. Do Peter and Christopher ever meet these days?

  3. Omar Little said,

    November 12, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Professor Richard Aldous in the Sunday Tribune has also forgotten his promoting of Palin as the great white (literally) hope. Mind you Aldous’s intellectual advisor Eoghan Harris simply changed sides, just in time for the victory party, having told everyone for months that McCain would walk it and that picking Palin was a masterstroke. Now he hopes that an Obama presidency (led by a man who he said a few months ago would be an SWP member if he lived in Ireland) will finally stop African Americans from complaining about discrimination.
    In the real world a friend from Denver told me that gun sales have gone way up since the election as Colarado conservatives, stung by defeat and all whacked out on the Mountain Dew of fear, are terrifed of the new ‘socialist’ government. Maybe a few of them read the Hitch.

  4. Phil said,

    November 12, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    The appointment of Rahm Emmanuel – a man who in 1991 actually left his job in Washington to enlist in the Israeli army – as chief of staff doesn’t bode well either if you thought the likes of Feith and Wolfowitz were passing into history.

    But I don’t think Emmanuel *is* the likes of Wolfowitz. He’s bad news, certainly, but there’s a big difference between “the US should support Israel’s flagrant disregard of international law” and “the US should flagrantly disregard international law and say it’s a good thing”.

    (Now pondering a cod-psychoanalytical theory of American Zionism as an fantasy object for repressed American exceptionalism, and the neocon turn as the moment when the valves blew out and the repressed returned… Wait a minute, Israel’s not just a dream – they really do this stuff! They really get away with this stuff! We could really get away with this stuff! I think for Obama, at least, Israel is a dream – and not, as it was for the neocons, an example of best practice in international relations. It’s depressing, but it’s not as depressing as it could have been.

  5. Phil said,

    November 12, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Omar – I suspect what they’re mainly scared of is the ‘socialist’ government stopping them buying all the guns they want to; it’s panic-buying, not stockpiling. Let’s hope so, anyway.

  6. skidmarx said,

    November 12, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some increase in the movement of survivalists to Montana just as there was under Clinton.
    The Hitchens’ writing styles do have some unplaceable similarities.
    Anyone supporting elected mayors may well change their minds the minute someone they don’t like looks like getting in, as with Tiny Blur and Ken Livingstone. Then everyone is stuck with it.

  7. ejh said,

    November 12, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    One might expect brothers to have some stylisitic similarities, I suppose.

    It’s not an unusual conservative habit to suggest that the “real” country is found in small towns far from the metropolis and quite easy to believe if that’s where you actually live (as I do). But as the OP notes, in terms of population it’s a nonsense, and in most – or all – Western countries it’s been a nonsense for generations. I imagine in fact that most conservatives, in the sense of pundits and politicians, who play up to this idea are very well aware of the demographic facts. And quite likely spend much of their time in the metropolis anyway.

    I’m reminded of the way in which I’ve heard Dad’s Army described as presenting a microcosm of British life during wartime – as if the population then really had largely consisted of shopkeepers and bank employees. I don’t think it’s grandstanding to suggest that there’sa longstanding conservative habit of leaving the urban proletariat out of the picture as far as possible. (I recall that Orwell says of Chesteron that he never mentions the proletariat, only the poor.)

  8. Garibaldy said,

    November 12, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I do wonder about what constitutes his grasp of the Third World. It seems to be social democracy is a first world concept. Not of course that Obama is anything approaching a social democrat.

  9. hoot gibson said,

    November 14, 2008 at 9:27 am

    “The appointment of Rahm Emmanuel – a man who in 1991 actually left his job in Washington to enlist in the Israeli army – as chief of staff doesn’t bode well either if you thought the likes of Feith and Wolfowitz were passing into history”.
    It doesn’t really bode anything for foreign policy as it’s not a foreign policy appointment.

  10. skidmarx said,

    November 14, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    If The West Wing is anything to go by, the Chief of Staff has a pretty wide-ranging role over issues both foreign and domestic as the gatekeeper to the president, the modern equivalent of the Keeper of the King’s Stool.

  11. hoot gibson said,

    November 14, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    “If The West Wing is anything to go by”
    It isn’t. It’s fiction. I don’t recall anybody at all mentioning the name of Andrew Card as a key actor in the attack on Iraq or any other significant area of foreign policy.

  12. Bill Burns said,

    November 15, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Rahm Emanuel is a somewhat more significant figure than Andrew Card. Like a lot of Washington jobs, the chief of staff position is what you make of it. For what an ambitious man can make of a position that is ordinarily uninfluential, see the career of Richard Chaney.

  13. hoot gibson said,

    November 15, 2008 at 9:36 am

    “For what an ambitious man can make of a position that is ordinarily uninfluential, see the career of Richard Chaney.”
    Yes, but that presupposes a President as incompetent and plain uninterested as Bush. Nothing indicates that Obama will be anything of the sort, or that he will be allowing Emmanuel to dictate his foreign policy or even influence it.

  14. weserei said,

    November 15, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Rahmbo never served in the Israeli Army. His middle name, though, actually is Israel–a fact I think we’ll get used to hearing over the next eight years.

    As for the COS’s gatekeeper powers, while the West Wing distorts a lot of things (and depicts a rather paranoid man as President), this part lines up with what I’ve seen of reality, at least for legislators and political candidates.

    A typical elected official is working a 60+ hour week, and most of what they’re personally doing is using the value of their physical presence in various meetings, as directed by their political advisors. They don’t have time to set their own schedules because they’re too busy either exercising their formal powers or talking to someone who’ll be pissed off if they don’t get to meet with their representative. The task of deciding whether a particular group that wants face time is legit is something that gets staffed out. While I’ve never worked in the White House, there are a lot more people who want to meet with the President than with Congressman X, and so there’s more to sift through that the officeholder can’t do himself.

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