A forgotten bon mot

Something I missed back in 2008 – which doesn’t surprise me, because I don’t pay attention to the minutiae of election campaigns – was a throwaway characterization of Hillary Clinton by Christopher Hitchens.

I happened to see a reference to it in a book, one that has nothing to do with atheism or the atheist “movement” or the deep rifts in the atheist “movement” or anything like that. I wasn’t looking for it, I just happened on it.

But it’s a moment when I’m particularly tired of the atheist movement’s habit of drooling over the same 5 or 6 men year after year after year, especially when the men in question have a habit of dismissing or insulting a woman now and then for no apparent reason.

It’s in a Slate from January of that election year, and it’s mostly about Obama and the focus on race.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is the current beneficiary of a tsunami of drool. He sometimes claims credit on behalf of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, blah blah blah, though his recent speeches appear also to claim a victory for blackness while his supporters—most especially the white ones—sob happily that at last we can have an African-American chief executive. Off to the side, snarling with barely concealed rage, are the Clinton machine-minders, who, having failed to ignite the same kind of identity excitement with an aging and resentful female, are perhaps wishing that they had made more of her errant husband having already been “our first black president.”

Well, she was running for president, and casual insults of every kind are just inevitable when you do that. But still – that’s everybody’s lamented hero, The Hitch.

He was sort of a hero of mine too, starting in the mid-90s, long before god is not Great. But over the past few years I’ve gotten more (or re-) sensitized to casual sexist contempt, especially when it comes from heroes and stars. I admire Hitchens less than I used to. He was brilliant, but not brilliant enough to be beyond casual sexist contempt.


  1. Al Dente says

    There are things about Hitchens that I admire. He was an excellent writer and speaker. He was an intelligent and forceful debater. He faced his death with equanimity. He defended his beliefs and opinions. He would even sometimes admit error when faced with evidence that he was wrong.

    He was also a casual sexist and racist. Despite his Trotskyist (or perhaps Luxemburgist) tendencies, he fell in with Paul Wolfowitz and the neocon Iraqi interventionists. He left The Nation because he felt the magazine had the idea “that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden.”

    In short, Hitchens was like so many of us, someone with feet of clay.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    Hitchens was also seriously drunk. It got worse over the years, as it always does. Everyone talks about how he was always clear and coherent not matter how sloshed. Not true. I saw him mumbling and glassy eyed on television several times. On occasions he would get into that tic of repeatedly touching his nose and lips.

    You have to consume some serious quantities to have your trigeminal nerve numbed like that. Along with that comes the quick anger, thoughtless speech, and persistent resentment over trifles…

  3. ludicrous says

    “….. especially when it comes from heroes and stars.”

    The problem is not with the “heroes and stars” the problem is with us for having heroes and stars..

    Yes, it’s one thing to expunge the big gods but we can’t seem to help ourselves from mentally fawning over someone who does some things extremely well. Easy to see hero worship in others, quite another to find it in ourselves.

    Little gods are just as bad, maybe worse, to indulge than the big gods because we are able to make so many of them.

  4. quixote says

    There’s an aging and resentful voice in that writing, but it’s not Clinton’s. She’s even smarter than Bill, more than able to hold her own in any debate, full of jaw-dropping levels of poise in the face of appalling rudeness, and one of the very few people who never used sexism against Sarah Palin.

    I know. It’s unspeakable that she was a politician when she was elected to be a politician.

    None of which invalidates Hitchens’ point about the tsunami generated by Obama supporters. Many basements are still flooded, although most have been abandoned.

  5. Omar Puhleez says

    Hitch was brilliant. No doubt about it. But in my one exchange with him (or I believe it was him, on a B&W comment thread) I found him condescending: a disorder common among English people of a certain background and education.
    Still, nobody’s perfect (ie in the estimation of the whole world.)

  6. Silentbob says

    @ 7 Omar Puhleez

    I found him condescending: a disorder common among English people of a certain background and education.

    A disorder common among “human mammals” (a Hitchian phrase), I would suggest.

    IMHO marginalized people are quite capable of being condescending toward the privileged once given a soapbox.
    (I am not speaking of our esteemed host, whom I have never found to be condescending.)

  7. johnthedrunkard says

    Hitchens’ lurid hatred of the Clintons is another reminder of the ‘solidarity’ problem. Any ‘ally’ we find on one issue may well turn out to make us cringe on another.

    Hitchens loyally defended Edward Said against exposure of his manufactured past and less than scrupulous scholarship. Right up until September 11th. Certain portions of the pseudo-progressive west will never forgive Hitchens for failing to toe the line in their willful blindness to Islamic outrages, and their blanket hatred of Israel.

    Are Hirsi Ali’s positions on Islam and women’s rights invalidated by the company she may keep?

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