Christopher Hitchens, by far the biggest Iraq War hawk on the nominal Left, has endorsed Obama for President. I have to say I was stunned to see it. Three weeks ago, Hitch’s Slate column was headlined: “Is Obama Another Dukakis? Why is Obama So Vapid, Hesitant and Gutless?”
I do not, btw, subscribe to the idea that Obama is “gutless.” I’ve tried very hard on this blog to be respectful of people with whom I disagree, including especially Obama. This is in part because I know many Obama supporters whom I deeply respect, my wife being first among them. When I’m critical of Obama, I try to base it on policies rather than on personality, and avoid name-calling. [Interior dialog: Didn’t you just call Jeremiah Wright “an anti-American racist”? Well, yes, I suppose I did. I’ll stand behind that… if Wright were on the verge of becoming President, I’d try to develop a more nuanced opinion of him.]
I generally admire Hitchens’s writing, despite (not because of) his tendency to hurl epithets at people (then endorse them three weeks later). And his reasoning here resonates with me to some extent, although I think he overstates his case:
The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: “What does he take me for?” Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party’s right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama’s position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.
It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.
But how does Hitch, champion of both the war and the surge from their respective beginnings, reconcile himself to endorsing a candidate who opposed both? Here’s his ringing summation:
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience.
Well, I hope he’s right about profiting from experience. His formulation here is interesting — “the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one.” Biden voted in favor of the Iraq War, and Obama has certainly moderated his anti-war rhetoric in recent months, so I guess you can say the “Obama-Biden ticket” is not capitulationist. But capitulationism — which I define here as “get out of Iraq regardless of consequence” — was one of the core tenets of the Obama campaign during the primaries, and the reason I preferred Hillary Clinton over Obama.