Christopher Hitchens, possibly king of the contrarians, is a brilliant, charming, pleasantly drunken man (though, obviously, that’s all pretty subjective), with contentious and thoroughly informed arguments against a lot of pop stances on everything from the war to Jesus to torture, and, well, lots of other stuff. He’s written for dozens of publications, including Vanity Fair, Slate, The Atlantic, and the New York Review of Books, and published several books, most recently an anti-religion text called God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. (Hitchens will address the subject at the CT Forum in Hartford on Jan. 29.)
Some of what Hitchens has written may have pissed you off or maybe just simply roused your interest. Either way, with the Inauguration around the bend, I figured if there was one dude — worth talking to — with words about the dangers of wide-eyed Obama optimism, it’d be this dude.
“Well, I feel myself sort of sappier than I know myself to be about the Inauguration,” Hitchens said in a recent phone interview from his home in Washington, D.C. “I have to say I’m sort of stirred by this. You know, I’m not a believer in charismatic leadership, or, at least, I think a country that needs it is in trouble. And I’m not for inspirational rhetoric and all this stuff. I’ve seen too much of it go south. But I have to say that I am stirred, if you like, in spite of myself.”
Hitchens, along with his warm sentiments for Obama, expressed concern about the unbelievably high expectations surrounding this inaugural speech, citing other monumental speeches gone terribly wrong (in his opinion).
“I remember being not that impressed by the Kennedy Inaugural, or thinking it was overblown,” Hitchens said. He said he’s heard speeches since then, “many of them very bad,” from people who were considered to be very good orators.
“I challenge people,” he said. “I say to them, ‘Quote me the best two lines from the Obama acceptance speech at the convention in Colorado.’ Can you do it?” I said that no, I could not.
“Well, don’t worry about it. Neither can anyone else I know,” he said. And they can’t quote from the famous Philadelphia speech Obama gave, either, Hitchens said.
“People think of it as an historic speech, but they can’t give you a single line from it. That’s why I’m actually very worried that the Inaugural speech will be an anticlimax. … I’m very cynical about the whole thing. It would take a lot to surprise me.”
But, the Inauguration aside, Hitchens still seems basically optimistic about the new administration.
“I think to see that family growing up in the White House is already an educational thing for the American people, in itself,” he said. “I think that, well, I don’t think, I know that a huge number of people sort of didn’t really think that there were families like [the Obamas]. They [think] they live god-knows-where in some part of town we don’t go. Sometimes when you brush against American racism you are absolutely astonished by what people imagine to be the case. That also means, of course, that if he screws up it’s a much bigger disappointment.”
Recently, Hitchens has spoken out strongly against Obama’s pick of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation, and he’s had some feelings about Hillary Clinton in the position of Secretary of State (though he’s rarely said nice things about the Clintons).
In an article for Slate, Hitchens writes of the pastor, “… one has not merely a right but a duty to object to having as an inaugural auxiliary a man who is a pushover for anti-Semitism, Islamic sectarianism, ‘rapture’ theology, fascist dictatorship, 10th-rate media trade-offs, and last-hyphenated minute panicky self-censorship all at the same time.”
Warren hasn’t been viewed favorably by many on the left, and Hitchens is no exception. Warren’s inclusion in the Inauguration is “shameful,” Hitchens told me. “I just think it’s awful. I know why [Obama’s] done it, but I don’t think it’s a good-enough reason.”
And don’t get him started on Hillary. He began talking very fast, discernible words from his tangent include “humiliating,” “ludicrous,” “pathetic,” “trailer-park dynasty,” “outrageous,” and more. But, reasonably, a bigger admonishment for the P-E is, simply, how can he trust someone who, in four years, won’t want him to be president?
Hitchens is appearing at the Connecticut Forum next week to speak on the subjects of God, faith, religion, and anything else you’d want to ask him.
“I have a mission statement that I give at the openings of all my events. Whatever the subject is, whatever’s on the billing, people can ask me anything they want. I won’t leave if anyone can say later, ‘I had a question for Hitchens and he didn’t answer it.’”
He did acknowledge the limitations of venue curfews and scheduling, but the point is, of course, you can ask him anything you want. He doesn’t dodge questions.
But what he’d love you (or someone) to ask him about, he said, is Cindy Sheehan.
“Have you heard her lately? Look up what she’s said. It’s disgraceful that such a person was so well known and pandered to.”