Democrats and selective memory

First we had Bush Derangement Syndrome; now it’s Bush Derangement Amnesia.

Democrat National Committee flack Brad Woodhouse appeared on Martin Bashir’s show on MSNBC, where ratings are counted in gender studies graduates, to complain Republicans are mean to President Obama.

Not like Democrats. They were inviting President Bush out to dinner and a movie every other night, sending flowers to the White House. Do you have any idea how many boxes of Knipschildt’s truffles Nency Pelosi charged to her credit card?

Woodhouse told Bashir:

I don’t remember anything that equates from official Democratic Party. I mean, of course there are interest groups and people have their say, but I don’t remember anything coming from Democratic Party about George W. Bush being equated to a terrorist or George W. Bush being equated to somebody who has been accused of manslaughter. I don’t remember anybody questioning some of the things about George W. Bush that have been questioned about the president. I don’t remember an opposing Governor wagging his or her finger in president George W. Bush’s face. The truth is, is that the Republican Party starts from a core of extreme positions and it seems that leads to extreme rhetoric when things don’t work out for them with the voters.

The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway pointed out this was manure of the equine variety.

Charles Krauthammer coined the term ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ to describe ‘the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency – nay – the very existence of George W. Bush.’ BDS saw liberals sob hysterically about fascism, Hitler, and impeach-ashcroftnazi-patriotact-cheneyhalliburton-foxnews-bushstoletheelection-moronmoronmoron-nowarforoil-bushliedkidsdied.

This took the form of an endless stream of placards calling for Bush’s assassination at anti-war protests (this was before the Tea Party and the advent of the Senior Deconstructing-Signs-at-Rallies-Critical-of-the-President Correspondent on the nightly news broadcasts); the proliferation of ‘assassination porn’ (Slate magazine’s term, not mine) like Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, Gabriel Range’s Death of a President, or a Guardian columnist’s plaintive cry ‘John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr – where are you now that we need you?’; and the slew of books, movies, and websites dedicated to the President’s malapropisms, his plan to turn America fascist, and conspiracies about his foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

Of course, none of these people were from what Woodhouse calls the ‘official Democratic Party’. True enough. So let’s have a look at what the official Democratic Party did say about Bush.

John Kerry

Appearing on Bill Maher’s show in October 2006, the senior Senator from Massachusetts told the host he’d taken his wife on a trip to Vermont for her birthday. Then the following exchange took place:

MAHER: You could have went to New Hampshire and killed two birds with one stone.

KERRY:  Or, I could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania and killed the real bird with one stone.

Remember kids, if you study hard and you do your homework, you won’t end up telling crass jokes like that.

Howard Dean

The Democrat presidential candidate appeared on the The Diane Rehm Show on public radio station WAMU on December 1, 2003. In response to a caller asking if a President Dean would ensure a ‘thorough investigation of 9/11’, Dean responded thus:

DEAN: There is a report which the president is suppressing evidence for which is a thorough investigation of 9/11.

REHM: Why do you think he’s suppressing that report?

DEAN: I don’t know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far, which is nothing more than a theory, I can’t—think it can’t be proved, is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now, who knows what the real situation is, but the trouble is that by suppressing that kind of information, you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any truth to them or not, and then eventually they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the clear, the key information that needs to go to the Kean commission.

Dean’s conspiracy-mongering about the worst terrorist attack in American history might not have helped his presidential bid but it didn’t prevent his later appointment as chair of the Democrat National Committee.

Keith Ellison

The Congressman for the Minnesota fifth district gave a speech to Atheists for Human Rights in July 2007 in which he compared President Bush’s response to 9/11 to Hitler’s exploitation of the Reichstag fire – an even more sinister dimension added by the widespread, though disputed, belief that the Nazis started the fire as a pretext to impose tyranny. Ellison said:

9/11 explains why we’re in this war. We could never be in this war but for 9/11. We could never be tolerating torture but for 9/11. Because when they argued for torture they said, ‘Well, if you know that somebody could stop a bomb if you torture them, would you go for it, man, because remember 9/11’. Right? You would never have all this discrimination against religious minorities but for 9/11. You had it but you didn’t have it to the degree we have it now. 9/11 is this juggernaut event in American history and it allows—I mean, it’s almost like the Reichstag fire; it kind of reminds me of that. Does everybody know what I’m talking about? Well, I mean, you and I both know but—but the thing is—is that, you know, after the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.

For good measure, in the same speech Ellison also accused Dick Cheney of ‘totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and dictatorship’.

Charlie Rangel

In June 2005, Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY 15) appeared on WWRL-AM radio to put President Bush’s decision to intervene in Iraq into perspective. The war was, for Rangel, ‘the biggest fraud ever committed on the people of this country… This is just as bad as the six million Jews being killed’.

Cynthia McKinney

The former Congresswoman for the Georgia eleventh and later fourth district is so crazy her fellow Democrats primaried her – twice – just to get her out of Congress. She made a name for herself with her hardline anti-Israel views and her handlers made a name for themselves with their antisemitic outbursts.

But most of her ire was reserved for President Bush. In a 2002 radio interview, Congresswoman McKinney said:

We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11th… What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? … What do they have to hide?

In an article for a Georgia newspaper, she added: 

It is known that President Bush’s father, through the Carlyle Group, had – at the time of the attacks – joint business interests with the bin Laden family’s construction company and many defense industry holdings, the stocks of which have soared since Sept 11.

McKinney also laid articles of impeachment against Bush (and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice) charging the President with ‘high crimes against the United States of America’ by ‘actively manipulating the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons programs’.

Dennis Kucinich

The pint-sized leftist from the Ohio tenth introduced his own articles of impeachment against the President citing a roster of bizarre charges. These included: ‘Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq’; ‘Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes’; ‘Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation’s Natural Resources’; ‘Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice’; ‘Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965’; and ‘Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001’.

Al Franken

The former Saturday Night Live comedian engaged in the following exchange during an October 2005 episode of the Late Show with David Letterman:

FRANKEN: I think, by the way, that we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.

LETTERMAN: It makes us look bad around the world, I think.

FRANKEN: It would. It would be heartbreaking, I think, and I think that we should have a constitutional amendment.

LETTERMAN: I see, yeah. Have we ever come close in the history to executing a seated President?

FRANKEN: No, this will be the closest.

LETTERMAN: This will be the closest, yeah.

FRANKEN: Unless we get that amendment passed now.

Joking about executing the President of the United States did nothing to harm Franken’s career – a few years later he was a Democrat Senator from Minnesota.

Michael Moore

The baseball-capped Bolshevik might not be ‘official Democratic Party’ but the official Democrat Party was happy to endorse his conspiracy theories about the Bush administration when it suited Democrat electoral needs. In its report on the Washington D.C. premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11, the New Republic noted:

Packing the Uptown Theater to the rafters, about 800 people — including South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, Florida Senator Bob Graham, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, to name just a few of the prominent Democrats in attendance — took in Moore’s two-plus hours of Bush-bashing, applauding throughout and giving Moore a standing ovation when it was over. Even Moore seemed a bit taken aback by the Democratic establishment’s effusive embrace.

McAuliffe shilled for the movie in interviews with reporters after the screening. He explicitly tied the film to John Kerry’s campaign for the White House:

I think anyone who sees this movie will come out en masse to make sure John Kerry is elected president this November.

Asked to comment on one of Moore’s theories – that Bush invaded Afghanistan to secure an oil pipeline for the Unocal corporation – McAuliffe responded: ‘I will check into a lot of the issues myself about the pipeline and others. But he raises a lot of very legitimate questions.’

*****

The Democrats are right to challenge some of the vicious rhetoric directed at President Obama. And not just the birth certificate and religion conspiracy theories – though those are particularly obnoxious and stupid-crazy. The tone of American politics seems to be growing more embittered, more shrill. There is nothing wrong with partisanship – the Constitution is designed to disburse power by pitting faction against faction – but the rhetoric could do with a dial-down.

There are nuts on the Right. There are nuts on the Left. To pretend one side has a monopoly on unhinged pronouncements is to excuse derangement by feigning amnesia.

Feature image © DonkeyHotey by Creative Commons 2.0.  

Redeeming the promise of ‘Never Again’


Concentration camp survivors sing Hatikvah (The Hope) inside the newly-liberated Bergen-Belsen, April 20, 1945

‘I was in Dachau and Belsen. I saw chambers where hundreds of Jews were put to death every day. … I saw the gallows in Belsen where Jews were hanged each Jewish holy day, while the rest were paraded to witness the ghastly punishments of men who had perhaps come a few minutes late to their daily grind… It is beyond mortal power to bring back to life six million who were burned, asphyxiated and buried alive by the Nazis. But our six million brothers and sisters who went to their deaths have bequeathed us a sacred injunction: to prevent such a disaster overtaking the Jewish peoples in the future and to do so by the Jewish people being an independent people in its own land, capable of resisting any foe or enemy by its own strength.’

David Ben-Gurion

Holocaust Memorial Day is the day our political leaders come together and say ‘never again’. They spout pieties and pabulum: evil, humanity, darkness, hope, we must learn the lessons of history or we are doomed to repeat them.

‘Never again’ is easy to say. It’s harder to honour. Learning lessons also takes effort, courage, and moral clarity. You might have noticed that these are in short order today. When we think about the six million Jews gassed and thrown in ovens by the National Socialists, we shake our heads and ask: Why? How? But when we encounter antisemitism in our daily lives and in our political discourse, we overlook it, deliberately ignore it, or attack those who raise concerns as ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘trying to stifle debate’.

Elie Wiesel called the Shoah ‘the kingdom of night’. But kingdoms are not single events; we can see them building up. We choose whether to serve as subjects or rebel against the crown. A new report from the German government finds that one in five Germans is antisemitic, and identifies an ad hoc alliance between the traditional Jew-haters of the far-Right and those on the modern Left who have allowed their hatred of Israel to be subsumed by antisemitic prejudices and rhetoric. Respondents to a 2003 European Commission poll cited Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, the tiny nation – smaller than the state of New Jersey – was the malefactor behind the world’s ills for 59% of Europeans. Antisemitism is in vogue again, with film directors, fashion designers, and movie stars professing their love of Hitler and hatred of Jews, and Nazi books, Nazi films, and Nazi t-shirts are best-sellers.

In the UK, we see the Left abandoning its commitment to reason, equality, and human rights in favour of the crippling self-hatred of Chomskyite anti-Westernism and the epistemic dead end of postmodernism. Nowhere does this manifest more sharply than in relation to Israel and Islamist terrorism. We are a country where ‘liberals’ take to the streets waving placards bearing the suicidal slogan ‘We are all Hezbollah’. Where hate speech about Jews, Zionism, and Israel permeates the comments – and sometimes the commentary – of a leading national newspaper website. Where a Labour MP calls on Jews to be barred from becoming ambassador to Israel because they have ‘Jewish loyalties’ – and the national news media doesn’t bother to report it. Still other MPs invite antisemitic preachers to London. Peers talk about ‘Holocaust Guilt‘ and ‘the strength of the Israel Lobby’ as the reasons ‘no-one takes action against them’. A council in Scotland has banned its librarians from buying Israeli books in protest at Operation Cast Lead (no books produced in Gaza, from which Hamas has been firing rockets on Israeli civilians, have been proscribed).

The FBI reports that almost two-thirds of religious hate crimes committed in the United States in 2010 were against Jews. In the last two months alone (December 2011 and January 2012), two synagogues were firebombed in New Jersey, singer Katy Perry’s preacher father gave an antisemitic sermon in Ohio, a Jewish resident of Long Island woke up to find the Chanukkah menorah on his lawn smashed to pieces, and (again in New Jersey) two synagogues were daubed with swastikas and the graffiti ‘Jews did 9/11’. Political discourse is also becoming more poisonous. Two leading Democrat campaign groups, the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America, regularly offer up contempt for Israel and its supporters. American Jews who support the Jewish state are accused of ‘dual loyalty‘ and being ‘Israel-firsters‘ (a neo-Nazi term happily embraced by radical and ascendant elements in the American Left), while the Simon Wiesenthal Center is labelled ‘far-right‘.

For many on the Left, Israelophobia has reached pathological heights where reason offers no ballast. Israel – a democracy with free enterprise, the rule of law, and equal rights for Arabs, women, gays, religious and other minorities – is cast as a pariah state. Israel’s defamers cite the Palestinians in defence of their bigotry but these same people do not obsess about Russia and its slaughter of the Chechens, the massacres in Darfur, the Chinese oppression of Tibet or Taiwan, or the millions of serf-slaves imprisoned in the world’s waking nightmare, North Korea. What is it about Israel that stirs a special fury? What drives ‘progressives’ to describe a country with an exemplary human rights record given the conflict it finds itself in as imperialist, colonialist, racist, apartheid, and even Nazi?

Criticism of Israel is not and never should be labelled antisemitic. But criticism is disputing a policy or decrying a politician or calling for negotiations or landswaps or withdrawals. Criticism is not demonising a whole nation with the most inflammatory language at your disposal. Criticism is not calling for the destruction of a state or boycotts of its people and products. Criticism is not the criminalisation of an entire people, the most consistently and cruelly persecuted people in history, for simply returning to their ancient homeland and building one of the most scientifically, technologically, and medically advanced countries in the world. When Israel is singled out for unique and coruscating opprobrium, when the mere mention of its name can drive otherwise rational-seeming people to fits of apoplexy and outbursts about ‘Zionists’, ‘blood-thirsty warmongers’, and ‘Nazis’, we are not dealing with political debate but a verbal pogrom against the Jewish state.

Today, 67 years after the end of World War II and the liberation of the surviving Jews from the camps, antisemitism has not gone away but returned in the cloak of politics, and progressive politics at that. Holocaust Memorial Day is a fitting opportunity to redeem the promise of ‘never again’ before the kingdom of night sets in upon us once more.

Feature image © Maria Carmen by Creative Commons 3.0.  

Newt changes name to ‘Reagan’, GOP changes name to ‘lemmings’

Newt Gingrich is a historian.

An historian, as they say in the historian trade. Which only historians are allowed to join. But not you. You are not an historian. In fact, you are probably a Saul Alinsky radical or a member of the liberal news media. Nor did you work with Ronald Reagan. Newt worked with Ronald Reagan. He’s too modest to tell anyone but Newt was the driving force behind all of Reagan’s successes, like tax cuts, military build-up, and the Strategic Defence Initiative. Also: Berlin Wall? That was Newt. Knocked it down with a hardback copy of one of his bestselling books. Yes, Ronald Reagan was a valued member of the Gingrich administration.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Newt wants to make history. To be sure, he’s already the first Speaker of the House of Representatives to be censured for an ethics violation. The first to pay a $300,000 fine for said violation. The first Speaker to have forced the resignation of a predecessor over (trumped up) ethics charges only to have his own resignation forced upon him by exasperated colleagues. But he’s set his heart on becoming the first censured, first fined, first ousted Speaker to be elected President of the United States.

And Republican voters seem to be going along with it. Gingrich won the South Carolina primary handsomely and, according to Rasmussen, he has overturned Mitt Romney’s 22-point lead in Florida and now outpolls the former Massachusetts governor by seven points. Although his muted performance in Tuesday night’s debate – on NBC, where the commercial breaks are known as ‘mercy interludes’ – might narrow his lead, he’s in a strong position to win the Florida primary on January 31. At which point the Romney campaign freaks out and Gingrich gains momentum.

Conservative and Tea Party Republicans, who consider Romney’s healthcare reform in Massachusetts to have been the blueprint for Obamacare and its author therefore candidatus non grata, welcome the Gingrich surge as their last chance to nominate a right-winger. The fact that Gingrich isn’t right-wing has escaped their notice. Newt’s reputation as a reactionary is based on his (failed, disastrous, wildly unpopular; I could go on…) impeachment of Bill Clinton and his tendency to issue crazy pronouncements like suggesting children get jobs as school janitors or that the Palestinians don’t exist. Newt talks the language of the conservative movement; he pushes the right buttons. He tells grassroots activists: ‘I was with you in the trenches in the 80s’, and it sounds right so it doesn’t matter that he was most likely in Tiffany’s while they were pounding lawn signs for the Gipper.

His record as a conservative is somewhat more prosaic and points to Jack Kemp-style ‘big government conservatism’. He boasts about volunteering for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign but fails to mention his work for liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller. He endorsed liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava in the 2009 New York special election, from which she promptly dropped out, before endorsing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who promptly lost. He has supported ethanol subsidies, cap and trade, the Fairness Doctrine, Medicare Part D, and an individual mandate in healthcare. When Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Wis) offered a plan to reform Medicare to make it more market-oriented, Newt condemned it as ‘right-wing social engineering’. Mr Washington Outsider raked in $1.6m in consulting fees from Freddie Mac, the failed federal mortgage provider which pumped billions of taxpayer dollars into untenable mortgages and helped precipitate the sub-prime lending crisis. He cut a commercial with Nancy Pelosi urging action on climate change, hardly a hanging offence in the eyes of the reality-based but tantamount to eco-Bolshevism for the Glenn Beck crowd. This ‘Beltway-consensus influence-peddler’, writes libertarian columnist Gene Healy, ‘does a great impression of a red-state firebrand, but when it comes to policy, “the color is blue”.’

It’s not that Gingrich is a liberal; he just wants an open marriage with conservatism.

Then again, it’s difficult to gauge what Newt stands for since he claims credit for every policy decision since the Cleveland administration. He has the courage of other people’s convictions. This ‘one-man think-tank’ seems to have a lot of freelancers working for him, particularly the 40th president. So far Newt has declared himself the originator of supply-side economics, Reagan’s 1980 victory, Reagan’s tax cuts, and the jobs created under Reagan. He continues to do this even after Romney pointed out that Reagan barely knew who Gingrich was. According to the New York Times, Gingrich has invoked Reagan’s name 55 times across 17 debates, compared to 14 for Santorum, and six apiece for Romney and Paul. (Perry also mentioned it six times but it gets counted twice because he managed to remember it at all.)

There are necrophiliacs who feel more shame about wearing dead people’s clothes.

Of course, it’s no wonder Newt tries to pinch other politicians’ policy ideas: his own are fairly demented. At a town hall meeting in 2011, he proposed building a lunar colony to explore the Moon’s mineral resources. In an effort to address the lighting of highways at night, Newt recommended building a series of giant space mirrors and positioning them to illuminate America’s roads. In the early 1990s, he floated the idea of placing the children of single mothers in orphanages to allow the government to end their welfare payments. He authored a bill to impose the death penalty on anyone caught importing more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States. And, while most candidates spout pabulum about ‘appointing judges who will uphold the Constitution’, Newt explained his plan to dispatch federal marshals to arrest activist judges, which conjures up the image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg wielding a bust of Bill Brennan in the direction of police and refusing to come quietly.

Conservatives react to Mitt Romney like Linda Blair to holy water yet, inexplicably, buy Newt as the brave new dawn of the American Right. His personal life is of no interest to me. It will be, however, to the Democrats, the media, and some Americans. Everyone in the field has their drawbacks but Newt could down a 747 with the excess baggage he carries. That baggage – personal, professional, and political – will take centre stage if he becomes the Republican nominee. Barack Obama, who has overseen a disastrous economy, high unemployment, and a spike in the number of Americans relying on welfare, will face his dream opponent.

Obama’s re-election is all but guaranteed – people rely on government more in tough times and Obama is Mr Big Government – but Romney is the only candidate who can prevent a complete collapse of the Republican vote. But the diehards don’t want him. Bombast sways the minds of the converted in a way nuance never can but Newt’s happy warrior rhetoric is a façade for opportunism and political timidity. JS Mill once called the British Tories ‘the stupid party’. If Republicans throw in their lot with Newt Gingrich, they will inherit that mantle – and lose on it.

Feature image © Gage Skidmore by Creative Commons 3.0.  

Suppressed TV

Be careful what you wish for.

Press TV, the demented Iranian propaganda outlet, has had its licence revoked for violating UK broadcasting regulations. Media regulator Ofcom found the channel was in breach of the Communications Act, which permits only editorial decision-makers to hold licences, after it emerged its London bureau (which was licensed by Ofcom) was in fact managed from Tehran (which was not). Ofcom’s request that the channel transfer editorial oversight to London or transfer its licence to Tehran was ignored by the network and so Press TV can no longer be broadcast in the UK. This coincided with the revelation that the channel had failed to pay a £100,000 fine for broadcasting a segment in which Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, then being held captive by the Iranian government, was interviewed under duress.

The decision to revoke Press TV’s licence has been welcomed by critics of this mouthpiece for the Iranian regime. Ever since I discovered the existence of Press TV, I have been deeply troubled by its odious output and objectionable agenda. There is not a single occasion on which I watched it that I didn’t recoil and wish it out of existence. So I should be elated at this decision. However, I’m not and I’ll explain why later but first I want to outline what kind of channel we’re dealing with.

Press TV’s editorial output is a melange of pro-Ahmadinejad propaganda, antisemitic fulminating, Israel-abusing, anti-Western sabre-rattling, and any number of unhinged conspiracy theories. It warns that ‘a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities will be practically the same as the evaporation of the Zionist entity’ – the channel’s preferred term when discussing (which is to say calling for the destruction of) the State of Israel – and marked Israel’s 63rd Yom Ha’atzmaut as ‘the 63rd anniversary of the occupation of Palestine’. Needless to say, 9/11 was perpetrated by ‘world Zionism’ rather than al-Qaeda, ‘a fairytale terrorist group made up by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israeli spy agency, Mossad’.

The channel’s website republished ‘The Walls of Auschwitz’, a pseudo-scholarly account of the scientific impossibility of the gas chambers, by Holocaust ‘revisionist’ and former UCL academic Dr Nicholas Kollerstrom. The network describes convicted Holocaust-deniers as people who ‘simply dared question the veracity of Holocaust accounts as described by the Jewish and Zionist historians’ and warns that such people ‘are spending their life in the underground jails and prisons of the European countries’.

Professional American crackpot Mark Dankof has graced Press TV’s website with his musings on the historical accuracy of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and his theory that the US recession was caused by:

‘Jewish control of the news media, Jewish control of the American political process, disproportionate Jewish control of the international banking system through the Federal Reserve Board and an Israeli-driven American foreign policy’.

Raed Salah, an antisemitic Palestinian preacher, convicted terrorism funder, and convicted police officer assaulter, was invited on Press TV to repeat his inflammatory lie that Israel was planning to demolish the Al Aqsa mosque and build the Third Temple upon its remains.

While being generally antagonistic towards Britain, Press TV has managed to find some Brits it likes. Amongst the British far-rightists/far-leftists/who-can-tell-the-difference-any-more to feature on Press TV is regular commentator Peter Rushton. Rushton is an editor at Heritage and Destiny, journal of the neo-fascist England First Party (slogan: ‘Faith. Folk. Family.’), which campaigns for repatriation of ‘non-European immigrants back to their lands of ancestral origin’, the ‘teaching of healthy moral values’, a ban on Shechita and Halal slaughter methods, and the restoration of capital and corporal punishment. The channel also reported on Paul Flynn, the Labour MP who said Jews shouldn’t be allowed to serve as UK ambassador to Israel because they have ‘Jewish loyalties’, under the headline ‘UK MP faces quit calls for telling truth’, and quoted approvingly Flynn’s claim that ‘Israel demands full submission’.

Sometimes its conspiracies can be too delicious for words. Responding to the withdrawal of its licence, Press TV claimed that it was the victim of a plot orchestrated by the Queen in revenge for the channel’s negative coverage of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (It still has some way to go to best the market leader in Elizabeth II conspiracy theories, Lyndon LaRouche, a frequent American presidential candidate who believes the international narcotics trade is run by Her Majesty with the assistance of William Rees-Mogg, whom she also dispatched to carry out the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.)

Naturally, Press TV attracts all the usual suspects in the desiccated traditions of Western liberalism and radicalism, who tune into the channel for its more politically palatable rendering of reality; a world in which America is on the brink of collapse as a punishment for its hubris and imperialism, where Israel is wicked beyond description and terrorism against its citizens is justified, and where Iran and Islamist terrorists are not a threat to be fought but innocent victims of Western media misrepresentations. Press TV – like RT, Vladimir Putin’s televised insane asylum – is a laudable, if sometimes disagreeable, ‘counter-hegemonic’ ‘alternative’ news source seeking to balance the neoliberal militarism of what they darkly refer to as the ‘mainstream media’. This is the same Left that denounces chalkboard-botherer Glenn Beck for his conspiracist televangelism all the while embracing a channel whose anchors and correspondents make Beck sound like Saney McSane, Mayor of Sanetown.

Reality-based leftists concerned about the cranks in their ranks are relieved that there is one fewer tempter of the British Left. That’s nice for them but not so profitable for freedom of speech. Speech is one of the few areas in which I come close to being an absolutist libertarian. I echo Professor Alan Dershowitz’s dictum that the answer to bad speech is not less speech (censorship) but more and better speech. This is even more pressing in the case of extreme and hateful speech like that featured on Press TV. As Mill puts it: ‘Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free speech but object to their being “pushed to an extreme”, not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.’ While Press TV was shuttered for its violation of broadcasting law, its critics are crowing not at the upholding of an obscure provision of the Communications Act but at the silencing of a channel of which they disapprove politically. That these critics include amongst their number writers otherwise known for their ardent defence of free speech is all the more disturbing.

‘Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it,’ said Thomas Jefferson, a man who knew a thing or two about freedom of speech and censorship. And the withdrawal of Press TV’s licence is censorship. Not because Ofcom acted with political motivation or because the government leant on the regulator or because Her Majesty gave the signal. Censorship is not just the silencing of unpopular or extreme opinions but a structure of control that exerts the unwarranted authority of the state into matters that ought by right to be left to the marketplace and the realm of individual choice. Ofcom reached its decision fairly, independently, and in line with the law. But that law is wrong. The state has no business dictating the editorial policies of media outlets foreign or domestic – except, perhaps, in extreme cases during a time of war.

Nor should a regulator be empowered to fine a broadcaster for objectionable content. Press TV’s treatment of Mr Bahari was despicable and an affront to every ethic of journalism; it speaks to the channel’s rock-bottom standards and the Tehran regime’s contempt not merely for human rights but for human beings. But as a free speech libertarian, I cannot countenance the notion that such behaviour warrants a government-imposed financial penalty. The correct approach – the one in keeping with Western values of freedom and open debate – is to criticise, condemn, and deride the channel. Protest satellite companies that carry it in their ‘news’ packages. Journalists should refuse to attend press conferences to which Press TV is also invited. They should report on it, debunk it, and counter its propaganda by telling the truth about the Iranian regime and its malevolent agenda.

Iran’s opponents will chalk this up as a victory. It is no such thing. While we celebrate the bureaucratic smothering of a nasty little hate platform, Iran continues its march towards attaining nuclear weapons. Its Holocaust-denying president has repeatedly declared his intention to wipe Israel off the map (note: leftists say he was mistranslated; he was actually inviting Bibi Netanyahu out to ice cream and a movie but it got lost in translation) so we can make a rough guess of where his first warhead will be aimed. The international community should act now – not later, now – to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme – and, while they’re at it, a little dose of regime change wouldn’t go amiss.

Press TV should still be on the air. The UK government should pay for it to be in every house in Britain. Then perhaps a nation grown weary and cynical by Iraq will wake up to the threat of this regime – and the necessity of military action to topple it.

Feature image © Carlos Delgado; CC-BY-SA.  

I’m a John Carpenter fan, or ‘masochist’ for short

To be a John Carpenter fan is to submit oneself to perpetual disappointment.

Every few years a new movie will come out, aficionados of Carpenter’s early work will convince themselves, in defiance of both good sense and experience, that this is it; The One; the film that will reverse his artistic decline and restore ‘The Maestro’ (as we still call him) to former glory. Every single time – Every. Single. Time. – our false hopes are dashed. It’s another dud, another flop, another Big Trouble in Little China.

Carpenter hasn’t made a good movie since Prince of Darkness and he hasn’t made a great one since Escape from New York. The cause of this decline is a puzzle that’s never quite fit together for his fans. This is Carpenter, the man who gave us (and they really were gifts) Assault on Precinct 13Halloween, and The Fog. Even his student thesis film, Dark Star, is a work of art – a cynical essay on the human condition’s essential impenetrability to reason. How could early potential, rooted in talent and proved by accomplishment, decline to the point not merely of mediocrity but of embarrassment?

These thoughts arose, unbidden, when I was channel-surfing a few nights ago and stopped on a cable network airing Ghosts of Mars, Carpenter’s 2001 science fiction thriller pitching futuristic space cops against a spectral alien tribe – essentially an other-planetary reimagining of both Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. It’s a terrible movie. Not in the sense that it’s poorly plotted or the performances are substandard; those are two areas where the film is mildly respectable. Rather, it’s flat, sterile, almost a dead movie. It doesn’t connect. It doesn’t feel.

Why is this? An important factor is money. Carpenter was at his best as a low-budget film-maker. When he was working with $60,000 for Dark Star, $100,000 for Assault on Precinct 13, and $325,000 for Halloween – nickels and dimes in Hollywood terms – he excelled by using ‘poor man’s process’, those low-budget tricks that lend authenticity to even the most outlandish plots and scenarios. Fast forward to Big Trouble in Little China (budget: $25,000,000), Ghosts of Mars ($28,000,000), and Escape from LA ($50,000,000) and Carpenter is working with vastly larger sums of money but turning in vastly inferior movies. Necessity is the mother of invention and, although there might be a little misty-eyed romanticism to this, in movie production penury often inspires originality.

Psychology might have something to do with it too. If the past is a foreign country, the 1970s is Jupiter. Francis Wheen has written evocatively about the paranoid style of the decade and Adam Simon’s The American Nightmare documents how horror cinema reflected the fear, suspicion, and simmering hysteria of the time. Vietnam, Cambodia, Watergate, and political and social upheaval inspired a convulsive paranoia that, for a time, seemed to take hold as the national mood in the US, Britain, and much of the Western world. As Simon shows, this atmosphere proved ripe for horror movies. Carpenter, like Romero, Hooper, and Craven, reflected this in movies about the underlying violence of American society. It’s America that is under siege, not just a police station (one that’s shutting down, metaphor-hunters), in Assault on Precinct 13 and only through violence can the established order be upheld. The little boy down the street who stabs his sister to death in Halloween is the return of the repressed, the mundane evil that might very well lie behind any white picket fence in suburban America. And don’t be fooled by the atmospheric mist and ghostly mariners; The Fog is about the sins of colonialism and the foundational myths of pioneer societies. Carpenter, an essayist of subterranean America, worked in an aesthetic of despondency that matched his time.

But isn’t that our time too? You want despondency? The decline of the West and the ascendency of China (and the emerging economies of Latin America). Global economic turmoil. An asymmetrical conflict with Islamist terrorism. Tumult in the Arab autocracies. Things are falling apart; the centre isn’t holding. Carpenter should be thriving artistically in these circumstances. Yet his most recent offering The Ward, a sub-TV movie effort about a disturbed woman tormented by a ghost that stalks the halls of a mental asylum, is culturally insular to the point of insipidity. Surveying this world of material, Carpenter has nothing to offer. In fairness, contemporary American horror cinema as a whole would appear to have nothing to offer, except remakes, retreads, and reimaginings. The hyper-stylised torture porn, ‘found footage’, and Paranormal Activity subgenres – best understood as horror movies for people who don’t like horror movies – are the only game in town, a low-investment, high-return, quality-be-damned game.

We tell ourselves: If anyone can lead a renaissance in the art of horror, surely it is Carpenter. The Maestro will rise again. One day soon. When the right script comes along. And the money’s there. And the stars align. And… and…

This is this masochism of self-delusion. It’s over. Carpenter’s best days are behind him. His fans continue to watch his movies not because they expect a masterpiece but because the man has served his dues to those fans and the movie industry. He once was great and should be accorded the quiet respect once-great men deserve, for his talent, his films, and for turning on millions of moviegoers around the world to the pleasures of paranoia.

Feature image © Nathan Hartley Maas by Creative Commons 3.0.  

What’s the matter with Thomas Friedman?

It’s a question Israelis and Israel advocates of all political stripes have been asking in recent months.

What has caused Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and pro-market liberal, to lurch from centre-left defender of the State of Israel to increasingly shrill basher of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli government, and the state itself?

We are familiar with the trajectory of jaded leftists. First, there is the revolutionary spirit of youth then the growing realisation that the theory doesn’t quite work as well as it once seemed. Unpalatable doubts rise like searing gorge in the throat and, mini-epiphany by mini-epiphany, the mental cement begins to crack and crumble. The edifice of accepted truths starts to shake; it’s coming down. Radicalism gives way to liberalism which, in many cases, leads to an evangelical conservatism that damns former comrades while seeking moral succour from erstwhile ideological foes.

This is, more or less, the story of Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Paul Johnson, Melanie Phillips, Ronald Reagan, and countless other politicians, writers, and thinkers. Some may dispute the conservative label, opting for ‘Western liberal’ or ‘neoconservative’, but they are all united by their divorce from the Left.

Tom Friedman, it would seem, has gone the other way, and spectacularly so.

He was once the pre-eminent liberal pamphleteer for Israel, willing to criticise where he felt it fitting but sharing none of the enervating moral relativism that typically attends ‘progressive’ media coverage of the Middle East conflict. For his troubles, he was attacked by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and Norman Finkelstein. Srebrenica genocide denier Herman called Friedman ‘a racist’, ‘an enemy of democracy’, ‘an open proponent of the commission of war crimes’, and ‘a long-standing apologist for Israeli state terror and ethnic cleansing’.

Things change. Friedman now intones menacingly about how ‘the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s’. Bibi Netanyahu’s ‘strategy‘ involves ‘encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote’. He claims there is a ‘Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes’. Netanyahu’s administration is ‘driving drunk’ and ‘the most inbred, unimaginative government’. And as for the warm reception for Bibi’s speech to Congress? ‘That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.’ Those quotes could as easily have been pulled from the column of Pat Buchanan as from the missives of the New York Times‘ Mr Liberal Internationalist.

There is the possibility that Friedman is merely beefed at Netanyahu. Israel’s supporters in the United States have traditionally come from the liberal, Democrat tradition and have been more comfortable defending a government of the Left, like Avoda or Kadima. So maybe if Likud is defeated at the next election and Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yachimovich, or – God help us – Yair Lapid heads up the next coalition, Friedman will be happy to return to his previous pro-Israel stance.

Then there is another, more disturbing, explanation. The last decade has witnessed the rise of a more radical, European-style American Left which rejects many of the settled assumptions of American liberalism. Free markets, economic growth, and personal responsibility have been edged out by an embrace of big government, wealth redistribution, and a politics of envy that wouldn’t be out of place in the French or Spanish or Portuguese Socialist Party. (The Left’s rejection of American exceptionalism apparently doesn’t extend to the economic sphere; Democrat politicians, by dint of their Harvard educations, are able to make collectivist economic policies that have proved a disaster around the world work just dandy in the US.)

The most noticeable turnaround, though, has been in security and foreign policy. Where John Kerry and other Democrats worked hard to sell their national security credentials in 2004, Barack Obama got elected by promising to shut Guantanamo Bay, withdraw from Iraq, rein in American military activities oversees, and sit down for a latte and some biscotti with America’s sworn enemies. That his presidency has been a mixed-bag has if anything inspired greater zeal among those in his party, in the words of Politico, ‘working to remake the Democratic Party’s approach to national security’.

The case of Josh Block is instructive. Block – a Democrat, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and former spokesperson for the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee – was recently fired from his position at the liberal Truman National Security Project for questioning the increasingly shrill and bigoted rhetoric of two left-wing pressure groups. The Centre for American Progress and Media Matters for America, which seek to reposition the Democrat Party as a European-style social democratic party, are openly contemptuous of Israel, its security concerns, the threat from Iran, and the Democrats’ support for the Jewish state.

Block pointed to the extreme pronouncements coming from CAP and MMFA, and their affiliated ‘scholars’ and bloggers, about warmongering ‘neocons’, sinister ‘plots’, conspiracies orchestrated by AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which campaigns for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and monitors antisemitism, is described as ‘the far-right Simon Wiesenthal Center’. Matt Duss of the Centre for American Progress accuses writers supportive of Israel of being ‘Likudnik hacks’. Zaid Jilani, also of CAP, tweets: ‘Obama is still beloved by Israel-firsters and getting lots of their $$‘. MJ Rosenberg, a senior fellow at Media Matters, tweets that Americans shouldn’t ‘visit #Israel unless you are a rah-rah Likudnik‘ and calls David Mamet an ‘Israel First Likudnik‘.

After accusing Jewish conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin of ‘dual loyalty’ – the antisemitic canard that Jews harbour divided loyalty between America and Israel – he rebuffed Rubin’s complaint thus: ‘Jennifer Rubin thinks being accused by me of dual loyalty is an insult. Why. I say DUAL which is generous.’

The fact that Block, rather than the ‘progressive’ bigots he exposed, has been fired for his troubles at least puts paid to the conspiracy theory that the ‘Israel lobby’ will have anyone who criticises Israel sacked, marginalised, and anathematised. That James Kirchick has since revealed the neo-Nazi origins of the ‘Israel Firster’ and ‘dual loyalty’ libels has inspired no repentance from the Left. It does, however, draw the battlelines for a fight that could prove as momentous as the struggle between the McGovernites and the mainstream of the Democrat Party in the 1970s. The outcome will decide what kind of Democrat Party America will have: a liberal movement that can win the support of Main Street USA to advance progressive goals – or a party of dogma and division that mimics the EuroLeft’s fondness for clientelism, redistributionism and class warfare demagoguery at home and appeasement, isolationism, and relativism in its dealings with the world.

What’s the matter with Thomas Friedman? Perhaps he’s just pissy at Netanyahu. Or maybe, sage that he is, he’s seen the future of the American Left and decided to throw in his lot with what he predicts will be the winning side.

Feature image © Chatham House by Creative Commons 2.0

In defence of Martin Bright

If you’ll permit the intrusion of a shegetz into the controversy attending the Jewish Chronicle‘s reporting on London Citizens, I’d like to add a few thoughts.

London Citizens is an alliance of community groups based in the capital that brings together representatives from all the major faiths to be found in Britain. Hitherto known for campaigns on the minimum wage and other sociopolitical issues, the ‘community organising’ collective has attracted criticism for the alleged presence in its ranks of individuals with questionable associations and unsavoury things to say about Jews, Israel and terrorism. Junaid Ahmed, deputy chair of the organisation, allegedly gave a speech praising Hamas terrorists during Operation Cast Lead. ‘Every single resistance fighter is an example for all of us to follow,’ he is reported to have said. The JC also reported that a mosque involved with London Citizens had invited controversial speakers including a radical cleric who had made antisemitic pronouncements.

It is also a group in which leaders of the London Jewish community play a significant role. Rabbi Wittenberg, of New North London Synagogue, defended his attendance at a London Citizens event and, although he described Ahmed’s alleged views on Hamas as ‘abhorrent’, he insisted he didn’t ‘seek to confront people with a record of difficult views’.

Martin Bright, the astute political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, authored a series of articles on London Citizens, its alleged radical elements, and the question of Jewish leaders being involved with this organisation. The scrutiny upset supporters of London Citizens, as did a term deployed to describe Rabbi Wittenberg. Bright referred to Rabbi Wittenberg as a ‘useful idiot‘ for his failure to challenge Ahmed’s alleged opinions. The phrase caused genuine offence amongst some members of the Rabbi’s congregation and mock offence amongst those who simply don’t like Bright’s politics. I would not have used such a phrase – insults are no substitute for rational criticism and anyway should be avoided when discussing a man who has dedicated his life to his faith and community – but Bright stands by the description.

One objector fleshed his criticisms out into a full-blown critique of the JC‘s journalism and editorial policies. Keith Kahn-Harris wrote a piece – commendably published by the JC – condemning the paper and Bright in particular for its coverage of London Citizens and, more broadly, for its focus on antisemitism, Israel, and Islamist extremism.

The principal thesis of Kahn-Harris’s argument is that there are two kinds of politics at work here: the ‘politics of engagement’ and the ‘politics of exclusion’. He divvies up the moral bonus points thus:

New North London Synagogue and other Jews involved in London Citizens are exponents of a ‘politics of engagement’ that prizes dialogue, cooperation and community above all.

Whereas:

The JC under Stephen Pollard and Martin Bright is an exponent of a ‘politics of exclusion’ that prioritises principle and ideology and seeks to marginalise anyone that crosses certain ‘red lines’.

Kahn-Harris believes editor Stephen Pollard is not ‘interested in much of what goes on in the Jewish community’ and intones darkly about ‘the turn that the JC has made under Stephen Pollard’s editorship’. Moreover, he contends:

This apparent lack of concern for Jewish community is also embodied in the JC’s tolerance for uncivil and abusive language. Martin Bright’s use of the term ‘useful idiot’ to describe Rabbi Wittenberg is symptomatic of an editorial regime that does little to encourage more measured language.

As noted above, I would not have used the term in question but one ill-advised ad hominem does not an ‘editorial regime’ make, and certainly not an ‘uncivil’ and ‘abusive’ one at that. To read Kahn-Harris, one would be forgiven for thinking Pollard had turned over the political brief to Pamela Geller rather than the thoughtful, respected, and impeccably progressive Bright. (Footnote: Anyone who calls for a writer to use ‘more measured language’ almost invariably means, ‘I don’t like what you’re saying; please shut up’.)

The JC, we are to believe, has become a sort of right-wing rabble-rouser, pushing a hardline political agenda that provokes when it should inform and confronts when it should analyse. For Kahn-Harris:

A narrow range of ideological issues and a desire for controversy have been foregrounded with little or no regard as to what the consequences will be. For sure today’s JC is always lively – Stephen Pollard is a gifted controversialist and his willingness to publish this piece is certainly a point in his favour – but it is often destructive entertainment.

Narrow? Ideological? Controversy? Destructive entertainment? Does he read the same paper as the rest of us? I must have missed that special giveaway of ‘I [HEART] AVI LIEBERMAN’ t-shirts with every copy of the paper. This is a version of the JC that exists only in the minds of Comment is Free readers.

There is also an undercurrent to Kahn-Harris’s criticism of Bright that leaves a slight metallic taste in the mouth. Perhaps I am reading too much into his words – at least, I hope I am – but there seems to be a subtext that Bright, as a non-Jew, is not really in a position to be writing about these issues. For example, Kahn-Harris claims that Bright’s ‘knowledge of the politics of the Jewish community is limited and – more disturbing – he does not appear to be aware of his limitations’. He doesn’t appreciate ‘where those within the shul are coming from’. ‘Synagogues and communities are not the same as political parties,’ he offers, more than a little archly, ‘and it takes time to understand how they work.’ Then comes the sucker-punch:

The fact that Bright is not Jewish is irrelevant – like a good policeman a journalist has to take the time to understand his ‘beat’.

One is compelled to ask: Why, if Bright’s non-Jewishness is irrelevant, does Kahn-Harris feel the need to bring it up? Does he not realise that, even if not hostile in intent, such phraseology risks making non-Jews feel unwelcome in debates within the Jewish community and on related subjects? One might call it, to borrow a phrase, the politics of exclusion.

Kahn-Harris eventually gets to what appears to be the cause of his consternation, namely the ‘dominance’ of Israel and antisemitism in the JC‘s news pages.

Bright’s limited understanding of the community has been encouraged by the turn that the JC has made under Stephen Pollard’s editorship. The front pages are dominated by Israel, antisemitism and Islamism – important issues but not the only ones that impinge on British Jews.

It’s rather as if I wrote to the editor of the Catholic Herald and asked him to stop banging on about this abortion business.

Newspapers which serve a select community must strive to provide content that interests and entertains the greatest number of members of that community, both as a civic duty and, perhaps more pressingly, as a commercial imperative. In the JC’s case, that means covering fundraising dinners for cash-strapped shuln as well as anti-Israel student groups inviting extreme speakers to give lectures on campus. Bar and Bat Mitzvah announcements can and must and should share space with investigations into antisemitism.

If there is an appetite out there for a Jewish newspaper that limits its coverage of Israel, antisemitism, and the threat from Islamist terrorism, let Kahn-Harris raise the capital and set it up.

Were Bright and Pollard using the front page of the JC to advocate Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria, to champion the Grunis Bill, or to campaign for one Israeli political party over the others, I would agree that it had strayed from its remit and purpose. As things are, Bright and Pollard are fulfilling an important role: providing a community-centred news outlet that covers common interests and concerns in the UK and around the world while also opening up the paper, the subjects it covers, and the Jewish community to a wider audience.

If the greatest military threat to Israel is a nuclear Iran, and the most pressing terrorist menace Hamas and Hezbollah, the preeminent moral hazard is the severing of the connection between the Jewish state and the Diaspora. Israel and her advocates (Jewish and non-Jewish) face an unprecedented wave of hostility, malice, and falsehoods. That requires journalists of good conscience to ask awkward questions, confront lazy thinking, and, above all, tell the truth. I became a reader of the JC after Bright’s appointment because I regarded his journalism very highly and admired his firm (and, sadly, rare in left-wing circles) stance against Islamist extremism and terrorism. If the JC were to become a sanitised newsletter for a narrow left-wing viewpoint that ignores those areas where Jewish community concerns intersect with broader concerns, there would be less of a reason for readers (Jewish and non-Jewish) to bother picking it up. That, rather than Pollard and Bright’s informative reporting and incisive commentary, would represent a real ‘disturbing trend in the paper’s relationship to the British Jewish community’.

Although I bow to Kahn-Harris’s superior knowledge of the Jewish community, I can’t help but feel that his broadside against the JC is really a plaintive cry for the paper to keep its head down and stop causing trouble. The liberal consensus offers comforts that moral clarity cannot. His proposal would leave the JC more modest, less relevant, and muted on questions of crucial importance to the Jewish community and its friends at the very time that these questions are gaining prominence in national and international public discourses.

I fully support Jewish community leaders, and leaders from all faith groups, in their efforts to work across religious and cultural divisions in pursuit of good causes. But one must always consider the ethics of political association: appearing on a stage with people of intemperate outlook, whether intentionally or otherwise, confers legitimacy on that outlook, making it seem less intemperate and more socially acceptable. I don’t know enough about London Citizens to pass judgement on it. It might very well be an entirely wholesome endeavour, and certainly there is much praise to be found for the work it does. But that shouldn’t shield it from criticism when it is perceived to have erred.

Nor is the JC above criticism. Editorials are too short, as are op-eds. I’d like longer features, more in-depth obituaries, and more space given over to the arts. The website could do with a redesign, could be updated more often, and a few new bloggers wouldn’t go amiss. The JC should seek to expand by looking outwards, towards a wider audience of Jewish and non-Jewish readers, and not recede into a tame parochialism which benefits neither the JC nor the Jewish community.

By their fruitcakes ye shall know them

You can always judge a politician by their followers. Mitt Romney attracts the committed, Ron Paul the committable.

Grassroots campaigners are essential in American politics, in those states with lengthy caucus and primary processes, and even elsewhere thanks to the Internet’s empowerment of the ideologically energised. Politicians must rely on these people to get their message out and get the voters into the booths come election day. Smart politicos, however, understand how to give just enough without being compromised by the ideological fervour and fringe obsessions that mark grassroots networks.

Ron Paul supporters – imagine Justin Bieber fans in ‘End the Fed’ T-shirts – are unlike any other grassroots political movement America has seen in the last 25 years. They are remarkably motivated and insistently loyal. They are also generally fanatical, politically immature, intellectually underdeveloped, and paranoid. They blog, tweet, and upload videos about the Texas Congressman at a rate that dwarves the social media activism of, say, Bachmann supporters or Perry fans.

And they’re vicious. A mildly critical remark about Paul will earn the writer a barrage of hysterically hostile feedback, ranging from personal insults to accusations of involvement in sinister plots. Critics of Paul are termed ‘sheeple’ (think about it) and accused of betraying the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. Only Paul – and by extension, his demented followers – understand how the world works and how it’s supposed to work. They are the real Americans, the real patriots, the real conservatives. Everyone else is a cog or a plotter.

This isn’t a political movement. It’s a religious cult, and a particularly sinister one at that.

I spent an hour searching one of the leading Ron Paul supporters websites. DailyPaul.com is not affiliated to Ron Paul or his campaign but it is a hub dedicated to all things Paul where enthusiasts can come and discuss their hero and his challenge for the White House. (A disclaimer in the interest of fairness: I don’t think these people are quite all there, so perhaps we should be gentle in our remonstrations.)

Amidst paranoid ranting about black helicopters and plaintive cries to ‘free the weed’, there is a seeming obsession with Jews, Israel and Zionism. Hardly scientific, I know, but I searched the site for a series of keywords to record the number of times they appeared. ‘Weed’ got 542,000 mentions, ‘9/11’ 150,000, ‘CIA’ 80,600, ‘Jews’ 18,300, ‘false flag’ 17,700, ‘Rothschild’ 7,390, ‘Zionism’ 6,070, ‘UFO’ 5,600, and ‘implant’ 3,100.

That pretty much reflects the division of craziness on this forum. The inordinate attention paid to all things Jewish is most striking, for two reasons. One, because a charge often levelled at Paul supporters, and one they bristle at sharply, is that of antisemitism. Two, because even the most charitable reading of the discussions of Jews and Israel on these forums reveal a pervasiveness of and tolerance towards antisemitism unseen amongst supporters of any other major political candidate in the United States.

Here is a rundown of ten of the more reproducible antisemitic ravings posted on the site. (I’ve left the spelling and grammatical errors in tact on instruction from my paymasters in Jerusalem and because I’m lazy.)

Israel

National homeland of the Jewish people. Tiny embattled democracy surrounded by hostile regimes. Not perfect. Gets some things wrong – but on the whole, one of the good guys. Right?

Not so much.

A nation that has been tied to white slavery, organ harvesting black market, 9/11, drug runners, kidnapping, murder, torture, criminal organizations, crimes against humanity, land grabbing, porn rings, child prostitution, and more.

Who keeps the metric system down?

‘Jews,’ one commenter tells us, ‘control our monetary system, our media, and our goverment. There is no escaping that fact.’

This is absurd. Everyone knows the Canadians run everything. (One day soon, Monsieur Harper, your nefarious ways will be discovered.)

The six million

They’re definitely not Holocaust deniers, these Ron Paul fans. They’re just ‘questioning the official story’ about ‘what the heck really happened’. Well, gee whiz, who could be against that?

I am NOT a “Holocaust denier.” I am one who has a simple question that never gets answered, but is sure to get me flamed. How is it that the 6 million number did not get revised when the Auschwitz number got revised? I question the official story, and the media and much of the population gets REALLY uptight about questioning the official story… Methinks they protesteth too much, but to get to the bottom of this, how about we have a really exhaustive, wide open investigation and figure out what the heck really happened? In remembrance of the very real victims who deserve to have the truth exposed.

While we’re at it, we could have an investigation into how isolationism in American foreign policy helped created the functional circumstances for the Holocaust to take place. Ron Paul might not come out of that one looking very good.

The new Shoah

Okay, so maybe the Holocaust did happen but it ain’t nothing compared to what’s going on in Germany today. A post decrying the country’s Holocaust denial laws, entitled ‘Upside Down: Jews Were Persecuted by Germans, So Now Germans are Persecuted’, thinks it’s all eerily familiar.

Wait a second, weren’t Jews rounded up and sent to prison because of their beliefs? How is searching half a dozen homes and rounding up others for their beliefs, or arresting people for making websites and cakes any different?

If you need it explained to you why that statement is repugnant, you might just be a Ron Paul supporter.

Up to no good

One commenter warns that ‘rabid socialist zionist Jewish Neocons are working against freedom’ and that ‘[t]hey are the enemy within’.

Memo to DailyPaul.com: David Duke called. He’s suing you for copyright infringement.

The puppet masters

Anyone concerned that Western leaders are failing to stand with Israel needn’t fear. The ‘Zionists’ are on it already.

Politicians in the United States and Britain are made to pass under the yoke of the Zionist masters who control our leading political parties. By forcing our political leaders to accept the Zionist yoke our nations become subjugated and the pro-Israel agenda is forced upon the entire population.

What they’re buying

Baffled by President Obama’s super pro-Israel foreign policy? (Yeah, me too.) The Paulites have the answer:

[T]he Jewish billionaires can keep Neocon Obama in office to bomb the middle east some more.

9/11

Guess who was really behind 9/11:

The agenda of these hardcore Zionists is to become an empire. Many U.S. Senators and Congressman have secured lucrative contracts and fat retirements in helping Israel achieve it’s aims – as well as never criticizing it publicly. Cunning politicians to say the least, as they’ve been selling out America for decades with nobody really noticing. 9/11 is just the next phase in their quest for empire.

The Protocols

It turns out that notorious antisemitic forgery, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, was bang on after all:

All of what is happening in our world and what has happened last century was all spelled out very precicely in ” The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion ” the House of Rothschild is behind all of this madness. World war three has already begun. It started on 9/11/01 and will not stop untill all nations are brought to their knees from exhaustion of war. Then they”House of Rothschild ” will offer up their solution. A one world currency and a one world government to be led by the Anti-Christ.

Purse strings

And since 2012 will be won or lost on the economy, the Paulites have their own monetary and fiscal philosophy:

If we get rid of the Federal Reserve and military industrial complex, the zionist global conspiracy is utterly crippled. It dies shortly after that just by phasing out the IRS & all the Banking Complex’s fraudulent laws.

Liberals believe in higher taxes. Conservatives believe in lower taxes. Ron Paul supporters believe all the tax collectors are Jews.

*******

All politicians have crazy fringe supporters who can be cited to discredit them but with Ron Paul, the crazies are the mainstream. They do not go unrewarded by the candidate. Paul is an expert at sounding dogwhistles that might be overlooked by the media but are easily understood by his target listeners. See my discussion of his remarks about Israel, African-Americans, and gays in an earlier post.

The last time America saw anything like this was the movement that sprung up around Pat Buchanan during the pre-1992 Republican primary season. It was a revolt of the Rolling Rock drinkers. Three years into George H W Bush’s presidency, with a sluggish economy and a stop-gap ceasefire to the bombing of Saddam, those Middle Americans who gave Reagan his two terms and only gave Bush his first on the understanding that it was really Reagan’s third finally lost their patience with the consensus-loving aristo in the White House. Preppie made all the right noises but when it came down to it, he never delivered for conservatives. On the economy, on taxes, on social issues, he epitomised the Country Club Republican who measures political success by the number of approving nods he receives from the New York Times editorial board.

The blue collar base seized the opportunity of the GOP primary season to send Bush a message, something along the lines of: Read our lips, no new Rockefellers. The Republican Party, hitherto the political equivalent of soft jazz and tan loafers, became a battlefield on which a bloody contest for the heart and soul of American conservatism would be fought. The winners still aren’t clear but one of the combatants, and the beneficiary of all the fury flying around, saw his star rise as disenchanted right-wingers rallied to his ramshackle campaign.

Pat Buchanan, a gnarly paleo-reactionary and former aide to Nixon and Reagan, had left government service for a career in politics, which is to say he went to work in the media. As a duelling pundit on CNN, he fired out barbs at liberals and squish Republicans alike, delighting viewers who shared his middle class background and middle century values. He figured this popularity could sweep him into the White House and announced his decision to challenge Bush in the primaries. Buchanan’s campaign would stand up for hard-pressed Americans done down by big government, overtaxed to fund lavish welfare payments for ‘urban’ families, discriminated against by affirmative action programs, made redundant by the job-outsourcing brought by free trade and the cheap labour of illegal immigrants, and ignored by politicians who served the interests of sectional groups within the nation and foreign governments outside its borders.

Although Buchanan, like almost all populist political leaders, would go on to flame out, he attracted a contingent of dedicated and determined activists of a kind alien to traditional Republican politics. The ‘Buchananites’, as the media named them, were not the traditional GOP industrialists and lunching ladies but steel workers and typists and insurance salesmen. Most of all, they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore. Buchanan played on this anger, whipped it up to greater heights, and found himself with an army of supporters matched in their vociferousness on his behalf by a viciousness towards his opponents.

Like Ron Paul, Buchanan was expert at issuing dogwhistles to target audiences. An infamous instance sought to draw an ethnic hierarchy in American foreign policy between those who advocate war and those who fight it. The warmongers were men with names like Abe Rosenthal, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer, and Henry Kissinger whereas the cannon-fodder were ‘American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales, and Leroy Brown’. One hardly needed to be a codebreaker to grasp what he was getting at.

Whereas Buchanan’s pitch was to Middle Americans angry at rising prices and withering pension schemes and looking for someone to blame, Paul speaks to the young and disaffected, college students who have reached adulthood at a time of conflict and economic strife that demands sacrifice at home and increased (and expensive) activity overseas. Paul tells them that, far from a necessary response to a dangerous world, this is a grand lie maintained by sinister groups within the government who are plotting to steal the liberties of the individual and perpetuate a global governing class that will establish a ‘new world order’.

We live in an age of demagogues and seekers after demagoguery. An age where significant segments of public opinion believe 9/11 was an ‘inside job’, that Princess Diana was offed at the order of the Duke of Edinburgh, and that the Vatican is concealing the truth about the bloodline of the Christian Saviour. There is a gap in the market for a conspiracist presidential candidate. Paul, like a good free-marketeer, is supplying the demand. His appeal is anti-politics. He’s the candidate of people who are so uninformed about politics that they mistake their stupidity for alienation.

American libertarianism, a vulgarisation of European classical liberalism, has become a movement for cranks, weirdos, conspiracists, antisemites, and people who think the CIA has implanted tracking devices in their dental fillings. Austrian economics takes second place to obscure fixations and cultish behaviour. Where the classical liberals of yesteryear looked to Hayek, Mises, Bastiat, Friedman and Thatcher, today’s US libertarians make icons of Alex Jones, Lyndon LaRouche, Lew Rockwell and a Texas Congressman who advocates returning to the Gold Standard, opposes the Civil Rights Act, and champions a foreign policy that would make Charles Lindberg blanch.

Paulitics is an ideology of contradictions: the attitudes of the Old South meet fashionable anti-establishment vexations about American military power and foreign alliances. It panders to the right on welfare, abortion and race while playing to the left on drug legalisation, Israel and the ‘military-industrial complex’. And that’s the Congressman’s appeal. He can be everything to everybody, offering a reactionary politics that progressives can finally embrace. Ron Paul is the pothead’s Pat Buchanan.

Feature image © Gage Skidmore by Creative Commons 2.0

Ron Paul, an unexamined phenomenon

The American primary process, a kind of elongated sweeps for the cable news channels, is a four-yearly vaudeville show that doubles as a selection process for future leaders of the free world. 

Imagine the aesthetics of American Idol welded to the intellectual demeanour of pro football. When it’s the Democrats, there’s also a touch of the campus rally; with Republicans, the megachurch.

This year Republicans have been on top form. We’ve had a Texas governor who can’t count to three, a Minnesota congresswoman who thinks HPV vaccinations cause ‘retardation‘, and a former Speaker of the House who may not need access to the nuclear launch codes to start a war in the Middle East. Palintastically incurious pizza tycoon Herman Cain might have dropped out, sparking sighs of relief across Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, but Donald Trump – who has a 100% lifetime rating from the American Toupee Union – daily threatens to re-enter the race, provided he can obtain proof that Kenyan-born President Obama forged his birth certificate at a Chicago Kinko’s.

But even in this field, one candidate stands out as the court jester of the festivities.

Ron Paul, a 76-year-old Congressman for the 14th District in Texas, is a perennial figure in Republican presidential primaries. A libertarian of such philosophical purity that he makes Robert Nozick sound like a Bolshevik, Paul opposes almost all government intervention, wants to abolish the federal income tax and not replace it, advocates the dissolution of the Federal Reserve, and campaigns for America to return to the Gold Standard. But where he truly departs the Republican reservation is on foreign and security policy. He opposes the Patriot Act, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and indeed all wars where he deems US national interests are not under threat (which, to his mind, is almost all wars). He denounces concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons programme as ‘war propaganda’. Most controversially, he is a vocal opponent of the US-Israel relationship and calls for America to cease foreign aid to the embattled state and similar allies around the world.

The Texas Congressman is treated as a harmless, if kooky, grandpa figure by the mainstream media, save for those left-liberals who actively champion his crank foreign policy (step forward Glenn GreenwaldRobin KoernerJohn Nichols). Any in-depth examination, however, belies this kindly persona and reveals a fringe ideologue whose politics are as downright nasty as some of his associates and supporters.

Paul has flirted with the 9/11 ‘truth movement’, those conspiracy theorists who believe the Bush administration or Israel were behind the attacks or at the very least had foreknowledge and allowed them to happen. He regularly appears on the conspiracy theory radio show hosted by Alex Jones, a 9/11 ‘truther’ and promoter of a cornucopia of nutty causes (he led the campaign to rebuild cult-leader David Koresh’s Branch Davidian church, destroyed during an FBI raid on the Waco, Texas compound). Paul himself has blown dogwhistles on 9/11, claiming the attacks were met with ‘glee‘ in the Bush White House.

Dr Paul isn’t punctilious about his political associations. In February 2011, he took chairmanship of the House Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology Subcommittee (a hootenanny, by the way) and chose as his first witness an obscure academic, Thomas DiLorenzo. DiLorenzo is a Southern secessionist and author of the book Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe. He calls Lincoln ‘tyrannical and dictatorial’ and describes the Civil War Lincoln fought to free the slaves as an exercise in ‘mass murder, looting, pillaging, plundering, and the burning of entire cities’. According to the Washington Post, DiLorenzo was until 2008 an ‘affiliated scholar’ to the League of the South Institute, the research operation of the League of the South, a Southern nationalist organisation designated a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

Nor is Paul picky about whose money he takes. In 2007, Don Black, a neo-Nazi political activist and founder of the white nationalist Stormfront website, donated $500 to Paul’s campaign. Obviously Paul, upon learning the source of this money, immediately returned it and distanced himself from Black. Except he didn’t. He kept the money from the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, a campaign spokesperson said, to help him ‘spread the message of freedom’. This did nothing to dampen down the already growing support for Paul amongst what in contemporary parlance must inevitably be called the ‘neo-Nazi community’.

Whyever would skinheads gravitate towards this soft-spoken, harmless old lawmaker? Perhaps because his politics sometimes bump up against the ideology of the far-Right. For example, he opposes the Civil Rights Act, the 1964 law that outlawed segregation and discrimination against African-Americans, claiming it ‘increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty’ and arguing that its enforcement ‘encouraged racial balkanization, and fostered racial strife.’

All of this, distasteful though it is, is outdone by the matter of Paul’s political newsletters. James Kirchick has just published an article in the Weekly Standard on this outrageously underreported skeleton in Dr Paul’s closet. These publications, issued under Ron Paul’s name in the 1980s and 1990s, either as the Ron Paul Political Report, Ron Paul Survival Report, or Ron Paul Freedom Report, contain some of the most disturbing content ever associated with a major party candidate.

Here are a few highlights:

The Coming Race War’, a 1990 piece from the Ron Paul Political Report, counsels the Republicans to play the race card in the 1992 election. It reads: ‘[I]f there is any issue the Republicans have in their favor for the next presidential election, it is the question of race. It was all over for Michael Dukakis when Jesse Jackson gave his awful prime-time speech at the last Democratic convention, and the cameras focused on masses of teary-eyed, left-wing blacks.’

The same essay describes Martin Luther King as a ‘pro-communist philanderer’ and condemns Ronald Reagan for signing the law that created Martin Luther King Day: ‘We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.’

The Los Angeles Riots provided more racial ammunition for the Ron Paul Political Report which carried an article in its July 1992 edition on the violent response to the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. The report sneers: ‘Jury verdicts, basketball games, and even music are enough to set off black rage, it seems.’

A newsletter from 1992 carries this charming little nugget of racist sociology:

[W]e are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men [but] it is hardly irrational. Black men commit murders, rapes, robberies, muggings and burglaries all out of proportion to their numbers.

Needless to say, the Jews get it too.

Bobby Fischer, Holocaust-denying chess grandmaster, is praised in a November 1992 dispatch:

[T]he brilliant Fischer, who has all the makings of an American hero, is very politically incorrect on Jewish questions, for which he will never be forgiven, even though he is a Jew. Thus we are not supposed to herald him as the world’s greatest chess player.

An April 1993 article pushes the old perfidious Jew stereotype: 

Whether [the 1993 World Trade Center bombing] was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little.

And in the interests of equal opportunity bigotry, the gays get a kicking. This, from the September 1994 Ron Paul Survival Report, on HIV/AIDS:

Those who don’t commit sodomy, who don’t get blood a transfusion, and who don’t swap needles, are virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay.

Now, Paul claims he didn’t write any of the newsletters and disavows their content. This has sufficed for his dead-eyed, cult-like followers and a worrying segment of the mainstream media. However, the most cursory research calls Paul’s defence into question.

I offer three examples.

In a 1992 issue of the Ron Paul Political Report, the following statement appeared:

If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be.

The Dallas Morning News challenged Paul on the newsletter in 1996. Here is how the paper characterised his response:

In the interview, he did not deny he made the statement about the swiftness of black men.

“If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them”, Dr Paul said.

The Dallas paper also asked about another line from the newsletter, which read:

Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.

Paul also did not deny authorship of that statement; in fact, he said it was based on the findings of a report from criminology think-tank the National Centre on Incarceration and Alternatives. ‘These aren’t my figures,’ he told the reporter. ‘That is the assumption you can gather from [the report].’

The Austin American-Statesman followed up the Dallas Morning News story by highlighting a 1992 newsletter which opined:

Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions.

When the paper asked for a comment, Paul’s spokesperson, far from denying the statement, repeated it:

Polls show that only about 5 percent of people with dark-colored skin support the free market, a laissez faire economy, an end to welfare and to affirmative action…

Ron Paul or his campaign spokespersons are on the record defending or at the very least confirming remarks which he now claims he never made.

This man just topped the latest poll on the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. He could, in the event enough people simultaneously take leave of their senses, become the next occupant of the White House.

It’s time for the kid gloves to come off. Ron Paul is a candidate like any other in this primary process. If the extreme thinking (and non-thinking) of the rest of the field is disturbing, it is as nothing compared to the content of these journals and other overlooked aspects of Paul’s ideological worldview. The mainstream media, however much it might sympathise with his foreign policy or his criticism of the Bush administration, has a duty to ask the tough questions and provide the American people with the answers.

The first question must be: Congressman Paul, could you please explain these newsletters?

Feature image © Gage Skidmore by Creative Commons 2.0

Let us now praise an infamous man

Christopher Hitchens is gone. 

‘Dead’, he would prefer. ‘Gone’ is too mystical, a tacit indulgence of superstitious notions of a life beyond the temporal. ‘Death is certain,’ he insisted. ‘There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.’

Now who will rail? Now who will rage? Now who will reason?

Hitchens was more than an ‘intellectual’, though he was an intellect; not just a ‘polemicist’, though his writings were polemical. He was a journalist. Stop and consider that word. Run it through your hands, roll it around your mouth, try and say it out loud: Jour-na-list.

Tastes bitter, doesn’t it?

The trade is at one of the lowest ebbs in its modern history, at least since the days of Hearst: hacking, churnalism, the death of foreign news, obsession with celebrity, layoffs, closures, asset-stripping, the incestuous media/political elite nexus.

Hitchens reminded us that journalism is a noble pursuit: the search for truth, the provocation to thought, and the stirring of passion. His Letters to a Young ContrarianLove, Poverty and War; and Blood, Class and Nostalgia contain some of the finest popular writing one can find. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice might offend with its outrageous title but the book houses prose of such sharp elegance that its achievement as a work of journalism cannot be denied even if its central thesis is rejected.

He wrote to challenge power and disturb consensus and, above all else, to promote reason, freedom, and human dignity. That he did so with a generous tumbler of Johnnie Walker Black Label in his hand and half the bottle resting in his stomach is a testament to his skill as a writer and fortitude as a drinker.

If Hitchens could rarely be pinned down on what he believed in, no one was ever in any doubt about what he was against. Capitalism in his youth, totalitarianism in middle age, and God in his final years. In many ways he had always been against the same thing: anything that got in the way of enjoying life.

Everyone has their Hitchens. Leftists love his skewering of capitalism and (sadly) Zionism; rightists quote voluminously from his apologias for America and democracy and against terror and tyranny. Non-believers found in him their prophet; Dawkins is the high priest of scepticism but Hitchens was its philosopher-preacher, a Maimonides of heresy.

He is being remembered in America – his America, his adopted and beloved homeland – as a polemicist against religion: a thumper of the Bible, botherer of the godly, defrocker of the saintly.

(The obituaries calling him an ‘atheist’ are wrong. He wasn’t questioning the scientific basis of belief so much as its morality: were God to be proved real, Hitchens would still protest the subservience of free and rational beings to a higher power. ‘I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist,’ he wrote in 2001’s Letters to a Young Contrarian. ‘I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.’)

As a member of the fuzzy faithful – those questioning believers who likely frustrated Hitchens far more than any scriptural fundamentalist because we sully reason to reconcile science and God – I admired Hitchens’ gleeful blasphemy as a test of my religion and a challenge to the intellectual sluggishness of contemporary belief.  Religion cannot be asserted as a human right, insulated by law and social convention; only argument allied to logic, with a tolerance of hope and faith, can articulate the intellectual coherence and moral necessity of religious belief in the 21st century. His cold steel rapier of reason was a gift to theists. His cuts were welcome because they forced us to brush up on our own fencing skills.

My Hitchens was the vicious rhetorician who lobbed ICBMs into the citadels of received wisdom and the righteous tormentor who pursued the relativist Left and its ‘We are all Hezbollah now’ logic to its absurd, reactionary end. When a left-wing paper complained in a headline that Afghanistan was being ‘bombed into the Stone Age’, Hitchens riposted that the Taliban-run gynophobic dystopia was ‘being, if anything, bombed out of the Stone Age’.

His enemies – by whom all great men ought to be judged – accused him of becoming a right-winger. He wrote a book denouncing Bill Clinton and even submitted an affidavit to the House of Representatives accusing a White House aide of smearing Monica Lewinsky and seeking to discredit other women who came forward to complain of sexual harassment. It’s perhaps a commentary on the Left rather than Hitchens that his comrades deemed reactionary his excoriation of Clinton’s racial electioneering in the Arkansas death chamber and the President’s predatory conduct towards vulnerable women in his employ.

But Hitchens’ final break with the Left came with his support for the war on terror and the overthrow of first the Taliban and then Saddam. While liberal journalists and radical professors saw 9/11 as a comeuppance for American hubris and the Islamists as, at worst, a tiny and innocuous cell of religious fanatics not comparable in threat or evil to the US military, or, more crassly, as ‘freedom fighters’ against ‘Western imperialism’, Hitchens was not so blinded. Islamism was a reactionary totalitarianism that sought to replace freedom and democracy with tyranny and brutality. He became a vocal advocate of military force against tyrants, took American citizenship, and (tentatively) endorsed George W Bush’s 2004 re-election bid, all the while denouncing his former fellow travellers as appeasers of fascism. No one has more spectacularly committed apostasy against the doxologies of the modern Left.

Hitchens was the iconoclast’s icon, a graven image for a secular age. But he had his own messiah, Thomas Paine, whose words almost 200 years BH (Before Hitch) sum up his disciple:

I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

Feature image © Ari Armstrong by Creative Commons 3.0