Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dr. Kraphammer, I Presume

I assume the following is from his old "Minority Report" column in The Nation, though I take it from Prepared For The Worst -- which is a pretty good collection from the era when Hitchens actually did real journalism. I recommend it.

Anyway, notice that the faults Hitchens observes in Kraphammer are exactly the sorts of faults one can now observe in Hitchens himself since he turned to the Dark Side. Especially notice the critique of neocon self-pitying/faux-underdoggery. Then compare with modern Hitchens who affects to fight an uphill battle against hippie anti-war protestors and other groups among the "indecent" Left, while all along his precious Dear Leader fights his precious Iraq war. Hitchens is a paranoid; fancies himself as a victimised minority; remarkably imagines himself as an unconformist, yet unfailingly agrees with everything the ruling party in all three governmental branches has decided is the proper direction at which to steer the nation. It's just too bad. Anyway -- he was once a decent, intelligent figure:

...In the charmed circle of neoliberal and neoconservative journalism... "unpredictability" is the special emblem and certificate of self-congratulation. To be able to bray that "as a liberal, I say bomb the shit out of them" is to have achieved that eye-catching, versatile marketability that is so beloved of editors and talk-show hosts. As a lifelong socialist, I say don't let's bomb the shit out of them. See what I mean? It lacks the sex appeal somehow. Predictable as hell.

Picture then, if you will, the unusual difficulties faced by Charles Krauthammer, newest of the neocon mini-windbags. He has the arduous job, in an arduous time, of being an unpredictable conformist. He has the no less demanding task of making this pose appear original and, more, of making it appear courageous. At a time when the polity... is showing signs of Will fatigue, it can't be easy to write an attack on the United Nations or Albania or Qaddafi and make it seem like a lone, fearless affirmation. An average week of reading The Washington Post op-ed pages already exposes me to appearances from George Will, William F. Buckley, Jr., Jeane Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz, Emmett Tyrrell, Joseph Kraft, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, and Stephen Rosenfeld. Clearly its editors felt that a radical new voice when they turned to the blazing, impatient talents on offer in The New Republic -- and selected Krauthammer. I dare say Time felt the same way when it followed suit. We live in a period when a chat show that includes Morton Kondrake considers that it has filled the liberal slot.

Of Krauthammer's book, Cutting Edges: Making Sense of the Eighties, with its right little, trite little title, George Will has already written that it comes from "the best new, young writer on public affairs. It is only a matter of time, and not much time, before the adjectives 'new' and 'young' will be put aside." I don't doubt it. There's certainly nothing new or young here. and it's only a matter of reading the book to make one realize that the other adjective will not be so much put aside as stuffed elsewhere.

In common with most but not all of his conservative columnist colleagues, Krauthammer does not write very well, reason very well, or know very much about anything. In common with them, too, he holds the "unpredictable" view that the United States is far too modest and retiring as a world power. In common with them, finally, he thinks that it takes an exercise of moral strength to point this out.

Hitchens then provides a quote from Kraphammer's book as an example. Since I don't know how to block quote within a block quote, here it is separate from the main passage:

In the 1984 Democratic campaign, the principal disagreement over Central America was whether the United States should station twenty advisors in Honduras (Walter Mondale's position) or zero (Gary Hart's). On Angola, El Salvador, Grenada, Lebanon and Nicaragua, the Democratice position has involved some variety of disengagement: talks, aid, sanctions, diplomacy -- first. In practice this invariably means -- only. Force is ruled out, effectively if not explicitly.

Pretty typical neoconese, yes? Those Dem appeasers, they don't have the stones, yadda yadda yadda. Hitchens pounces:

Scrutinizing this clumsily written passage, one is struck by the following:

1. Charles Krauthammer used to work as a speechwriter for the ridiculous Mondale. Ordinarily, he underlines this bit of his resume in order to show that he is a former bleeding heart, knows the score, has been an insider, has seen the light, has lost his faith and therefore found his reason -- all the familiar or predictable panoply of the careerist defector.

2. To have known and worked for Mondale, and to have kept a reasonably attentive eye on the press during the 1984 election, is to presumably know that Mondale publicly called for a quarantine of Nicaragua. A quarantine is an armed blockade.

3. Ronald Reagan's military excursions to Beirut, Grenada, the Honduran border, and elsewhere all received the sanctification of the House and Senate Democratic leadership. So it might be said that nobody wanting to make a case for the Democrats as appeasement-sodden buffoons could have argued it in a more unlettered, sly, and misleading manner.

Can it be said that Krauthammer enjoys coveted space, and Establishment affection, more because of this manner than in spite of it? The suspicion cannot be groundless. This man actually began a column, in 1985, by telling that antique story about Calvin Coolidge and dorothy Parker as if he'd minted it himself. He believes, or at any rate he writes, that "the death of Senator Henry Jackson has left an empty stillness at the center of American politics." That would be pardonable, if corny, in an obituary piece, but it introduces a rather unexciting reflection on the fate of Cold War liberalism which omits to mention that Jackson's clones (Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Kirkpatrick, and other of Krauthammer's favorites) are all over the place.

In a slim field, my nomination for the most memorable and emblematic quotation would go to his view that "the great moral dilemmas of American foriegn policy arise when the persuit od security and the persuit of democracy clash. Contra aid is not such a case. That is Cruz's message. Is anyone listening?" That was in The Washington Post -- this year. It contains everything that has made Krauthammer a figure. Cliche' ("moral dilemma," "persuit"). False antithesis ("security" versus "democracy"). Pomposity (Hubert Humphrey posing as Winston Churchill in the sonorous periods of the sentencing). Banality (Arturo Cruz at this late date?). Last and as usual, the parroting of the Reaganite party line, written as if by a lonely, ignored dissident (Listening? They're fighting a war for him). This is affectation, poorly executed.

In this entire salad of emissions, I could find no "cutting edges" and nothing that qualified as "against the stream" of the regnant orthodoxy. And, as a regular reader of Krauthammer, I can recall only two columns of his that I have admired. One was about teh brith of his son Daniel. The other was about the absurdity and implausibility of the Star Wars project. Neither of those articles appears here -- the first because it came too late to include and the second because it was Krauthammer's only moment of dissent and misgiving, and, what with one thing and the other, he would rather forget it. I think I could have predicted that.