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Tony Jones tries not to let Hitchens spoil the buzz

November 6, 2008

Christopher Hitchens came to the ABC election coverage with a big bucket of cold water to throw over those panellists who wanted to take a moment just to enjoy the election result.  This wouldn’t have mattered so much had he not misinterpreted Bob Carr’s reaction to the Obama election (I’ll be generous and leave out the adverb “wilfully”) in order to start his wake-up treatment.

Bob Carr: “I think we are entitled, on the very night of the election, to just pause for one minute and say ‘America has elected an African-American as its President!’  In view of history, right back to 1619, the arrival of the first African slaves, even before the Mayflower; in view of the Civil War; in view of the Fifteenth Amendment; in view of one hundred years of segregation; in view of Martin Luther King, we are entitled to … (here Hitchens interrupts, just as Carr has his rhetorical climax in sight) … in view of all of this, this is a wonderful and poignant moment.  We can pause on it just for a minute, and then consider the great challenges facing this administration.”

Hitchens: “All that had already happened.  All that had already happened.  These are the conditions under which Obama was elected.  They’re not the conditions he creates by being elected.  It’s just confusion on your lovely, warm parts between post hoc and propter hoc.  All those victories had already occurred; this isn’t a victory that makes those things happen, it’s a victory made possible by those things.”

Well, OK.  That was…random.

I used to believe that CH  was a contrarion – he was certainly being somewhat contrary last night – however I now think he’s just a curmudgeon.  And, last night, he was an incoherent curmudgeon.  It’s a long clip, but when Tony Jones invites a response to Michael Duffy’s heartfelt summary of the “change” reverberating from the election (from around 4.52 in the clip), Hitchens loses me completely.

Jones: “Christopher Hitchens, that was eloquently put and so I’m wondering whether perhaps you should put aside a certain degree of your, ah, journalistic cynicism, at least briefly.”

Hitchens: “I honestly would rather call it realism, if you don’t terribly mind.  I mean, first, one of your guests – I’m sorry, I can’t see them, so I hope I don’t identify the wrong one; I’ll just say ‘one of your guests’ –  by mentioning the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, points out, perhaps inadvertently, actually the most racist demagogue in the entire campaign.  Anyone can look up his speeches and anyone can find out that he’s a fan of another racist crackpot cult leader, Louis Farrakhan, someone who really has done a great deal to poison race relations, if you want to call them that, in the United States, is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  The pastor, the religious guidance person of the man who’s just been elected president.  Who was only disowned when he became inconvenient to the aspirations of the candidate.  I’m sorry, I can’t get as moist and trusting as everyone else apparently can about this.  If race matters, if there is indeed such a thing as race, such a category, then it matters all the time or not at all and you can not just say… well, my daughter, as a matter of fact, has just been canvassing for Senator Obama in the depths of Virginia and no doubt is, herself, tucked up feeling that justice has been done in some way, but if I was to have to tell her ‘Well, how is that?   How is that proved?  How is that established by this vote?   I’m sorry if I can’t come up with anything glib or, as you would say, idealistic.”

Jones: “Bob Carr?”

Carr: “…”

Hitchens: “And the rest of the world remains exactly as rough, exactly as rough, as it was yesterday.  And I think any grown up person is going to have to face that sooner rather than later.  You just proposed ‘Why don’t we take a night’ – both of your guests, actually, in Australia, ‘Let’s take a night off from that.  Let’s just pretend that’s not true.’  Surely… ‘Let’s have an evening of celebration.’  I didn’t sit up this long to say ‘Let’s all celebrate.’  It’s not what I came into journalism to do.  I came to ask questions and to listen to the answers and to [something so slurred it’s indecipherable] if I got a soft or soggy answer, such as ‘Let’s all be united.  Let’s all forget about red and blue states – let’s all be Americans.”

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