Rule of Law 101 (Re: Hitchens Turns GOP stool pigeon

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Feb 7 15:14:58 PST 1999

At 14:04 07/02/99 -0500, Nathan Newman wrote:

>If the Rule of Law means anything, it means not using the courtroom based on
>spurious changes to attack people for political disagreements that are not
>legal crimes. That's what the defense of free speech and a whole range of
>basic civil liberties ultimately boil down to.

I have found Nathan Newman's major statements reasoned and reasonable. So long as there is the wretched two party system I do not see the problem in purely electoral terms in leftists supporting the better of the two parties, and expecting it to be reasonably efficient at winning elections. My understanding is that Nathan has stated the importance of not tailing behind that party.

I agree with his instinct that what Hitchen's has done is not a deed of deep revolutionary significance but an ultra-leftist individualist gesture. But I do have reservations about being as critical of it as Nathan is. If the White House played with debriefings it is inevitable there is a risk of them coming to light.

So far, no one has copied to this list any statement by Hitchens that he did it as a major blow against Clinton's middle east policy, or as a blow against unattributable government briefings. It comes over as some sort of individualist spite that is not in the context of any major collective campaign. Hence it can be portrayed as lining up with Starr, although it does not sound like that to me.

One factor surely is that it is easier to appear to be revolutionary in another country. Hitchens as an eccentric leftist Englishman has a license to be different, and earns his living by this. (Am I wrong?) That makes good journalism, but not good revolution. If in the UK Paul Foot had done something like this, I would expect the political relevance to be very clear. How much does Hitchens claim to be a marxist? Not very much from the following moralistic denunciation from a December article in Vanity Fair:

>Even if you think the original offense was nugatory, and the cover-up no
more than venal, Clinton’s conduct since the original exposure has been hideous, and has revealed to us a very nasty and shady politician.<

The transcript of his Meet the Press interview today on his website, does not sound much more political. Denouncing bourgeois politicians as crooked or shady is not the most profoundly scientific of analyses.

But I would also separate myself from Nathan's support for the rule of law, free speech and civil liberties as apparently abstract ideals. Or is the USA so weak on these that a campaign for these bourgeois democratic rights is still in general terms progressive?

So I am puzzled by the strength of Nathan's indignation over a detail, and that looks like attaching too much importance to the fate of the Democratic Party or to one man. Besides if Clinton was tipped over into resigning and Gore took over now, that might be the best chance of ensuring Democratic ascendancy for the next 10 years.

Sorry if this sounds like putting my nose into details which obviously I cannot understand fully from this side of the Atlantic, but there are parallels with how critical, and how tailist, we should be of the Blair government. I wanted to comment on the strategic and tactical principles.

Chris Burford


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