Hitchens's 3/30/98 letter to the editor in The Nation

Peter Kilander peterk at enteract.com
Sun Feb 7 23:04:52 PST 1999

Since he can say it better than I can. This is a letter Hitchens wrote to The Nation's publisher and editor a year ago. Remember, The Nation runs the presses a lot earlier than the date put on the magazine.

------------------------ 3/30/98 Conspiracies with Sidney; Kenneth Starr's subpoena of Sidney Blumenthal

By Christopher Hitchens

Dear Katrina and Victor, I am happy to add my John Hancock to the defiant, courageous and doubtless ironic advertisement you placed in The Nation of March 16 in response to the subpoenaing of Sidney Blumenthal ["Starr Subpoena Sign-Up"]. Yes indeed, Mr.Grand Inquisitor Starr, I have been proud to commit journalism in the company of Sidney Blumenthal. He might not, these days, be all that eager to affirm our connection. But together we have soldiered against the neoconservative ratbags. Our life a deux has been, and remains, an open book. Do your worst. Nothing will prevent me from gnawing a future bone at his table or, I trust, him from gnawing in return. Something in me, however, resists the use of the terms "McCarthy" and "Gestapo" in the rest of your editorial. A day after answering a subpoena and ridiculing it with some brio, Sidney was back at work, close to power, and having a whale of a time all round. I know it's the line of the day, among Clintonoid liberals, to insist that nobody is ever called before a grand jury. (It's always "hauled.") But I also know what you know very well--that McCarthyand the Geheime Staatspolizei acted as agents of state power, not agents of the investigation of same. And I wish I could be more outraged by the charge of spending lots of public time and money with little to show for it. If anyone deserves to face that reproach, it's surely the taxpayer-funded press office at the White House, which has--after a long series of ludicrous pretenses--entirely suspended the answering of any questions from the press on this or most other related matters.

Moreover, if you look up the memoir of Lawrence Walsh, the last special counsel to be accused of wasting time and money, you will see his sheepish confession that he moved too slowly, issued too few subpoenas, granted too many immunities and let the clock of the statute of limitations run out. In the parallel memoir of the Congressional investigation, written by then-senators William Cohen and George Mitchell, one finds them freely confessing that they did not ask Fawn Hall certain questions. Why not? Because they feared she would weep on camera, and turn public opinion against them. In light of this, your accusation that Starr "dragooned the mother or a potential witness and demanded that she reveal conversations about her daughter's sex life" is schmaltzy to a degree. Lewinsky's mother suffered a day's loss of composure after tapes had suggestedthat she took part in a collusion of deceit, while Lewinsky herself has had two months to decide not just when to tell her story but what story to tell. This is McCarthyism? The Gestapo? I am aware that some people don't care for the provenance of the tapes. But what would you say of a prosecutor who, confronted with tapes suggesting witness-tampering, decided they were not up to his standards and took no action at all? Mutatis mutandis, this applies to all the sideboard special counsels who are investigating aspects of the Administration's retail attitude to politics and who should be engaged in uncovering the scandal of the 1996 election moneys--some of which found their way into the Clinton defense fund.

The last time I conspired seriously with Sidney Blumenthal was during the course of the last election, when he gave me an advance proof of a brilliant essay he had written for The American Prospect. People are mistaken when they describe Sidney as a vulgar "conspiracy theorist." He has a tremendous gift for making connections, both historical and ideological, and in this article he chased down the origins of Bob Dole's famous diatribe about "Democrat wars." He left no doubt in my mind that Dole, for all his veteran" pretensions, had dredged up this demagogic idea from the fringe work of the dingiest reactionary isolationists. I waited for the opportunity to deploy these findings. But the occasion never arose. Why not? Because the whole of the 1996 presidential election was hijacked from the first by a money-driven, donor-dominated Dick Morris machine, in which there was simply no chance or need to engage the Republicans in a battle of ideas (unless this battle took the form of pre-empting Republican positions). The President, and the first among his ladies, have no serious need for the "good" Sidney. They may have an occasional call on the skillful service of his evil twin, Sid.

If the entire Lewinsky business turns out to be a false alarm, then of course a lot of us will look stupid. But none stupider than the President's bodyguard of defenders, who have contrived to admit everything while being honest about nothing. Without caring about the consequences, they have prepared a whole arsenal of alibis for future delinquents in high office. Thus, perjury isn't "really" perjury; private stuff (private in the taxpayer-funded Oval Office, yet) doesn't "really" count; polls should determine the pace and nature of legal inquiry; and subordinates are accessories to take the fall when "mistakes are made." Hillary Clinton, who correctly assured us on TV in May 1996 that "there is no left wing of the Clinton White House," now bleats about a right-wing conspiracy and thereby insures that all future "bipartisan" regimes will in extremis be able to cite--partisanship! No doubt when all this white noise is played back to them by a future, more reactionary President, the Clintonoids will be the safe occupant of consultancies earned during their time in "public service."

Since it seems to be literally true these days that there is "no controlling legal authority" to restrain those in power, I am unwilling to offer up the independent counsel act on the altar of a President who moves so deftly between the public and private spheres, be they blowjobs or patronage jobs; Lincoln Bedroom funds or Charlie Trie-financed "Clinton defense funds"; lipstick traces or Revlon traces. Between the choice of a Special Counsel Act and no Clinton, or the reverse, there can be no contest. The arrogance of power is boundless, but it mustn't deprive us of that great consolation of the underdog--the presumption of guilt. -------------- next part -------------- An HTML attachment was scrubbed... URL: <../attachments/19990208/67134256/attachment.htm>

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list