Distancing the left from Clinton

Peter Kilander peterk at enteract.com
Sat Mar 20 09:23:40 PST 1999

Thank you, Carl.

from the Village Voice piece:
>It's tempting to see l'affaire Hitchens as the latest example of
>sectarianism run amok. After all, who really cares about the bad faith
>of social democrats or the opportunism of Marxists with a hard-on for
>prime time? But something much bigger than anyone's ideological dong is
>at stake. This dispute is not just about misplaced loyalties; it's about
>the future of progressive politics.

I think "l'affaire Hitchens" has been the most interesting event this year. We entered bizzaro world. The personal attacks on Hitchens astonished me. Either he's become a conservative or he's an opportunist Marxist/media whore or, as Todd Gitlin charges, a subscriber to left-wing fundamentalism [ the conviction of purists that what stands in the way of their hearts' desire is the treacherous class enemy, the Social Democrats (aka "social fascists," in Stalinist parlance) who mislead the otherwise vigorous proletariat ] - who nonetheless knows what he's doing. Either his intense hatred of Clinton led him down the path to sign the affifavit or he's such a drinker that he lost it completely. He did it to promote his forthcoming book; he's a frustrated homosexual with a need to snitch. Someone has to be wrong.

What motivates these attacks? It seems to me Hitchens' actions raise three relevant issues, all unrelated to his personality.

One, do they endorse "sexual McCarthyism" - if such a thing exists? Or to put it another way, does the left have an obligation to defend Clinton no matter what he's done? Does the crime consist of giving comfort to the enemy? Technically, Hitchens entered the legal arena. But in reality, it was immediately apparent that Blumenthal would no be put under any legal duress. Hitchens said he would not testify. And what one of my favorite writers Katha Pollitt wrote in her column and what Lloyd George put it in his 2/8 Washington Post piece as the story broke is not true, that the prosecutors just needed the affidavit to prosecute Blumenthal. They would need Hitchens and the others to testify. After the November elections, I think it was apparent Clinton wouldn't be removed from office. The Senate Democrats wouldn't let it happen.

Two, did his actions violate journalistic ethics? As Doug Ireland wrote: "Most of the criticisms maintained, as a Nation editorial put it, that there were 'moral issues' like a 'journalistic (and ethical) presumption against using private conversations with friends for a public purpose without first obtaining permission.' Hitchens says that Blumenthal 'never said our lunch was off the record; in fact, since at the time I'd been out teaching in California, he showed up with two thick file folders of briefing material [on the Clinton scandals] that he thought I should see, since he wanted to bring me up to date' on the latest White House spin. More importantly, Blumenthal's own lawyer issued a challenge to any reporters with knowledge of his client spreading the "stalker" story, releasing them from 'any pledge of confidentiality.' No moral issue there, I'd say."

Three, the question of betraying a friend. Note that Hitchens didn't accuse Blumenthal of not believing Clinton when Clinton told him Lewinsky was a stalker. The affidavit says that Blumenthal was circulating the story to journalists and friends. Maybe Blumenthal shouldn't have told Hitchens about Lewinsky and Willey or maybe the White House shouldn't have engaged in defaming Lewinsky and Willey, even if what they said was true. There were enough people in the press already on the job.

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