October 12, 2010

Christopher Hitchens, meet Ron Johnson.

So Christopher Hitchens is expatiating in Slate about the dearth of decent political candidates in U.S. elections. He talks about talking to his "hosts in Connecticut" and his friends in Washington D.C., where he's lived for 3 decades. And he casts his eyes about to the states of New York and California. Having thus surveyed the American landscape, he opines that the "enthusiastic and intelligent people" are no longer "willing to give up potentially more lucrative careers" because of the risk to "their career and their family life" and "the incessant barrage of intrusive questioning about every aspect of their lives since well before college." You just can't get "normal" people to run for office anymore.

What about Ron Johnson? Here's Politico, presenting the GOP Senate candidate in Wisconsin as emblematic of the new sort of politician who has emerged from the Tea Party movement:
Until last fall, Ron Johnson was just an intensely private guy with a good business and a nice house on Lake Winnebago. He kept a stack of Wall Street Journals next to his bed, folded just right so he wouldn't forget to read columnist Dan Henninger on this or Paul Gigot on that. A trim, silver-haired businessman, he was rich but unknown, even in this, his hometown, despite big donations to Lourdes High School and his thriving plastics company here.

Running for office never crossed his mind...
The Tea Party of Oshkosh was pulling together a rally for a fall event, featuring Joe the Plumber, the working man who emerged as a folk hero to small government conservatives in 2008. They needed a businessman to talk about what they saw as the scary, Big Brother approach to ObamaCare - and Johnson was happy to oblige. His daughter Carrie was born with a heart defect and saved by two doctors - a story anyone following this campaign has heard many times in ads and speeches ever since. So, he let loose with an attack on the demonization of doctors and, more broadly, the mortal threat to American exceptionalism.

The new law “will destroy our health care system,” Johnson said in an interview. “I am totally convinced of that.”

In hindsight, Johnson, in that speech, was capturing a major mood change in American politics that swept up not only business owners but also anti-government conservatives and skeptical independents. These groups, by late summer of 2009, had turned against the president and his party – and never returned.
Read the whole thing. You too, Mr. Hitchens.

Oh, it's not as if Hitchens didn't think of the Tea Party. After telling us about his elite circle of people who are so smart and informed but disinclined to enter the political fray, he does acknowledge that there is much more going on these days: his observation "may seem to discount or ignore the apparent flood of new political volunteers who go to make up the Tea Party movement." You can see the gears turning in his brain as he tries to get to the end of this article that began so easily, built on what looks to me like dinner-table conversations with his friends. How to dismiss these pesky teafolk of the flyover realms? Ah! He proclaims:
They come from a long and frankly somewhat boring tradition of anti-incumbency and anti-Washington rhetoric, and they are rather an insult to anyone with anything of a political memory. 
They are an insult. These people aren't worth talking to or about. Why, they aren't even people at all. They are an insult
Since when is it truly insurgent to rail against the state of affairs in the nation's capital? How long did it take Gingrich's "rebel" forces in the mid-1990s to become soft-bottomed incumbents in their turn? 
Questions. Questions. Speaking of untoned asses, shouldn't you have to get off yours and go out and talk to Americans in places like Wisconsin? One answer is that Hitchens is gravely ill, but he's still pouring out political commentary, and he's not asking for pity or showing any. He's as imperious as ever, and the respect he deserves for that bravery and effort ought to come in the form of serious engagement with his actual words he is... spewing.

30 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I think Ron Johnson is a pretty good candidate -- especially compared to those in some races -- but I wish he hadn't run as a Republican, but rather as a something-else. Republican and Democratic Party machinations run counter to the interests of this country. I hope Johnson's daughter is doing well. I don't follow very closely the campaigns and have not heard the story.

But you raise a good point althouse, and one that I think any pundit who is mired in the cesspool of DC misses: Everyone is fed up with DC, and that includes the pundits. It's no wonder they never say anything worth reading what with all the reverb pummeling them all day long.

ndspinelli said...

Booze, and now impending death, have made this brilliant man just plain nasty. He always had nasty in him, but it grows exponentially w/ help from the aforementioned. I don't think it's much more complicated than that

edutcher said...

The Alinsky factor made, as he notes, a lot of good people unwilling to be slimed by the media and sneered at by your average arrogant, small c communist, functionally illiterate Congressperson.

The trashing of the American economy and the specter of government by political fiat, rather than the consent of the governed, changed that.

Too bad Mr Hitchens doesn't like the idea of people from flyover country running things. Not enough glamor compared to people like Barbara Mikulski and Tom Harkin, I guess.

The Ghost said...

I suspect that Mr. H thinks the Tea Party is composed of a bunch of religious nuts and thus his scorn for them is rooted in his scorn for all things religious ...
He should really let go of his hate and focus of surviving his new life battle ...

Richard Dolan said...

"Booze, and now impending death, have made this brilliant man just plain nasty."

That misses the mark by a lot. Hitch's strength is that of a brilliant debater -- it's mostly verbal facility and polemics. He presents like a classical Sophist when the times require a Socrates. His weakness is the flip side of his strengths, also like a classical Sophist -- disdain and contempt for those lacking his rhetorical skill to pile up the debater's points.

Hitch has never had the common touch -- indeed, the only 'common' he really knows comes from the common rooms at Balliol. So it's no surprise that Hitch is at home with like-minded souls in DC and CT, but has no clue what's going on among those for whom his folkways are completely alien.

1jpb said...

Johnson has metaphysical certitude that:

-Health care reform will destroy health care
-Climate change folks are "crazy," "lunacy"
-It's bad to remove stat. lim. for child rapists
-Lowering taxes (w/ market based health care and spending cuts) will fix the deficit

Take away the window dressing and you see that Johnson is the same as the rest of the Rs. And, like them, he's convinced that his con and God based views are infallible. He's completely interchangeable w/ pretty much every other R in the Senate. The federal government could save on operating costs by simply having one person casting all of the Rs' votes for the party loyalists who don't deviate, then the loyalists can stay home. But, then how would the office holders direct deals/favors for their lobbyist? Well, I guess they'll need to be in DC after all.

Original Mike said...

"I think Ron Johnson is a pretty good candidate -- especially compared to those in some races -- but I wish he hadn't run as a Republican, but rather as a something-else. Republican and Democratic Party machinations run counter to the interests of this country."

I'm in full agreement with your sentiment, MM, but as a pratical matter the hurdle to third-party candidates is impossibly steep. Sucks, but that's the way it is. Fortunately, IMHO, the Tea Party movement has been smart enough to try and co-opt the Republicans. That's a tough road too, but probably has a better chance of success.

Paul Zrimsek said...

T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, call your marina.

How long did it take Gingrich's "rebel" forces in the mid-1990s to become soft-bottomed incumbents in their turn?

About six years. Better than nothing, wot?

Bruce Hayden said...

To some extent, I would rather propound the contrary proposition, that a better class of people are running for office this time around than have in the past.

I would suggest that a large percentage of career politicians are essentially corrupt. Their protestations of being public servants is self-serving and hypocritical. They are in it for the power, and for those of them not born with a silver spoon in their mouths (or haven't married that like John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi did), for the money. And, of course, with the power and money, comes sex, at least for the guys.

So, we end up with an incestuous system where the career politicians take money, perks, etc. from lobbyists for special advantage, or, even just to have a somewhat level playing field. They are all happy in D.C. - the politicians get what they want, and the lobbyists get rich. But, invariably, the rest of us suffer.

I should note that this dynamic is not now - the song we learned about one David Crockett (August 17, 1786 – March 6, 1836) growing up had him going to Congress to help clean it up (and, yes, there are more recent allegations that he was part of the corruption). And, more recently, we have Jimmie Stewart doing the same thing in Mr. Smith in 1939.

ricpic said...

Ron Johnson is rich? And Hitchens didn't write "Kill Ron Johnson?" What admirable restraint.

Bruce Hayden said...

-Health care reform will destroy health care
-Climate change folks are "crazy," "lunacy"
-It's bad to remove stat. lim. for child rapists
-Lowering taxes (w/ market based health care and spending cuts) will fix the deficit
.

I might not have used such pejorative language, but, yes, I mostly agree with him. In short, you are painting him as the rational candidate in this case.

paul a'barge said...

Isn't Hitchens dead yet?

edutcher said...

1jpb said...

And, like them, he's convinced that his con and God based views are infallible. He's completely interchangeable w/ pretty much every other R in the Senate. The federal government could save on operating costs by simply having one person casting all of the Rs' votes for the party loyalists who don't deviate, then the loyalists can stay home.

As always, PB&J has his fresh-off-the-nonsense talking points from Kos, whether they make any sense or not. In this case, he confuses the Ds with the Rs.

As I said last night, the problem with Leftists is that they think Conservatives are every bit as monolithic and bigoted as they are and, when they hear some indication otherwise, it blows their little baby minds.

Projection, no longer the exclusive province of Bell & Howell.

madawaskan said...

He's still brilliant:

Meanwhile, the Chinese are making the only tenders for contracts to build high-speed rail links in the United States, but in Connecticut a few nights ago, would-be Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal (whose main experience of Asia consists of his having lied about serving there) taunted his Republican opponent Linda McMahon for complicity in the manufacture of WWE action toys on the territory of the People's Republic! How low can it go? Much lower, just you wait and see.


Ha!

Add to that-

Republican Linda McMahon cut her opponent’s advantage in Connecticut’s Senate race from 10 percentage points to 6 points in a week, according to a new Fox News battleground state poll.

Go! Linda!

Belkys said...

As Bentham said if that people really cared about public interest they wont put their tranquility over the public interest. Political Fallacies

Belkys said...

He is friend of Sean penn and payed a visit to Hugo Chavez so..

Belkys said...

About global warming fraud:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100022474/climategate-goes-american-noaa-giss-and-the-mystery-of-the-vanishing-weather-stations/
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100058265/us-physics-professor-global-warming-is-the-greatest-and-most-successful-pseudoscientific-fraud-i-have-seen-in-my-long-life/
Yes lawyer, economists, and crocked politicians know better than scientsit

PatCA said...

I remember watching the Scott Brown rallies on TV, where the people were chanting "41, 41, 41," showing a pretty sophisticated understanding of Brown's role as the deciding vote against Obamacare should he be elected.

That's an insult to political memory?

madawaskan said...

If Christopher Hitchens could only read Conservative media and blogs most of them would be writing in defense of their weakest candidates and concern trolling about their best candidates.

Almost always everyone let's the Liberal media set the agenda and then everyone follows the herd.

If Hitchens was reading Althouse all along this would be the first positive piece on Johnson.

If he causes others to break out of their fog of following Hitchens will have done more than those local bloggers who should be getting off their backsides and reporting what they know.

That was suppose to be the power of the internets and they have acquiesced that to instead constantly respond to the trolling of Liberal media.

They have also sold out on honest reporting for the first taste of any power for themselves. They have proven to be rapidly corruptible.

MadisonMan said...

I remember watching the Scott Brown rallies on TV, where the people were chanting "41, 41, 41,"

Was George HW Bush there?

Original Mike said...

Belkys: Thanks for the (OT?) AGW links. Read them both. There's a lot to follow up on regarding the massaging and disappearance of "problematic" weather station data. This has been a known, though barely reported, issue for some time. For anyone who reads Prof. Lewis' letter, I second his recommendation of A.W. Montford's book, "The Hockey Stick Illusion." As a scientist myself, he hits the nail on the head with his use of the term "revulsion."

madawaskan said...

Actually Tim Blair was reporting that years ago.

madawaskan said...

Addendum-perhaps we are not talking about the same thing.

IIRC-there was the incident were they were taking the atmospheric temperature readings and they weren't accounting for the heat reflected from the metallic surface of the weather balloon.

Something like that.

Anyways, that letter-talk about integrity.

Devastating.

It's not getting much play, is it?

Marvel that.

Original Mike said...

The disappearing weather stations data is of a theme with the issue of corrections applied to the raw temperature data (I believe the term they use in the climate field is "homogenization", but I may be misremembering that). Corrections to raw data is a necessary and accepted process, but it's also the step where bias creeps in. There have been a lot of eye-opening examples of station after station where the raw data shows no warming until after the correction is applied. This has been an issue for a long time, and I believe Blair has reported on it. Disappearing weather stations is a variant on this theme (i.e. drop the stations that don't show warming).

madawaskan said...

Original Mike-

Interesting, so essentially there's a trend line of "corrections" being made in one direction.

If there was less bias supposedly the corrections would be more varied or random...I would think.

As if I know science, but I think I follow you.

El Pollo Real said...

Gosh, I'd have thought Hitchens would have mentioned Delaware. He dislikes O'Donnell and probably looks up to Coons.

But since there's a dearth of information on Coons we'll never know.

kathleen said...

Spare me Hitchens. I remember the gushing profile of John Edwards you did in Vanity Fair the first time he ran for president. A good judge of character you are not.

Irene said...

He's not too sick to travel to Toronto for a debate with Tony Blair.

Leslie said...

My sentiments exactly though much more neatly expressed! Honestly, it's hard to love a guy who just goes all Old World on you instead of making a genuine argument.

I happen to be with him when it comes to religion, but Hitchens really does let cultural bias get in the way. On the one hand, he supports Elizabeth Edwards, apparently due to her ability to recite poetry from memory (which I agree is cool), despite all the self-serving political moves she made while her darling husband was running for first guy. On the other hand, Hitchens is grossed out by evangelical religiosity but refuses to recognize that the American intelligentsia's love of theoretical collectivism is as utopian and religious as any wild-eyed Methodist railing against sin. It just sounds better.

I love him anyway, though. What else can I do?

Paul said...

Anybody who genuinely believes that Johnson is a strong candidate after reading the man's decidedly unscientific and impolitical thoughts on everything from climate change to healthcare reform is simply not fit to offer political commentary. I'm sorry if that criticism sounds harsh, but it's coming from an honest and important place.

I can understand your frustration with Washington and the urban hubs, but your willingness to celebrate cornfed politicians from "the Real America" based on little more than a common spirit of dissent is more myopic and potentially destructive than any knee-jerk celebration of Washington culture.

Johnson's worrying ignorance is what is pertinent to his qualifications, not his political affiliations. Whether he identifies as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent is irrelevant, as his city and state of origin; what matters are his views, and a good deal of Johnson's are foolhardy and divorced from reality. Maybe he'd make a good preacher, but the last thing America needs right now is another rich numbskull who thinks that everybody in the entire country can succeed as he has succeeded, nuances, complexities and general common sense be damned.

It's also amusing to note the number of surprisingly eloquent posters here in the comments section who think that Hitchens should apologize for being erudite and quick-witted. Heaven forfend that Americans should ask for politicians who, in addition to displaying strong leadership qualities, have at least a middle-schooler's understanding of science and economics.