Friday, December 10, 2004

The Hitch Show

Recently, on Linda Vester's Fox chat show, Christopher Hitchens smeared on some greasepaint and dove right into his performance:

Hitchens: Michael Moore openly says that he regards the murderers and torturers and beheaders in Iraq as the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers.

Vester: Which a number of people in this room take a dim view of.

Hitchens: I should hope.

Vester: Why do you in particular... I mean, you're tough on Michael Moore in your book. Why?

Hitchens: Well, because he's a scumbag.

Ouch! Can you say that on TV?

Vester did her scripted part, setting Hitch up for his rube-rousing punchline, a Fox specialty that seems lost on its cable competitors. Think Chris Matthews has the patience or desire to play straightman to any guest?

Hitchens's much-advertised hatred of all things Michael Moore is a safe & profitable routine. The richer Moore gets, the louder and cruder the routine becomes. Indeed, should Moore garner an Oscar nomination for "Fahrenheit 9/11", or even win another Oscar, you can bet that Fox will air Hitch ripping off his shirt and beating his chest in indignation, with the studio host gasping at what a bad boy he is.

But what of Hitch's comments above? Did Moore actually say that beheaders in Iraq are the "moral equivalent" to the nation's founders?

I searched Moore's website and found this from last April:

"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."

No mention of Washington, Jefferson or Franklin. No use of the words "moral equivalent." Moore does employ "Minutemen," who were an elite wing of the anti-colonialist militias in revolutionary America (and long before, having fought in the French and Indian War). Once the Continental Army was consolidated under Washington's command, the Minutemen were dissolved. So I suppose that's about as close a connection you can find between Moore's usage and Hitchens's warbling about anti-Founding Father slander. But then, Hitch has long been keen on inflating quotes and enhancing them with thrills and spills to jack up his marquee value. Requirements of showbiz.

(As for the rest of Moore's quote, neither he, Hitchens, nor any other Western observer knows what the "REVOLUTION" is or is not in Iraq, given the numerous groups and militias battling for power and influence amid destruction, chaos and imperial occupation.)

Hitchens has been whacking the "moral equivalent" scarecrow for some time, which, again, is part of his cabaret act, but it doesn't make much historical sense. Comparing the Founders to the various actors in Iraq, no matter what your angle is, is akin to comparing petticoats to burkas. It might provide some abstract fun, but tells us nothing new about either era.

It's true that some militias in Iraq have been brutal to civilians, setting off car bombs in public areas, beheading hostages and all the rest. No argument there. But how did colonial/revolutionary America treat its native population? Again, no direct comparisons intended, but since Hitch brought the whole thing up . . .

I know the above won't move my old friend. On more than one occasion, Hitch freely opined to me that slaughtering the natives was a progressive action, that the Enlightenment could not abide such backward reactionaries. At first I thought he was doing his Bad 'Iddle Boy bit (which then was a part-time thing, as opposed to now), but soon I saw he was serious. He'd also smile about it. Not sure exactly what was on his mind in those moments, but watching him revel in "creative destruction" these days, I'd guess he was working on future material.