January 8, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Obama

In Slate, Hitch unloads on Obama. It's a lot of fun, but Hitchens totally misses how similar Obama is to Christopher Hitchens, Esq.

[By the way, I've discovered Obama's estranged half-brother, Mark, the Stanford physics graduate who is the son of Obama's polygamous father's other white American wife. According to the candidate's 1995 autobiography, Obama cut off ties with the one half-brother who is his intellectual equal because Mark's lack of ethnocentrism and his realism about Africa disturbed him.]

Back to Hitch, who writes:

Identity Crisis:
There's something pathetic and embarrassing about our obsession with Barack Obama's race.

To put it squarely and bluntly, is it because he is or is it because he isn't? To phrase it another way, is it because of what he says or what he doesn't say? Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is the current beneficiary of a tsunami of drool. He sometimes claims credit on behalf of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, blah blah blah, though his recent speeches appear also to claim a victory for blackness while his supporters—most especially the white ones—sob happily that at last we can have an African-American chief executive. Off to the side, snarling with barely concealed rage, are the Clinton machine-minders, who, having failed to ignite the same kind of identity excitement with an aging and resentful female, are perhaps wishing that they had made more of her errant husband having already been "our first black president."

Or perhaps not. Isn't there something pathetic and embarrassing about this emphasis on shade? And why is a man with a white mother considered to be "black," anyway? Is it for this that we fought so hard to get over Plessy v. Ferguson? Would we accept, if Obama's mother had also been Jewish, that he would therefore be the first Jewish president?

This is a a very odd thing for Christopher Hitchens to say. According to an old drinking buddy of Hitch's, he used to claim he was "the world's biggest anti-Semite," but then, Hitchens made the belated discovery that he is something like 1/8th or 1/16th Jewish through the maternal line. The famous atheist has taken to dropping in on synagogues as a gesture of ethnic solidarity and moved far in the neocon direction politically, much to the bemusement of his brother Peter Hitchens.

The simple reality is that identity politics really are important to people, including Obama and Christopher Hitchens.

The more that people claim Obama's mere identity to be a "breakthrough," the more they demonstrate that they have failed to emancipate themselves from the original categories of identity that acted as a fetter upon clear thought.

One can't exactly say that Sen. Obama himself panders to questions of skin color. One of the best chapters of his charming autobiography describes the moment when his black Republican opponent in the Illinois Senate race—Alan Keyes—accused him of possessing insufficient negritude because he wasn't the descendant of slaves! Obama's decision to be light-hearted—and perhaps light-skinned—about this was a milestone in itself.

Hitchens is referring to Obama's campaign autobiography, The Audacity of Hope (which is named after one of the sermons by Obama's spiritual advisor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.). He clearly hasn't read Obama's first autobiography, which he aptly subtitled A Story of Race and Inheritance.

Last week happened to be the week that the nation of Kenya—birthplace of Obama's father—was convulsed by a political war that contained ghastly overtones of violent and sadistic tribalism. It would sound as absurd to a Kenyan to hear praise for a black candidate as it would sound to most of my European readers to hear a recommendation of a "great white hope." A white visitor to Kenya might not be able to tell a Kikuyu from a Luo at a glance, but a Kenyan would have no such difficulty. The time is pretty much past, in our country, when a Polish-American would not vote for a candidate with a German name or when Sharks and Jets were at daggers drawn, but this is all because (to borrow from Ernest Renan's definition of a nation) people agreed to forget a lot of things as well as to remember a number of things. So, which are we doing presently?

Hitchens doesn't seem to be a aficionado of the musical -- the Sharks in West Side Story were, of course, visibly Puerto Ricans.

Sen. Obama is a congregant of a church in Chicago called Trinity United Church of Christ. I recommend that you take a brisk tour of its Web site. Run by the sort of character that the press often guardedly describes as "flamboyant"—a man calling himself the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.—this bizarre outfit describes itself as "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian" and speaks of "a chosen people" whose nature we are allowed to assume is "Afrocentric." Trinity United sells creationist books and its home page includes a graphic link to a thing called Goodsearch—the name is surmounted with a halo in its logo—which announces cheerily that "Every time you search or shop online! Our Church earns money." Much or most of what Trinity United says is harmless and boring, rather like Gov. Mike Huckabee's idiotic belief that his own success in Iowa is comparable to the "miracle" of the loaves and fishes, and the site offers a volume called Bad Girls of the Bible: Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue, which I have added to my cart, but nobody who wants to be taken seriously can possibly be associated with such a substandard and shade-oriented place.

All this easy talk about being a "uniter" and not a "divider" is piffle if people are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I have been droning on for months about how Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about the flat-out racist background of his own church, and about how Huckabee has shown in public that he does not even understand the first thing about a theory—the crucial theory of evolution by natural selection—in which he claims not to believe. Many Democrats are with me on this, but they go completely quiet when Sen. Obama chooses to give his allegiance to a crackpot church with a decidedly ethnic character.

The unspoken agreement to concede the black community to the sway of the pulpit is itself a form of racist condescension. The sickly canonization of Martin Luther King Jr. has led to a crude rewriting of history that obliterates the great black and white secularists—Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther—who actually organized the March on Washington. It has also allowed a free pass to any demagogue who can manage to get the word reverend in front of his name. The white voters who subconsciously make the allowance that black folks sure love to hear their preachers are not only patronizing their black brothers and sisters but also helping to empower white ministers or deacons who make the same pitch, from Jimmy Carter to Mike Huckabee. The Iowa caucuses of 2008 were not the end of our long national nightmare about race, but another stage in our protracted national nightmare of piety, "uplift," and deceptive optimistic windbaggery.

If Hitchens ever read Obama's real autobiography, Dreams from My Father, he'd be reassured to learn that Obama's celebrated "conversion" to Christianity at his Afrocentrist Church had much less to do with faith in Jesus Christ than in the same kind of gesture of ethnic solidarity that motivates Hitchens' visits to synagogues.

By the way, I apologize for the ridiculous profusion of typefaces, point sizes, and leading in this post. Trying to format consistently my posts is the bane of my blogging career.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


James said...

Use the HTML "blockquote".

Anonymous said...

Steve -- no worries it is content not format that matters.

Mitt does not need to apologize for anything. His father marched in civil rights marches in the 1960's. Which took guts particularly for a Republican.

Hitch does not understand the nature of Christianity and Judaism. Which is a comfort to people facing not only their OWN but loved one's mortality. One's own mortality is bad enough. But those you love? Judeo-Christian religion offers the idea that they and you will not cease to exist forever.

Hitch is also contemptuous of the brave men of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Who took up the fight against segregation particularly in the South because there was no one else organized to do it.

He's also shorting Dr. King. Dr. King came down squarely on the side of assimilation. Rejecting identity politics and separatism that have plagued blacks ever since.

Given that Dr. King had a very good idea that his fight to end segregation AND black separatism was both good for the Nation and Blacks, and likely to get him killed, he deserves his place of pride.

Even if he's too Christian for Hitch's comfort. Hitch's intellectual blind spot is that he can't acknowledge that religious people are capable of great things just like atheists.

Anonymous said...


Bret Stephens's column in Tuesday's WSJ about Obama also touches on the Kenyan chaos: "Great (American) Expectations: Barack Obama shows why foreigners consider us naive.". An excerpt:

"Barack Obama, still fresh from his victory in Iowa last week and confident of another in New Hampshire tonight, has as his signature campaign theme the promise to "end the division" in America. Notice the irony: The scale of his Iowa victory, in a state that's 94% white, is perhaps the clearest indication so far that the division Mr. Obama promises to end has largely been put to rest.

Meanwhile, in Kenya last week a mob surrounded a church in which, according to an Associated Press report, "hundreds of terrified people had taken refuge." The church was put to flame, while the mob used machetes, Hutu-style, to hack to death whoever tried to escape. The killers in this case were of the Luo tribe, their victims were of the Kikuyu, and the issue over which they are bleeding is their own presidential election.

When foreigners assail Americans for being naive, it is often on account of contrasts like these. A nation in which the poor are defined by an income level that in most countries would make them prosperous is a nation that has all but forgotten the true meaning of poverty. A nation in which obesity is largely a problem of the poor (and anorexia of the upper-middle class) does not understand the word "hunger." A nation in which the most celebrated recent cases of racism, at Duke University or in Jena, La., are wholly or mostly contrived is not a racist nation. A nation in which our "division" is defined by the vitriol of Ann Coulter or James Carville is not a truly divided one--at least while Mr. Carville is married to Republican operative Mary Matalin and Ms. Coulter is romantically linked with New York City Democrat Andrew Stein."

Anonymous said...

A group of people put to flame another group of people seeking sanctuary in a church? Oh goodness, they must be Muslims. If not, then I'm sure they are crytpo-Muslims. Such things cannot happen unless the bad guys are the muzzies.


Anonymous said...

Evil neocon is right: King was top notch. The contrast with JFK is striking. Even more striking is the retrospective sentimentalisation of JFK.

Anonymous said...

Still Hitchens is correct that white liberal columnists and reporters love to effuse about them spiritual darkies while whites who proclaim the same beliefs are regarded as semi-retarded cousin-fuckers.

Anonymous said...

More BS from Evil Neocon:

Mitt does not need to apologize for anything. His father marched in civil rights marches in the 1960's. Which took guts particularly for a Republican.

It's a fabrication, as was revealed worldwide almost a month ago.

Evil just can't help himself, can he? He "misspeaks" with almost every sentence he writes.

Nice twist about how supporting civil rights took guts particularly for a Republican. In truth, Republicans were in the forefront of the eventual passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Look at Bush the Elder's record. But in Evil Neocon's mythology, it must be that country club WASPs are the natural epitome of blue-blooded Nazis.

Here's another slice of EC BS, just at random:

He's also shorting Dr. King etc.

Here, Martin Epstein on King. Not a conservative, pro-freedom hero. But definitely a neocon hero. (The 1964 Civil Rights Act - which Ayn Rand called the worst violation of property rights in American history - was "drafted in the conference room of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism," along with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.)


the brave men of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Who took up the fight against segregation particularly in the South because there was no one else organized to do it.

Organized by the CPUSA!

Here: "[Stanley] Levison was instrumental in all the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization established by King and other Southern black preachers to further the cause of civil rights. He professionalized the fund raising of the organization and took on much of the publicity tasks, in addition to serving as King's literary agent. He was also a close adviser of King."

Evil Neocon is a truthful man: his nickname of "Neocon" is accurate. His readers should realize they are being fed the neocon slant on everything.

Anonymous said...

"Evil Neocon is a truthful man: his nickname of "Neocon" is accurate. His readers should realize they are being fed the neocon slant on everything."

David, now you have me worried that there must be something terribly wrong with Romney b/c EN is such an avid supporter. I mean he's even making Mitt out to be the son of a civil rights hero. I figured Romney to be the least hawkish in the field of neocons and neosocialists campaigning as Republicans but maybe I'm missing something.

Get your own candidate, Evil! Romney's spoken for. : p

Anonymous said...


Two words.




Anonymous said...

Yes, David, I remember Ron Paul. He goes too far in his abrupt withdrawal from Iraq approach. I know everyone left is pretty much committed to neocon principles but I'm looking for a lesser evil neocon who might be willing to push for American interests with free trade and halt illegal immigration. Paul has interesting ideas but he's not electable and, like I said, I disagree with his Iraq strategy.

[Redacted] said...

Glad to see someone else found Hitchens' column on Obama's race and religion offensive. I imagine that the lack of other blog responses correlates to his declining influence, but who knows.

Excerpt from my blog:

"Speaking of Obama, Christopher Hitchens has written yet another bizarre column that begs the question: "Why on Earth is this guy being paid to write about American politics?!" Not only does Hitchens claim that Obama should not be considered black, but he also seems to have a problem with the fact that the Obamas attend a predominantly black church. Of course, the fact that they go to church at all probably offends Hitchens, in and of itself. But aside from Hitchens' atheist fundamentalism, does he really not understand why it is notable that the United States has its first black front-runner? Hitchens asks "why is a man with a white mother considered to be 'black,' anyway?" Is he really completely unaware of the fact that millions of biracial people were the victims of legally-sanctioned discrimination as "blacks" over most of the course of American history? If we were living in a vacuum where the past was completely irrelevant, maybe Hitchens would have a point; since we aren't, one has to wonder how a major columnist has such a deaf ear to the historical context."

Steve Sailer said...

I think you kind of missed the point, Thad, which is that Hitchens, a notoriously psychologically unbalanced individual traumatized by a family ethnic background that strikes more stable people (such as his brother Peter) as perfectly non-traumatizing, resembles Obama. (Indeed, Obama's half-brother Mark is kind of like Peter Hitchens.)

By the commutative property, that means a potential President of the United State is a lot like Christopher Hitchens, which is a scary thought, indeed.