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Jewish World Review June 2, 1999 /18 Sivan 5759

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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If Hitchens is not for Podhoretz, than whom shall he be for?

(JWR) ---- (
JIM HOLT AND I have much in common. Both of us slender, wraithlike, preppie-elegant, we have often been adored by the same women over the years. But there are limits. Jim is one of the handsomest men in New York--Jim's personal beauty is not something I share. My shortcomings in this regard were made clear to me when I tried to pass for him at the Christopher Hitchens' book party given last week at Pravda. I didn't realize that yet another generation of pretty book publicists has sprung up, and like all their predecessors think of Jim as a dreamboat. You should have seen her look when I did as Jim suggested and announced myself to the woman keeping the invitation list as "Mr. Holt."

My intention was to take advantage of the astonishing thaw between the extremes of left and right that Clinton and Blair's war has wrought. So many old enemies have reconciled. We at Top Drawer are often found these days nodding in approval over our copies of The Nation and The New Statesman.

Taki has taken down the signed portrait of William Kristol that has for so many years presided over his writing-table, to replace it with a photograph of a glamorous doll looking over her right shoulder. She resembles Veronica Lake, but the photo is inscribed "To Darling Taki, with all my love, Katha Pollitt." George Szamuely, instead of circulating ukases from Margaret Thatcher, nowadays rushes up to Cambridge to confab with Noam Chomsky about how to re-establish the gulag all over eastern Europe. I didn't want to be a slacker in this enterprise.

Looking forward to Hitchens drinking me under the table, I pushed through the crowd with my vodka, and went over to get another. "Sorry, sir, one vodka each. You're welcome to buy additional drinks at the bar." Well, Top Drawer is notoriously generous, but not even the Master--Harry Evans himself--could have been as daring with an expense account as I would have had to be in order to keep up with Chris. I contented myself with plunging soberly into the crowd of embittered book editors and publishers, ready to accept their congratulations on Top Drawer's anti-war politics.

Needless to say, none were proffered. All of them pronounced themselves satisfied with the air-war-only strategy and disgusted by Chris's lovely anti-Clinton prose poem "No One Left to Lie To." They were far more vicious about Chris, of course-even though they were downing his publisher's drinks - well, drink - because he had betrayed them.

It all makes me remember that the true enemies of the New Left, when I was relatively new and quite left, were not conservatives or even fascists, but liberals - always pronounced with a sneer. William Kunstler once said that while radicals resembled cats, liberals were like dogs-eager, panting, wanting to be approved, slobbering with eagerness to be liked. Their social insecurity means that they will be the first to sacrifice reason at the altar of social approval, morality to the instincts of the herd. Hitchens acted in what we sixties radicals would called a radical not liberal fashion when he sacrificed his friendship with Sid Blumenthal to an ideal of truth.

Wonderfully, he violated one of liberalism's sacred texts, E.M. Forster's nasty remark that he hoped he would have the courage to betray his country rather than betray a friend.

So it is all the more surprising to see Hitchens, perhaps in expiation, turn nastily on another character feline rather than canine, not caring if he is loved, Norman Podhoretz. In his review of Ex-Friends in the current Harper's, Hitchens lashes out at Podhoretz again and again for exactly the vices that he would be accused of by my new friends at The Nation. But Hitchens' myopia becomes total blindness at the height of his most absurd attack-claiming that love of money turned ex-radicals like Podhoretz into conservatives. What is "neo-conservatism," Hitchens asks:

"If you take the version offered by its acolytes, you discover a group of New York Jewish intellectuals who decided that duty, honor, and country were superior, morally and mentally, to the bleeding-heart allegiances of their boy- and girl-hoods. If you take the version offered by its critics, you stumble on an old Anglo-Saxon version of the upper crust: 'A load of crumbs held together by dough.' They just might have set out to do good, but there is no question they ended up doing well."

Hitchens can't seriously believe that these men have become rich because they turned their coats (I've dined with them often enough to know, alas, that they haven't). No, I think Hitchens is re-establishing his credentials with the friends who betrayed him by condemning poor Norman Podhoretz for doing what they think he did. It is just what he describes here so snobbishly-a decision that duty and honor were values superior to friendship-that drove Hitchens, in his own words describing l'affaire Blumenthal, to make "public something that, although it was public business, could have been described as privately held." No, Hitchens himself has caught the liberal infection, wanting to be loved, like genetic scientists under Stalin proving his intellectual purity precisely by the irrationality of his arguments, laboring obscurely in the wintry white wasteland of Harper's magazine, hoping for rehabilitation.

In any case, I'm afraid my quest for esteem at Pravda was doomed to fail. The last time that liberals, radicals, and communists were polite to conservatives was during the blissful period called the Hitler-Stalin pact.

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


05/25/99: Kosovo's History Lessons 05/18/99: Faintheart
05/11/99: Is Literary Success Overrated?
05/04/99: A Better War
04/27/99: A Sahibs' War
04/21/99: The Two Bills
04/13/99: The Imp and the Ingenue
04/05/99: Col. Blimp is Alive ... and in Washington

©1999, Sam Schulman