Tag Archives: Brian Lamb

Is partisan politics bad?

Criminy, but Hitchens is brilliant, of course, but how did he become so at such a young age?  Here, on C-SPAN from 1990, he, Brian, and Richard Critchfield discuss America and Britain after their recently-published and topical books.

One awesome point by Hitchens reminds me of a view about political parties that was discussed in one of my mid-1970s Political Science classes.  The view was that a two-party system was effective at assisting voting choices among the public and that consistently voting along party lines was not a bad thing.  The alternate view is the one championed on the streets in the U.S., and it is safe to say that we were all fed the same pablum notion (if from the press rather than from our parents) that “voting for the man” or “voting for the man, not the Party” was a virtue, and that voting along Party lines meant you were a simpleton, a lemming.

I grew up in a family where anything other than straight ticket voting was unthinkable, not merely out of loyalty, but more from the knowledge that your Party really was the one whose decisions, day-in-day-out, were most aligned with your views.  This had been the orientation for several generations.  Through all the Party twists and turns, adjustments and realignments.  But then came the 50s, followed by the 60s.  With somehow, the Democrats landing on the side of freedom, freedom of expression, freedom from the tyranny of “one-right-thinking”.  In my view.

My grandfather was a Republican of the old cloth.  The Party opposed to slavery.  Simplistic, yes, but generally true.  And the converse, about the Democratic Party, is also, and as generally, true.  My grandfather, a State Senator in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (tell me again why they call them State Senators if Kentucky is a Commonwealth?) and the southeastern corner of the Commonwealth, in particular, for around 30 years, brought roads into that holy corner, sponsored legislation for free textbooks so that all children had access to education, and supported much other legislation that helped the common man, the heretofore uneducated or their children.

But somewhere (my job isn’t to know all the facts about how, but if you are, feel FREE to school me in the comments because I know I need to learn it), the Parties shifted, and my little corner of my Grandfather’s blood legacy finds itself at home today in the Democratic Party.  I myself, as I love to hear Hitchens say, find it insulting to be considered that far right.  I find it amusing to think that it is extreme to want corporations so radically transformed that it will require generations to redesign a smooth system.  But that’s just me.  Smile.

Chances are, if my brilliant father were alive, he could explain to me why he was still a Republican, much in the same way that I can follow Hitchens’ logic about the war on Iraq, and understand that he might be onto something, although I may not agree.  Maybe Dad could explain to me why his Republicanism was an approach that could work.  But since there’s no Republican alive with the mental faculties of my deceased father, I’m afraid I’m doomed to die unable to hear across that ethical divide.

I’m not sure that I would be up to the task of communicating to my father, in the same way, about why the Democratic Party of today best represents the values of my Grandfather.  I think if I skip past my father, however, to my grandfather, or even to my grandfather’s father, I think I might more easily converse and would find a Republican who understood why I was a Democrat and would, if living today, switch Parties.

So, to the original point, that we have been fed this line that voting straight ticket is bad, and voting-for-the-man is good.  Here’s what I think: someone likes the Party lines to be less than clear, to keep us confused, so that we really never quite know what we’re getting on Election Day, so that we’re not sure if it weren’t our fault when certain policies are championed by our chosen, so that maybe next Election Day, we won’t be that motivated to vote, because it didn’t work out so well the last time.  You know what I mean.

Remind me.  What’s wrong with having Parties with clear principles stated clearly?

I still remember that day in Poli Sci, when I first heard the concept that Party Politics is a useful tool.  And find myself this morning hearing Hitchens speak to that topic, in the context of a comparative of the UK and USA, in his casual, youthful elegance.

Loaded by onto YouTube by The Film Archive.  The transcription beneath the video begins at 7:55, but as, usual, I recommend listening to all and then going to the Film Archive to watch the entire program.

What I think I most miss by living here – and I agree with the lady that the British committee system is no good and the American hearings are a lot better – is simply the idea of the word “partisan.”  I can’t stand the fact that in American political discussion, the word “bipartisan” is used to mean automatically very good, everyone trying to agree, everyone wanting to think and say the same thing, and that one of the worst things you can say of somebody is, they’re taking a partisan view, as if, if we go on like this, before we know where we are, we’ll have two parties.  In other words, a one-party state mentality enforced in a sort of consensus talk and babble. . .

          –  Christopher Hitchens

From a hanger-on Part II

Detail from the cover of Hitch-22, taken from Salon.com

Yes, the party without Christopher Hitchens is clearly far less interesting, and even though there is, equally as clearly, nothing we can do to fill that hole, I find myself among the cadre – a rather larger cadre than Hitchens might have expected – of folks reading and watching all the Hitch we can get our eyes on.

In one of my recent sessions with Hitch, I watched Brian Lamb, in a 1992 Q&A episode with Hitchens and John Fund, hold up, in typical Q&A fashion, a headline.  You know, where Lamb holds up and the camera zooms in on a newspaper or periodical headline.  I especially like those zooms.  Starting at a point where only Superman could read the text, and then flying in to the point where we mere mortals see the topic come into visual focus.  Where, although we don’t yet know Lamb’s question, we know, because we can see in print, its context.

There are several things, really delicious things, going on with the observer right at that moment.  In rapider-fire succession than I can conceive, there is the visual focus moment followed by the one where the eyes and thinking brain connect.  The moment where one becomes aware that the “engage” button in the brain has been depressed.  Cool moment that is.

Could it get any better?  Well, yes, because that moment is followed by Lamb’s asking of the question, and then the next, where we mortals take a last anticipatory inhale as we watch Hitch begin to formulate his answer.

————————————————————————————

I think the thing, or one thing, we Hitchens admirers have in common, is finding that “engage” button’s being depressed every time and all of the time that we spent with Hitchens.  Whether in person (I never experienced that), on-screen, on audio, or in print.  And loving it.

But I see now that he’s gone, and at no inconsiderable risk that this will sound like if not turn into a what-I-learned-from-Hitch piece, that I must generate more “engage” moments now.  On my own.  This what appears to be an all-of-a-sudden need to think probably doesn’t apply to all of you or maybe even many of you.  You think more than I do.  But since I am more than a bit of a couch potato and likely to be counted on the lowest rung of the Hitchens Admirers ladder, I haven’t exactly had it, that is, my engage, on.

Resources for engagement:

  • Public library.  I checked out the Thomas Paine book from the library just before Christmas (and confess to missing the beautiful old wooden card catalog).
  • Magazine subscriptions.  I now have a subscription to Harper’s for one year, during which time I will have access to the current year’s and archives of all previously published work, including all of Hitchens.  The same appears to hold true for archives of articles in The Nation.  Although the Hitchens articles in Vanity Fair appear to be available online, I can’t tell whether the online and print versions are a layover.  Slate offers up its collection of his articles.  I do not know how complete a collection it is.  Richard Lea at The Guardian has already highlighted the online written Hitchens, so please look there before you consider your search complete.
  • The blog The Film Archive.  Whatever else it does (I have barely scratched its surface), it captures in the 10-minute segments common for, if not required by, YouTube, the episodes, laid out back-to-back, of Hitchens being interviewed on C-SPAN and elsewhere, including the January 12, 1992 Q&A segment with Hitchens and John Fund; and
  • C-SPAN online archive of sessions with Hitch, including his last Q&A with Brian Lamb made nearly twenty years to the day after the one last referenced.

So, as I compile my Hitchens and other engagement sources, I want to express my appreciation to everyone responsible for access to his work and to everyone in Hitchens’ life.

I’ve got lots of reading to.  But don’t get the impression that I expect to become “anything like” truly well-read any time soon.  Or ever.  What I’d still prefer is reading enough to have an inkling of what Hitch is pointing to as he talks, sitting in perfect couch potato position, and listening to him.

Oh, how I wish I could write an article like the one behind this photo. Photo: Christopher Cox