The problem with pundits is that it almost doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, provided that they have a forceful personality and can put on a show. The news keeps cycling, its white noise drowning the wrong-headed shouts that should have been embarrassing, that should have carried consequences. In a new GQ postmortem, Michael Wolff points out that despite popular opinion, Christopher Hitchens was just as much of a toolbox as he is. An excerpt:
“This transformation from political irregular and zealous polemicist to towering moral figure was curious, if not amazing, to many people (perhaps all of us) whose careers had intersected with his. How did the character actor become a leading man? How did the fool become a sage? And what about the bad stuff? Not just his full-throttled embrace of the Bush war but, before that, his casual and convenient betrayal of his friend, Hillary Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, back in the Monica Lewinsky days. Or his take on Bill Clinton, as virulent as that of the most kooky right-wingers. Or his weirdly tolerant relationship with some of the era’s most infamous Holocaust deniers. These are the kind of epochal contretemps that, in the chattering class, usually make for deep enmity rather than enduring love.
Then, too, this sui generis British figure, full of British class issues, British political hair-splitting, British literary conceits, and plummy accent to boot, became, in his transmutation, a super-American – a gunslinger journalist.
What was the nature of Hitchens’ alchemy?
He was, self-styled, a writer engaged with his time, a bookish man called to join the day’s great and bloody battles of conscience. But really his issues were largely of another era: internecine squabbles on the left; a Cold War attention to the world’s geo-sectarian divisions; God’s existence… or not. He never much grappled with technology, or money, or media, or the developing world’s rising middle class – influences that, surely, were remaking the world a lot faster and a lot more profoundly than his long- time preoccupations.
He saw himself as a Sixties guy, even making the case that he was a significant figure in the tumultuous period from 1966 to 1968: ‘I did my stuff in helping my American comrades discredit first President Johnson and then President Nixon.’ Although, in fact, he was still a teenager in 1968. (‘If you remember the Sixties,’ in Robin Williams’ famous formulation, ‘you weren’t there.’) His was a nostalgic show.”