Is Christopher Hitchens really so drunk that he believes any of us actually care? Likely not, since he’s arrogant enough to believe we just don’t get him, but either way the man frustrates me. After all, he was supposed to be a voice of the Left, one of our leaders, you know, with a Nation column and all, and yet he’s opted for the other side. He’s moved on, maybe? To tidier pastures?

Paul Wong
John Honkala

I am speaking, of course, of Hitchens’ decision to end his 20-year run as a Nation columnist. Now he’s spending his time on the pundit circuit trashing the Left for its myopic anti-war stance. And apparently his former colleagues can’t help but take it personally because they won’t stop talking about him.

Regardless of Hitchens’ motives, I am relieved that he forsook the Left. It’s what has happened in his leaving’s wake that has me down. Why all the fuss?

Since Hitchens left the Left, the cries of colleagues scorned and a polemicist soaking up the limelight have drowned out much the actual news in my media outlets. Christopher, the scorned colleagues sob, how could you? My dear friends, he answers, my epiphany proves my genius, won’t you join me? No, they shout, not for a million speaking engagements. And so on, until I am left – not alone I’d wager – wringing my stubby little hands: Who gives a flying you-know-what? Not me, that’s for sure.

The Left’s big guns are delusional if they believe the personal grudge matches that lately waste pages of The Nation and any airwave that Christopher Hitchens happens to be occupying accomplish anything. Their incestuous infighting may seem relevant to them, but to us readers they sound like children – their sneering diatribes sound more like grammatically hip playground banter than actual dialogue.

The Left is full of pompous asses who purport to champion the people, but who roll their eyes when people don’t “get” Iraq’s Kurdish situation. Hitchens is the worst of these offenders. His ideas are provocative and he, for example, has offered an important critique of the Left’s aversion to war in Iraq. But the smugness and arrogance that stains every word he says or writes renders his omnipresent cigarette and highball glass the props of a stodgy curmudgeon instead of the insightful free spirit that I wish he was.

Bitterness and an acid tongue no longer resonate with the people. Latent Lefties aren’t getting stoned and watching David Spade and Dennis Miller in their parents’ basements anymore. They’re thinking about becoming vegetarians or trying to get their 2nd-generation Buicks running. They’re worried about Spurious George’s cavalier administration and that they might not be able to buy the houses that their parents have.

So, I couldn’t be happier that Hitchens packed his scurrilous pen and left. The more Hitchenses that leave, the more room there is for liberals like Jim Hightower to represent our voices. Hightower is a pun-slinging, progressive Texan who’s never met a fight he didn’t love and joke he couldn’t make. His Rolling Thunder Democracy Tour last year brought progressives together in cities across the country for speeches and music, hotdogs and beer. This is the kind of leadership and commentary we need. Since when are the liberals the ones in the bow ties? Aren’t we the ones with the musicians on our side?

The Left hasn’t been the same since Richard Nixon – a bitter man himself -weaseled his way into the presidency. By the end of the 1960s, once enough people bought houses in the suburbs, property taxes and communism became the great concerns of the middle class. But those aren’t our issues, and we know it. Economic decline threatens the middle class more today than it ever has. The conservative revolution that prosperity begat is beginning to crumble under its own mandate as the gap between rich and poor continues to accelerate at an obscene rate and a generation begins to truly understand that it will not be more prosperous than the previous one. Comfort has bred a complacency that cannot last in in today’s economic structure.

But here we are. With an aimless Democratic Party and a handful of snooty radicals who would rather bicker about who’s leading the anti-war movement than participating in it. If Spurious George does nothing else, he inspires people. And sadly, the Left can’t seem to find an answer for him.

But the Left’s revival doesn’t – and shouldn’t – depend on a single leader. We are bigger than that. We are, to borrow a phrase, of the people. And therein lies our strength. Rather than cultivate charismatic leaders and esoteric campaign strategies, we need to return the Democratic Party to the people, infuse our bowling leagues with politics. It’s time we got fun again. The issues are too serious not to. Hotdogs and Budweiser for everyone!

John Honkala can be reached at jhonkala@umich.edu.

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