Sunday, November 29, 2015

No One Left to Lie To by Christopher Hitchens (Book Review #92 of 2015)

No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton
Hitchens' work is probably the first I would give someone asking "why should I be concerned about another Clinton presidency?" or someone who espouses Clinton as one of our greatest Presidents. Presidents always see approval ratings rise after they leave office and the cognitive dissonance is amazing. Hitchens writes his book not as part of the "vast, right-wing conspiracy" but an aggrieved liberal living in Washington, D.C. and being friends with many connected to the Administration, with the added perspective of being a naturalized citizen and having traveled the world. Hitchens does not hide his friends, being critical of people like Sydney Blumenthal for being in the tank.

Hitchens' razor wit and ability to cut through the Clinton spin and get to the facts is amazing. As an atheist, it's not clear to me what basis he makes his moral judgments and outrage about the Clintons. If there is no ultimate authority of right or wrong, who is he to decide that their behavior is, in fact, unethical, and not just in his own opinion? I suppose one could say that he is writing given the laws we have on the books; those should therefore be enforced. To avoid confusion, I will therefore leave his atheism aside.

His commentary on the current political campaign is sorely missed. In 1999, Hitchens wrote that Hillary was a "a tyrant, a bully, and a lie."  Judging from this Slate piece on Hillary Clinton's first presidential campaign, Hitchens would be alarmed at how quickly HRC is able to either deflect or rewrite history and would be voting for Bernie Sanders. Hitch wrote this for Slate in 2008:

"Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut. Of course, against all these considerations you might prefer the newly fashionable and more media-weighty notion that if you don't show her enough appreciation, and after all she's done for us, she may cry."

Hitchens is critical of the media's inability of unwillingness to call HRC's lies for what they are. The media was slow to fact-check Hillary's claim to have being named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was likely actually unknown to her mother as it was years before he had climbed Mt. Everest. But HRC's claim was, years later, still being used by the Clinton campaign to create a narrative about her character formation. Revelations of Pakistanis and others contributing to Hillary's US Senate campaign were also coming to light as Hitchen's book went to press.

Not long ago, I finished Clinton, Inc. and Clinton Cash both of which were published recently. I would rate Clinton, inc. a little lower after reading Hitchens' work as it mainly expands on the weaknesses and shenanigans that Hitchens describes. While the book has been ignored as right-wing screed, Hitch is much more critical of Bill Clinton than anything Fox News would dare to air. Clinton Cash would have Hitchens' approval for following the money and influence of the Clintons post-White House, and I recommend it as a follow-up to Hitch's work. He would surely be critical of both works as not going far enough.

Hitchens is most critical of Bill Clinton as a champion of liberal (ie: left) ideals but in reality a traitor to them. Hitchens fact-checks the Clinton campaign's claims of being champions of civil rights in Arkansas, noting that some of Clintons' claims about standing up to bigots as a child were highly unlikely. Arkansas was the only state left without a civil rights statute after Clinton left office, something he never proposed. It's well-remembered that Clinton got the Democratic nomination even after skipping New Hampshire, but less-remembered why. He had fallen in the polls after the Gennifer Flowers revelations and flew back to Arkansas to sign off on the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, an African-American convict who was brain-damaged due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Hitchens notes that while Clinton is remembered by some as the "first black President," he "played the race card both ways" in his "Southern strategy" to win the Democratic nomination, appealing to the conservative Dixiecrat voting block.

The author has a strong criticism of Clintonian welfare reform, for which Hitchens predicts a disastrous result of throwing large amounts of minorities off of public assistance from his 1999 standpoint that did not actually happen. Hitchens cites Dick Morris' quotes of Hillary's dismissal of "our little friends" the White House was willing to sacrifice in their process of "triangulation" to develop centrist policies that actually favored Republicans. Interestingly, future Bush speechwriter and conservative columnist David Frum is quoted at the time as noting that Clinton was garnering great popularity by championing and then co-opting Republican strategies such as welfare reform and financial deregulation. Hitch painfully notes that the Democratic establishment was far too eager to go along with Clinton, who after all was elected along with a Democratic Congress and Senate through which he could have passed a number of liberal policies but chose not to.

Hitchens reminds us that insurance companies helped craft the Clinton healthcare plan, while Hillary sold the plan as being opposed by the insurers. Republicans today would likely rather have the Clinton plan than the Affordable Care Act, but both moves created easy targets of government overreach even as they incorporated Republican ideas. "The era of big government is over" was patently false as Hitchens notes the draft-dodging President went against his Joint Chiefs in enlarging NATO and signing off on billions of pork barrel defense contracts. Mandatory sentencing, expanded police laws (which Clinton now regrets), roving wiretaps, CIA expansion, are all Republican domains that Clinton expanded.

The biggest enemy in the Clinton camp is Dick Morris, who existed for a long time via codename and not as an official adviser. Hitchens relies heavily on quotes from Morris himself as well as George Stephanopolous who claimed that "For a while, Dick Morris was the real President." It's Morris' triangulation that causes Hitchens so much angst. But liberal intellectuals who fend for Clinton, like Gore Vidal and Arthur Miller, also earn Hitchens' ire.

The most damning evidence against the Clintons was the Wag the Dog of bombing Iraq and the bogus bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan.
As the NY Times reported: "the evidence that prompted President Clinton to order the missile strike on the Shifa plant was not as solid as first portrayed. Indeed, officials later said that there was no proof that the plant had been manufacturing or storing nerve gas, as initially suspected by the Americans, or had been linked to Osama bin Laden, who was a resident of Khartoum in the 1980s."
Hitchens and others' investigation of the Al-Shifa pharmacy bombing was that it never contained chemical munitions, and had no connections to terrorism. Hence, its owner sued the US government for damages. Hitchens writes that the Joint Chiefs and FBI Director Louis Freeh (who had agents in the region doing real terrorism investigations) were kept in the dark on the raid, and the CIA opposed it. Clinton had permission from the UN Security Council to strike Iraq but canceled the operation until months later when impeachment proceedings began. Hitchens bemoans both Clinton's eagerness to kill to save his own face as well as his wanton obstruction of justice. (All the evidence is laid out in the book, I'm just summarizing here.)

Like Clinton, Inc. Hitchens documents the history of retribution against people like Kathleen Willey who made accusations against Clinton. Hitchens writes that he is one of the few in the media who did not suffer attack dogs, despite giving a deposition in the Starr investigation. Hitchens uncovers the story of an anonymous woman who claimed to be raped by a younger Clinton, whose story was known to a few friends and corroborates with the stories of others like Juanita Broaddrick. The chapter "Is there a rapist in the White House?" is quite an uncomfortable read. Hitchens blasts Al Gore as being spineless in calling Clinton out for his character.

Hitchens takes it easy on the "monotheists" who were so critical of Clinton during his presidency, but notes that Ralph Reed and others attacked Clinton for the wrong things. The greatest charge in the impeachment trial, for example, was Abuse of Power. Conservatives were guilty of their own mismanagement and generally frustrated that Clinton had co-opted so many of their own causes (welfare reform, etc.). Liberals, thinks Hitchens, should have known better.

I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5 for its rapier wit, succinctness, and appeal to truth and reason. Read it and be the judge yourself.

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