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Christopher Hitchens’ Example to America

If Americans are saddened by Hitchens’ illness, it’s not only because he has cancer. It’s because one of the few journalists in the country still able and willing to cross the political divide has cancer.

by
Brendan Bernhard

Bio

August 26, 2010 - 12:03 am
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No doubt there is a quality of slipperiness and evasion in Hitchens, both as a person and as a writer, that has recently made him suited to the role of the man who talks to one and all, right, left, and center. (And if there is someone he won’t actually talk to in the normal sense, then he’ll publicly debate them.) It’s an odd paradox that such a deeply politicized man, moreover one known for his vituperative and sometimes nasty wit, may be the only pundit remaining who seems willing to put political differences aside even while talking politics. One day he’s on assignment in Lebanon with a patriotic war blogger like PJM’s own Michael Totten, the next day he’s with a swank liberal Manhattanite like Graydon Carter in the designer suites of Condé Nast.

Admittedly, there are other journalists, writers, and pundits who would surely be eager to talk to more varied audiences. But for the most part, they simply aren’t invited. (Or if they are, they’re heckled and booed — especially by the left — the sort of behavior Hitchens once engaged in himself, as he admits in his memoir.) Hitchens has managed to escape this trap, in part because of his foreignness, personal charm, and obvious brilliance, but also because even if the left has disavowed him on some issues, it still values his views on others. Thus he has been inoculated from all-out assault. Other journalists — Mark Steyn would be a good example — are not so fortunate.

Time may well prove Hitchens overrated as a writer, but that’s true of almost everyone who makes a living with a pen. (And he does in fact still write with a pen.) In the here and now, it is “Hitch” — a man who loves argument for argument’s sake — who has reminded Americans that they used to be much more open to each others’ opinions, and more willing to forgive or reason with those they disagreed with, than they are today. In an odd twist, he seems to have become more American as Americans themselves have become less so. Those who rue this state of affairs are among those who most regret his current difficulties.

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Brendan Bernhard is a contributing editor to the New York Sun, where he was the television critic from 2006-08, and a former staff writer at LA Weekly. He writes about culture, politics, and sports, and is the author of White Muslim (Melville House), a study of converts to Islam in the West.
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