An Open Letter to Gore Vidal

Why are you defending the Clintons, corporate America's love slaves?


Christopher Hitchens
October 20, 1998 11:00PM (UTC)

I-->I cannot understand why you are taking the side of the Clintons in their struggle to stay in the White House. Last week, you suggested that I put our disagreement into the epistolary form, so here it is.

After eight years of Reagan and four years of Bush, a "New Democrat" arose to say, not that the Republicans have moved the country too far to the right, but that the Democratic Party is too much identified with the New Deal! No skill in theorem was necessary, in 1992, to see that a vote for Clinton was a vote to confirm the rightward shift. (On two crucial matters of foreign policy, namely Cuba and Israel, Clinton actually ran against Bush from the right. And by saying that his objective was "to end welfare as we know it," he located the problem in the morals of the underclass rather than in the conduct of the overclass.) I apologize for starting with such an obvious point; obvious enough, I should have thought, to anyone who -- like you -- supported Jerry Brown at the time.

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A windy promise of universal health care was tacked onto Clinton's program at a late stage, when it became plain that the issue had "resonance." And a lame attempt was made to keep the promise after the election was done. Some say that the Clintons abandoned their health-care program at the first sign of a fight. (Did they perhaps imagine that the insurance industry and the American Medical Association would wave a national health plan generously through the door?) But that is to say the least of it. In fact, the main betrayal had already taken place, with the exclusion of the single-payer option for consideration. Yet you describe the present scandal as a sort of revenge by fat-cat America for the first lady's Jacobinism in regard to the health industry. In reality, patients, nurses and physicians are now all in the corral of the HMOs -- who can scarcely believe their luck -- and the general health picture is appreciably worse than it was before 1992.

The Paula Jones case -- hinge or kernel of any possible conspiracy -- began when Jones read the only sentence in the American Spectator that contained evidence exculpatory of Clinton. One of the Arkansas state troopers was quoted as saying that "Paula" gave him the impression that she quite fancied the governor. That was too much for her, and she resorted to law. And from this acorn has sprung a whole shady oak of the Starr inquiry. I can't myself imagine the ingenuity that would have been necessary to arrange such a provocation. So I take the simpler explanation, which is that Clinton's famous sleazy attitude toward female subordinates would have landed him in trouble sooner or later. His economical attitude to the truth was equally likely to have compounded same. What I mean to say is that he is the sole author of his present difficulties: in other words that it's all his fault. And you are shocked -- shocked -- that his political foes seek to take advantage. I'm only glad that you didn't write about the glories of Camelot in this style. Even if Starr was now to be impeached, imprisoned or found dead in bed with a male prostitute (I think you have only recommended the first of these), we would still know what we know, and the law would be taking its course.

In point of fact, the Clintons have approached corporate America in the posture of love-slaves. This by the way is the same posture in which they have approached the national-security state and the military-industrial combines. A glance at the campaign finance scandal will bear me out on this: Seldom if ever has the revolving door whirred so efficiently between donations made and favors returned. The rest of "the economy" has been entrusted to the Lloyd Bentsens, Alan Greenspans and Robert Rubins of the scene, with results that may yet prove illuminating and even instructive.

Have you noticed the sudden liberal objection to an investigator "with unlimited powers"? How do you stand on future investigations of delinquent presidents of corrupt administrations? Ought these probes to be conducted by prosecutors with "limited powers," who know just when to stop? Are you touched by the new "bipartisanship" that united both leaderships against the Independent Counsel Act?

I have been droning on in Salon and elsewhere about the reckless and sordid cruise missile attacks on the Sudan. It seems now incontrovertible that the president ordered a strike on a civilian target, heedless of international law or of the canons of diplomacy, because he needed a diversion from his self-inflicted humiliations. Perhaps you have read Seymour Hersh's article in the Oct. 12 New Yorker, which pitilessly fills in any remaining blanks in this argument. I call your attention especially to the section beginning on Page 37. It was the FBI that provided the evidence leading to the arrest of Bin-Laden's underlings, but the FBI -- with vulnerable agents, including its director Louis Freeh, in the field -- was as surprised as the Sudanese peasantry by the cruise missile attack. To quote Hersh: "Relations between the White House and the bureau worsened over the summer, when a Republican senator made public sections of a letter from Freeh accusing Attorney General Janet Reno of misreading the law by not seeking an independent counsel to investigate the Clinton reelection campaign's fund-raising practices in 1996. Freeh and many of his top aides believe that the FBI was excluded from White House deliberations on military retaliation because Clinton questions his political loyalty" (italics mine). This reads like a dispatch from some sweltering banana republic, where the moods and needs of The Leader are everybody's problem. Please advise.

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I am confining myself to the areas that are touched by the elements of "scandal" in this administration, and to the defenses put up by you. I haven't the space to deal with the coddling of Yeltsin and Suharto, or the U.S. votes against the land-mine treaty and the war-crimes court, or the contempt shown for the United Nations. Nor can I meet the delicious argument that Clinton is in trouble because of his stoic negritude and excessive tenderness for black America. (Perhaps because I remember Ricky Ray Rector, the brain-damaged African-American death-row inmate executed during the 1992 campaign -- an execution then-Gov. Clinton returned home to preside over.) If the forces of reaction are clever enough to lure an innocent Clinton into workplace fornication and on-the-job perjury, there's probably no stopping them. But if they believe that he is the sworn enemy of the ruling class, they must be so stupid as to be negligible. I see no hidden prong on the fork I've just described. Do you?


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, the Nation and Salon News.

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