Commentary Magazine


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Letter to a Young Conformist

These are dark days for genuine Christopher Hitchens fans. Hitchens’s very turbulent and very public life of the mind has always meant factoring disagreement with him into the price of fandom. Moreover, it’s usually a fun price to pay. Arguing with a piece of Hitchens requires the full engagement of your faculties, and you’re always better off for the dust-up. What’s depressing now is not that Hitchens is once more saying disagreeable things, but that he has become so determined not to.

His piece on Sarah Palin in Slate yesterday is most notable for the way it echoes the most wildly popular, if least fact-checked, narratives of this election. It is, of course, all about the Republican nominee’s supposed ignorance, and secrecy, and religious intolerance.

Hitchens goes into the well-worn creationist curriculum myth.

“You know, don’t be afraid of information,” as she so winningly phrased it in a gubernatorial debate. “Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.” I would like to ask her whether by this she means that creationism ought to be given equal time in science classes.

Funny that Hitchens and others with a burning desire to find out Sarah Palin’s thoughts on education have never bothered asking Barack Obama what kind of curriculum he promoted when sitting on the board of the Annenberg Challenge.

Anyway, one wonders why Hitchens wants to ask a question that was answered two years ago. Palin told the Anchorage Daily News:

“I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state’s required curriculum.

[...]

“I won’t have religion as a litmus test, or anybody’s personal opinion on evolution or creationism,” Palin said.

But then it seems Hitchens no longer takes his cues from news sources. Instead, he echoes the three-week-old “questions” of Hollywood muckrakers like Matt Damon. Hitchens asks, “How many years old does the Republican nominee for the vice presidency of the United States believe the Earth to be?”

It’s an okay question. But there is a better one: How long does the Democratic nominee for president believe the moral statute of limitations on homicide bombing should be?

Hitchens’s core complaint is that Sarah Palin has not granted a proper press conference during which she could be made to respond to these critical points. But as John Ennis points out:

If Palin wants to be spared the wrath of Hitchens, I think the location of her press conferences is more important than whether they occur. Because if the press conference isn’t in Hitchens’ living room, he ain’t going to know about it.

Palin holds press conferences with her beat writers on a somewhat frequent basis. They just happen to be occurring on the campaign trail-where Palin, the VP nominee, is, and where Hitchens, the Slate scribe, clearly is not.

Although, these days it’s hard to say exactly where Hitchens the Slate scribe has gone.