Christopher Hitchens’ No One Left To Lie To

No One Left To Lie ToI am, and will remain, a lifelong fan of Christopher Hitchens. His wit, his charisma and his commitment to the dialectic were inspirational to me, at a time when inspiration was badly needed, and choice quotations and speeches he gave, preserved forever on YouTube, still lend me courage and resolve. But the greater part of his career, spent covering politics foreign and domestic, is still largely inaccessible to me. I have read Arguably, his collected journalism, and every second essay was a painful reminder of my ignorance – of the history of the Middle East, US foreign policy, the Soviet Union; the list is endless. This is ok: daily discovering the extent of your own ignorance is the price paid by anyone seeking to live a life of the mind. But it makes it difficult to evaluate arguments or political stances, and so it was with some hesitation that I picked up No One Left To Lie To: The Triangulations Of William Jefferson Clinton. I was a child when Clinton was elected and a child when he finished his second term, and though I have some vague memories of the slick-talking Southerner in the White House, what little I do know of that time is second-hand knowledge, and incomplete at that.

With that caveat being registered, I enjoyed reading Hitchens’ trademark venom directed at a human target. Clinton may not be God, but he’s as widely-revered a political figure as America has, his star having reached its apogee in 2012, after his speech at the Democratic National Convention. That 45-minute performance had all of the hollow charm, cheap pandering and ingratiating wit for which he is famous, and it was incredible to watch the man whose housing policies as president were perhaps the primary cause of the 2008 financial crisis so effortlessly unburden himself of that responsibility and foist it on his successor.

This book’s central thesis is that, as a president, Bill Clinton had only one principle, and that was to expand his power at all costs. His “triangulation” was a gambit by which he made promises to the Left but delivered to the Right. Here he quotes conservative David Frum:

He [Clinton] has assuaged the Left by continually proposing bold new programs – the expansion of Medicare to 55 year-olds, a national day-care program, the reversal of welfare reform, the hooking up to the Internet of every classroom, and now the socialization of the means of production via Social Security. And he has placated the Right by dropping every one of these programs as soon as he proposed it. Clinton makes speeches, Rubin and Greenspan make policy; the Left gets words, the Right gets deeds; and everybody is content.

To these charges Hitchens adds Clinton’s betrayal of the gay community, who overwhelmingly supported him, with the institution of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military and his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, “a straight piece of gaybaiting demagogy and opportunism.”

What most strikes me about this book, however, are its least controversial charges, the ones that were proven true before Hitchens took up his pen. First is Clinton’s notorious womanizing, which is in fact too soft a term for the almost pathological philandering that he was notorious for. Indeed, there are, in Hitchens’ view, a handful of credible reports that he raped those women who would not submit to his charm, and it is disturbing to read their stories and how viciously they were denounced and discredited by the “progressive” left, eager to protect their man at any cost. One of the revelations of this book was that Monica Lewinsky wrote to Christopher directly, to thank him for his support of her, and though he would not live to see it, she recently wrote an article for Vanity Fair in which she denounced those feminists, supposed champions of women’s rights, who were so quick to portray her as a lovelorn stalker. In Hitchens’ words, “At all times, Clinton’s retreat from egalitarian or even from ‘progressive’ positions has been hedged by a bodyguard of political correctness.”

But the greatest revelation to me was how cavalierly and consistently he lied – to his wife, to congress, to the American people. Truly, a man who can equivocate about the meaning of the word “is” cannot be trusted, but trust him we did and continue to do. This book, if it contained nothing else, would still be worth reading for the laundry list of lies he has been caught in. And despite all this, Clinton had the highest presidential approval rating of any president since Reagan. I am still trying to decide if that reflects poorly on the voting public or their candidates.