This piece for Slate isn’t particularly relevant to anything in the news right now, but I just came across it and thought it was interesting. It’s worth looking at what the late Christopher Hitchens got right and what he got wrong when assessing the Democratic presidential primary field in 2004.
He noted Kerry’s problem of trying to be all things to all people, which were still a problem when John Kerry became the party’s General Election candidate, and was labelled a flip-flopper.
John Kerry should decide whether he’s a moral hero for fighting in a futile and filthy war against the Vietnamese revolution, or for protesting against that war. Can I guess from his demeanor which of the two was his “noble cause”? No. Shouldn’t I know by now? Yes, I should, since it’s not evident at this relatively late date whether or not he’s proud of voting to remove Saddam Hussein. As with most senior Democrats, Kerry’s revolving-door record with lobbyists and donors is one to make Cheney and Bush look like amateurs: As with all Democratic primary seasons there is an agreement to forget this collectively in the interests of “change.” That’s why Lucy in “Peanuts” has become a great national character.
He liked Edwards, who turned out to be a terrible human being, utterly unfit for public office. Running for reelection in North Carolina would have been a risky prospect for Edwards, so there were advantages to giving up a promising Senate career. As Beau Biden recently said, successful politicians tend to run for reelection. The exceptions are usually worried about whether they could win. This made it much easier for Edwards to run for President again in 2008, as one of the top-tier candidates.
A couple of years ago I wrote a profile of Sen. John Edwards for Vanity Fair and decided that he is a good man who is in politics for good reasons. He voted for the essential measures on Iraq, but has also made some trenchant criticisms of the Homeland Security farce. I’d add to this that he has since—unlike Joseph Lieberman, say—given up his very promising Senate career in order to run. I leave to you the calculations about his Southern roots, his trial-lawyer connections, and all the rest of it, except to say that he earned his money from fighting large and negligent corporations rather than from fawning on them. I’m totally bored with the idea of “small town” origins, since for generations most Americans have lived either in big cities or suburbs, and it’s high time for someone to advertise himself as urbane. However, a good man can be glimpsed even through the necessary hypocrisies of election time. He has a terrific wife, as well.
Finally, I was surprised at his praise of Kucinich.
Dennis Kucinich is the sort of guy who we need in politics. He thinks long-term, and he doesn’t think that in the short or long term it pays to trade principles for compromises. That’s the attitude one wants in a president, of any party. This, however, is probably not the year for a man who basically believes in the downsizing of the United States.