Suppose a brilliant physicist were asked onto a popular comedy TV show to explain the theory of quantum physics in less than a minute while constantly being interrupted by gibes and hornblasts from the wise guy host.
For the past two months the columnist Christopher Hitchens has endured similar ordeals in guest appearances on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, Al Franken's Air America show, and other leftist political-comedy shows. Granted, defending the Iraq War policy is not as complex and tedious as explaining quantum physics, and granted Hitchens brings it on himself. No one is forcing him onto The Daily Show, but the lure of a national audience (Jon Stewart's audience: 1.4 million. Charlie Rose's audience: an insomniac in Fargo and his cat) is irresistible and Hitchens's real purpose is, after all, to hawk his latest book.
Nothing wrong with that. A freelance journalist, even the best, still makes beans.
But more than any Bush administration official, more than any Republican talking head, more than W. himself, Christopher Hitchens has been making a credible, practical, and important case for taking out Saddam. And the odds are stacked in the anti-war left's favor. The Cindy Sheehans and Jane Fondas have only to scream and chant a few vacuous platitudes or nursery rhymes for the evening news ("Wrong war, wrong time!"), then sit back and snicker as the regime-changers fumble to present the facts, explain the reasoning, the history, the threat, and the benefits to world peace and global stability of a democratic Iraq.
For the left, it is literally that easy. One does not need logic, facts, or an encyclopedic knowledge of world history to get his message out -- only shallow emotions, simplistic arguments and puerile chants like "Bush lied, people died!" (The irony is that many of these anti-war protesters are underclassmen or graduates of the supposedly elite universities where students were once taught to eschew simplistic arguments.)
Another scenario: You are a scientist and proponent of Intelligent Design invited onto a comedy show to hawk your new book. The minute you plop down on the sofa the host wags a finger in your face and says, "Tell me why I'm wrong [about Evolution]!" You begin with the fact that evolution too is only a theory, the same as ID, but the host cuts you off. "Gravity is just a theory too! You're going to compare that to Intelligent Design?" The audience applauds and hoots. You have 20 seconds left. You shrug. What's the point? "Can we get to my book?" "Not yet," says the host. "You still have 15 seconds to convince the world that you're not a complete and total fraud."
I'VE NOW SEEN THE video of Hitchens's appearance on The Daily Show several times, and the former Trotskyite turned neo-conservative actually did himself proud in the beginning. "Tell me why I'm wrong?" said the host. So the mumbly Hitchens laid out the Four Criteria which must be met before the International Community is Morally Obligated to Remove a Dictator from Power -- call it the "Hitchens Doctrine:"
* Iraq had invaded its neighbors
* Iraq had committed genocide on its own soil
* Iraq had harbored and nurtured international thugs and killers
* And Iraq had flouted every provision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
So we went in and removed a fascist dictator with nuclear ambitions from power. Bad, Bad, America!
That, however, wasn't enough for America's favorite late-night jester. That's all? Pfaw! That's nothing. North Korea is worse. Why don't we invade them? And Saudi Arabia? And, and Iran... Would anyone be surprised to hear that that was Stewart's reaction to the Rwandan genocide and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia?
If Hitchens is going to be the comedy shows' go-to guy when it comes to making the case for the removal of Saddam Hussein he will need an all-purpose 30-second retort. One that will not presume to make the real case for war (that would take hours to be done effectively, along with an audience possessing a combined three-digit IQ), but one that shows Bush at least believes in a few permanent moral values in a society based more and more on moral relativism.
Hitchens might pick up the old interviewing dodge of never answering a loaded question except with another loaded question. Sadly that's the only way to come out of these comedy interviews not smelling like a wet dog. Hitchens might begin by throwing the question back at the host: Why are we in Iraq? It seems to me we should be asking why aren't all the Western democracies in Iraq? Before the invasion the West had a simple choice to make: an Iraq under a dictator who attacked Israel in 1973, Iran in 1980, and Kuwait a decade later, while simultaneously gassing his own Kurdish population and butchering Iraqi Shiites, then tried to get his grubby hands on nuclear weapons while promoting terrorism across the region. The alternative was an Iraq with a freely elected democratic government that will no longer be a danger to anyone but the Democrats in the 2008 primary.
"Now, then, about my book."
Given time and a serious setting, Hitchens still makes the case for Saddam's removal better than anyone. It is not a task he has sought out, but since he still carries some cachet with the media from his days as a Trotskyite, and since the Bush team seems not up to the task, Hitchens takes on the cause with relish. On Sept. 14, Hitchens will appear in a debate with British MP and Islamo-fascist apologist George Galloway. The smart money is on Hitchens giving Gorgeous George a good spanking.
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