Saturday, January 02, 2010
Alterman argued that now that President Clinton had sacrificed the left's position on welfare and crime -- defensible positions indeed, Alterman asserted, but hard to defend in a soundbite culture -- he had more running room for his "progressive" agenda. Furthermore, Alterman went on, it was Clinton's "progressive" proposals that had frightened Republicans and Kenneth Starr, causing them to resort to scandal-mongering extremes to stop him. In polite and swift fashion, Hitchens chopped Alterman's argument into chum. No, he replied, "What [Clinton] gave away was not his to give." The crowd signaled its approval, though many did squirm when Hitchens in his tongue- in- and- out- of- cheek fashion called for more hatred, contempt and partisanship in politics: "Politics is division by definition."
Alterman compounded his misstep when he came to Clinton's defense after Hitchens claimed the President had retained consultant/pollster Dick Morris "because of" a racist ad Morris had created for Sen. Jesse Helms. How do you know, Alterman asked, that was why Morris had been hired by Clinton? Alterman may have had a point, but Hitchens didn't have to respond, for he had positioned Alterman into sounding as if he were either a) defending or b) excusing Clinton's relationship with Morris. That did not fly on this boat.
The next seminar, "Ten Years After the Fall of the Wall: The Post Cold War World,
After Cockburn eloquently assailed "neo-liberal triumphalism" and called for grander thinking on the left in response to the pressures of global capitalism,
the conversation concentrated largely upon the remaining nuclear threat (leaking Russian nuclear subs, future Chernobyls, loose nukes, the destabilizing consequences of enlarging NATO). Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers and an arms control expert, made the case that the United States has done little to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (Only the previous week, he noted, Defense Secretary William Cohen declared that the United States still reserves the right to strike first with nuclear weapons -- a position that makes it hard for Washington to demand that other nations refrain from developing their own nuclear armaments.)
Russian expert Stephen Cohen pounded Clinton for his "mindless" commitment to Yeltsinism, maintaining that Russia is "on the verge of total political, social, economic and military collapse." He noted that there could be five or six Chernobyls and that the United States, which spends billions of dollars preparing to fight a nuclear war, needs to spend a few billion to prevent nuclear catastrophe. That makes sense, but currently Washington devotes a measly couple hundred million to the cause.