Minority Report

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, October 3, 1988 | Go to article overview

Minority Report


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


Dr. Samuel Johnson, that gruesome old Tory, never said "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." At least not in the sense attributed to him. Johnson was staunch for Church and King and wrote a stupid and sulfurous defense of Royal policy in the thirteen colonies (adding for good measure that the colonists should be "grateful for everything we give them short of hanging"). The opponents of Good King George, the Hanoverian tyrant, mustered under the banner of "John Wilkes and Liberty" and called themselves Patriots. Johnson refused to dine where any member of the Patriotic faction might be found, and had to be tricked into a social meeting with Wilkes by James Boswell. Hence the birth of the famous observation, one of the few that is known to almost all editorial writers and, inevitably, misconstrued by them.

Apart from its having been said by Johnson, and thus hallowed by a sort of tradition, the remark owes its survival and resonance to the fact that it elicits a genuine emotional recognition. There is something scoundrelly about the chauvinist and the jingoist. As a general rule, besides trying to evoke base and tribal feelings, the flag waver is also trying to change the subject. Look at the false and shifty features of G. Bush as, almost vomiting with insincerity, he reaches for the flag and for the uninspiring jingle that goes with it. That he is trying to touch the nerve of atavism is sure. But what subject is he trying to change?

I think that if I were G. Bush, I too, would weave myself a flag and try to vanish within its folds. In the latest phase of his career he has been the chief patron, financial and political, of the infiltration of foreign dictators into the American political process. While Marcos still flourished, Bush was the Philippine candidate. He was and is the Panamanian candidate. He is the candidate of the Sultan of Brunei. He was, while the murdering, torturing junta still thrived and lent a hand in the training of the contras, the Argentine candidate. He is the South African candidate. Through his backdoor lobbying for an Awacs-brokered hike in the oil price, he became the Saudi Arabian candidate. For eight years he has been the vacuously grinning doormat across which despots of every stripe have been ushered into those rooms in Washington from which the trusting electorate are excluded. So of course he goes to the trusting electorate with hand on heart and pledge on lips. Wouldn't you?

If the trusting electorate ever suspected that George Bush became the candidate of all those other dictators by being the Iranian candidate, it might take more than a swiftly woven Old Glory to save the Bush tush. So far, the national media have resolutely refused to ask Bush a single question about the 1980 "October surprise" hypothesis: the argument that the Reagan-Bush campaign made a backstairs deal with Khomeini, promising Iran arms in return for the continued humiliation of Carter on the hostage issue.

Talking of the humiliation of Carter, do you remember that he once said he lusted after other women in his heart?

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