|Scanlan's Monthly cover by Ralph Steadman of Richard Nixon getting punched|
I will punch that sacred cow. Yet the establishment wont. Glenn Greenwald calls this The Protocol For Public Figure Deaths. A convention and etiquette that outlaws honest criticism and imposes a vow of silence. In his obituary for Christopher Hitchens, Glenn Greenwald criticised both the convention of non-criticism and Hitchens himself, saying here:
"The death this week of Christopher Hitchens and the remarkably undiluted, intense praise lavished on him by media discussions... Hitchens was an extremely controversial, polarizing figure. And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writings but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent.
Subordinating his brave and intellectually rigorous defense of atheism, Hitchens’ glee over violence, bloodshed, and perpetual war dominated the last decade of his life. Dennis Perrin, a friend and former protégée of Hitchens, described all the way back in 2003 how Hitchens’ virtues as a writer and thinker were fully swamped by his pulsating excitement over war and the Bush/Cheney imperial agenda:
I can barely read him anymore. His pieces in the Brit tabloid The Mirror and in Slate are a mishmash of imperial justifications and plain bombast; the old elegant style is dead. His TV appearances show a smug, nasty scold with little tolerance for those who disagree with him. He looks more and more like a Ralph Steadman sketch. And in addition to all this, he’s now revising what he said during the buildup to the Iraq war."
"Nobody should have to silently watch someone with this history be converted into some sort of universally beloved literary saint. To enshrine him as worthy of unalloyed admiration is to insist that these actions were either themselves commendable or, at worst, insignificant. Nobody who writes about politics for decades will be entirely free of serious error, but how serious the error is, whether it reflects on their character, and whether they came to regret it, are all vital parts of honestly describing and assessing their work. To demand its exclusion is an act of dishonesty.
Christopher Hitchens himself would have welcomed the Greenwald obloquy. As Greenwald said, "Ironically, Hitchens was the last person who would honor the etiquette rules being invoked on his behalf." And so, "those demanding that Hitchens not be criticized in death are invoking a warped etiquette standard on his behalf that is not only irrational, but is one he himself vigorously rejected."
Greenwald also condemned Ronald Reagan following his death and condemned those who lauded him and laundered his past. He said:
"One of the most intensely propagandistic weeks in the last several decades began on June 5, 2004, the day Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93 in Bel Air, California. For the next six days, his body was transported to, and his casket displayed in, multiple venues around the nation...
But the most notable aspect of that intense public ritual was the full-scale canonization of this deeply controversial, divisive and consequential political figure. Americans — including millions too young to remember his presidency — were bombarded with a full week of media discussions which completely whitewashed Reagan’s actions in office: that which made him an important enough historical figure to render his death worthy of such worldwide attention in the first place. There was a virtual media prohibition on expressing a single critical utterance about what he did as President and any harm that he caused. That’s not because the elegies to Reagan were apolitical — they were aggressively political — but because nothing undercutting his deification was permitted...
This scene repeated itself over and over during that week: extremely politicized tributes to the greatness of Ronald Reagan continuously broadcast to the nation without challenge and endorsed by its “neutral” media — all shielded from refutation or balance by the grief of a widow and social mores that bar one from speaking ill of the dead.
That week forever changed how Ronald Reagan — and his conservative ideology — were perceived. As Gallup put it in 2004: Reagan had, at best, “routinely average ratings... while he served in office between 1981 and 1989.” Indeed, “the two presidents who followed Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each had higher average ratings than Reagan, as did three earlier presidents — Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower.
Though he became more popular after leaving office (like most Presidents), it was that week-long bombardment of hagiography that sealed Reagan’s status as Great and Cherished Leader. As media and political figures lavished him with politicized praise, there was virtually no mention of the brutal, civilian-extinguishing covert wars he waged in Central America, his funding of terrorists in Nicaragua, the pervasive illegality of the Iran-contra scandal perpetrated by his top aides and possibly himself, the explosion of wealth and income inequality ushered in by “Reagonmics” which persists today, his escalation of the racially disparate Drug War, his slashing of domestic programs for the poor accompanied by a deficit-causing build-up in the military budget, the racially-tinged (at least) attacks on welfare-queens-in-Cadillacs, the Savings & Loan crisis resulting from deregulation, his refusal even to acknowledge AIDS as tens of thousands of the Wrong People died, the training of Muslim radicals in Afghanistan and arming of the Iranian regime, the attempt to appoint the radical Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, or virtually anything else that would undermine the canonization. The country was drowned by a full, uninterrupted week of pure, leader-reverent propaganda."
"He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn’t like him all that much. He met his second wife—the one that you remember—because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see. Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon."
Glenn Greenwald also wrote about Thatcher and misapplied death etiquette here:
"This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's death is not just misguided but dangerous."Greenwald made a distinction between public and private people:
"That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. "Respecting the grief" of Thatcher's family members is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person's life and political acts."Christopher Hitchens also launched a hot barrel of opprobrium agsinst Gore Vidal with a piece entitled "Vidal Loco". Like Glenn Greenwald, Christopher Hitchens spoke against the protocol and etiquette that demands praise where criticism and contempt is due. On Princess Diana and Mother Theresa, Hitchens said:
"Words to avoid this week, or perhaps any week from now on: ‘idol’ and ‘icon’. These once meant only the show-biz versions of graven-image worship, or the cult of mortal beings. Now they mean the real thing. And spiritual and secular leaderships compete to prostrate themselves. By the way, what have we ‘chosen’ for our idols and icons? A simpering Bambi narcissist and a thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf. Nice going."
Following the death of Jerry Falwell, Christopher Hitchens went on CNN and scoffed and scorned the preacher and said "I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to." And also said about Falwell:
"There is no vileness that cannot be freely uttered by a man whose name is prefaced with the word Reverend. Try this: Call a TV station and tell them that you know the Antichrist is already on earth and is an adult Jewish male. See how far you get. Then try the same thing and add that you are the Rev. Jim-Bob Vermin. “Why, Reverend, come right on the show!"Gore Vidal said on the death of William F. Buckley:
"I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred."
On Bob Hope, Hitchens wrote:
"To be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is not a particular defect or shortcoming in, say, a cable repair man or a Supreme Court justice or a Navy Seal. These jobs can be performed humorlessly with no loss of efficiency or impact. But to be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is a serious drawback, even lapse, in a comedian. And the late Bob Hope devoted a fantastically successful and well-remunerated lifetime to showing that a truly unfunny man can make it as a comic. There is a laugh here, but it is on us."
Hunter S. Thompson wrote an obituary to Nixon in the Atlantic:
"These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern -- but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.
Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man -- evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him -- except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship."And this is the most critical point:
"Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful."
HL Menchken wrote in an obituary for William James Bryan:
"There stood the man who had been thrice a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic — and once, I believe, elected — there he stood in the glare of the world, uttering stuff that a boy of eight would laugh at! The artful Darrow led him on: he repeated it, ranted for it, bellowed it in his cracked voice. A tragedy, indeed! He came into life a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. Now he was passing out a pathetic fool…
William James Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not."