Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hitchens v Galloway - the report from our man in Brooklyn

Tom Gilmore reports on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway.

"I was sitting front row in the balcony and had a pretty good bird's
eye view of what they called 'The Grapple in the Apple.'

It was very lively, as I think everyone expected it would be. The
crowd seemed very evenly split in who they supported and, as things
like this go, nobody was there to have their mind changed. Rather,
they were there to see their side supported by the most colorful and
passionate mouth-piece for their views. Strong points from both men
were always greeted with a chorus of cheers and boos. I even thought
some of the crowd was moving close to blows at certain points. I think
New York has quite a few Hitchen types - pro-war liberals, or socially
liberal conservatives, whichever works for you, because they're
ultimately the same - more seem to reside here than I expected. Unless
of course they were all in attendance last night.

Galloway's jabs were more immediate -- and let's face it, who didn't
go for the jabs? -- and he seemed like the more seasoned debater. Even
Oona King, whom Galloway defeated in the last election, conceded that
Galloway won the debate in terms of oratory skills. Galloway accused
Hitchens of doing the impossible -- turning from a butterfly into
slug, and this was probably the best of the night.

Hitchens' on the other hand seems to work better on paper - and his
style of attack was occasionally lost in front of the audience.
Galloway seemed more comfortable and much smoother, whereas Hitchens
was sweating madly before the thing even started and his hands were
visibly shaking. At first I thought he must be nervous but then he's
always speaking in front of people so, no, it couldn't be nerves, it
had to be the drink. He kept trying to steady one hand with the other,
but then they'd both start shaking. Galloway's style was direct and
aggressive and you could understand everything he said despite the
thick Scottish accent. Hitchens on the other hand mumbled and his
pitch varied and you sometimes had to strain to follow his point. I've
seen him do the same thing on television - it's almost like he's
making a point he thinks should be obvious to everyone thus the
cocksure delivery.

Galloway said you shouldn't be surprised by 9/11 or 7/7 when you
consider the US's murderous history in the Middle East. Hitchens told
him he'd picked the wrong city and the wrong month to make that point,
to which he received a mighty round of boos.

I think Hitchens' biggest error was in continually returning to what I
think is an obscure point and it seemed largely lost on the crowd --
Galloway's supposed involvement in the Oil for Food scandal. Not many
people have followed the small details nor are they intimately aware
of Galloway's alleged connections. But Hitchens thought if he could he
paint Galloway as friendly w/ dictators it would follow that he could
easily discredit the rest of his argument. Hitchens' supporters take
it as an article of faith that Galloway is guilty as charged by
Hitchens (although Hitchens is the only one who has charged him) and
the net is already buzzing with people mimicking Hitchens' accusations
-- Galloway is "the piggy eyes of fascism" says Hitchens; yes, he is,
say his supporters with their arms in the air. Yet the Bush
administration, Hitchens' heros of the moment, are known to be close
with Uzbekistan's dictator Karimov and I have yet to hear Hitchens
address this, to name but one example. What he accusses Galloway of
he'll excuse in Bush and the neo-cons.

Towards the end Galloway hinted at physically assaulting Hitchens, to
which Hitchens welcomed the threat. Galloway called him a popinjay
once again, to which Hitchens said, That is true, I am a popinjay
according to the original Websters definition of the word. The insult
was funnier the first time, and Hitchens' retort was less funny still.

For one of the last questions, Amy Goodman asked Hitchens if he found
himself treated with more kindness by the media now that he'd become
pro-war. He flat-out refused to answer the question -- he even said he
thought it was a dumb question and he didn't want to answer it --
presumably because it makes him uncomfortable. Look at him though --
he's on every single network all the time, and this surely wasn't
happening before his conversion. He's become a celebrity from his
pro-war stance and he's enjoying the attention.

At one point Galloway seemed so bored by Hitchens that he started to
shine his shoes. Similarly, Hitchens took a cigarette and lighter out
and acted like he couldn't wait for Galloway to shut-up so he could go
outside and smoke. It's this small detail that almost encapsulates the
night; it was a show as much as anything. But behind this is of course
a very serious issue -- the most serious on the table at the moment,
which is the one thing both sides will agree on. The striking
difference between the sides, I think, is this: The pro-war people
have won, they're still winning, and they'll continue to win for as
long as we can tell. Does anyone really think the troops are coming
home anytime soon? So why are they so defensive? A handful of people
are loudly making the case against the war right now and the pro-war
crowd, in reaction, acts like they've been backed up against the wall.
I suspect they're so defensive because they know, as everyone does,
that things are going horribly in Iraq. And they also know that public
support for the war is in decline. It comes down to this - the pro-war
crowd doesn't have to spend their time doing anything other than
attacking anyone who speaks against the war. No, their work has been
done for them by the 2 most powerful nations.

Who won? Like I said, I think Galloway relishes the public debate and
seemed more at home. But Hitchens' supporters will obviously tell you
Hitchens won. They're both characters - clown-like at times - but I
also think both are dead serious about their positions, and about each
other. I don't think Galloway is the perfect spokesman for the
anti-war movement, but right about now he's the making the case
against war louder than just about anyone else. And I'll take his
position over the respectable but cautious anti-war Democrats who say,
"Well, maybe we should start bringing the troops home around October
2006," a date we know from experience will soon be January 07 and on."

Thanks again to Tom Gilmore for the report.


Nathan said...

Yet the Bush administration, Hitchens' heros of the moment, are known to be close with Uzbekistan's dictator Karimov and I have yet to hear Hitchens
address this, to name but one example.

Absolutely true if one doesn't, say, pay any attention whatsoever to the news and only deals in slogany, received truths. US-Uzbek relations are atrocious right now specifically because the Bush administration has pushed human rights concerns on the Uzbek government.

--Your friends at

George said...

Tom Gilmore responds:

It's not a slogany received truth to point out that Bush and the
neo-cons have been cozy with Karimov's horrible regime since 9/11.
It's an under-reported fact and a classic case of cynical realpolitik.
Human Rights groups have been been publishing accounts of Uzbek's
terror on its own people for years while the Bush admin was silent.
Perhaps it's pressure from them that has resulted in recent criticism
from the White House. Whatever the case, it's Karimov who has asked
U.S. troops to leave, not the other way around, which is an important