Over at Discover‘s blog, Melissa Lafsky has an interesting account of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Lorenzo Albecete, on the subject of — what else? — God. Lafsky writes:
Are you there God, and if so, will you please provide an emissary that can go head-to-head with Christopher Hitchens without getting spectacularly flayed?
That was the pertinent issue during yesterday’s “Big Questions conversation” at the Pierre Hotel, hosted by On Faith and the John Templeton Foundation. The luncheon pitted Hitchens, the anti-theist poster child, against Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist, theologian, and author of God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity.
Given the pro-God squad’s spectacular failure the last time it staged a debate like this, the buzz among the predominantly male and heavily tweeded crowd was, “Will Albacete bring his A game against a man known for his periodic disembowling of religious delegates?”
The answer, unfortunately, was a resounding no. While the monsignor presented a charismatic and sympathetic figure–his Isaac Hayes-esque vocal resonance was worth the trip alone–his arguments, if one could call them that, didn’t make it past a freshmen theology class.
Having seen Hitchens debate this topic a number of times, I find it easy to believe Lafsky’s account. He is a formidable debater at all times, and on this subject he has the added advantage of being on the side of sunlight and puppies.
Why, then, is his political commentary so relentlessly awful? Consider his latest expectoration for Slate.
Last week really ought to have been the end of the McCain campaign. With the whole country feeling (and its financial class acting) as if we lived in a sweltering, bankrupt banana republic, and with this misery added to the generally Belarusian atmosphere that surrounds any American trying to board a train, catch a plane, fill a prescription, or get a public servant or private practitioner on the phone, it was surely the moment for the supposedly reform candidate to assume a commanding position. And the Republican nominee virtually volunteered to assist that outcome by making an idiot of himself several times over, moving from bovine and Panglossian serenity about the state of the many, many crippled markets to sudden bursts of pointless hyperactivity such as the irrelevant demand to sack the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
And yet, and unless I am about to miss some delayed “groundswell” or mood shift, none of this has translated into any measurable advantage for the Democrat. (Emphasis added)
Hitchens apparently missed the nearly ten point shift in the national polls since the start of the financial crisis last week. Last Monday the polls were consistently showing McCain with a roughly five point lead. Those same polls are now showing Obama with a five point lead. And as Slate also reports, those gains are showing up in the state-by-state numbers as well.
To analyze this is to be obliged to balance some of the qualities of Obama’s own personality with some of the characteristics of his party. Here’s a swift test. Be honest. What sentence can you quote from his convention speech in Denver? I thought so. All right, what about his big rally speech in Berlin? Just as I guessed. OK, help me out: Surely you can manage to cite a line or two from his imperishable address on race (compared by some liberal academics to Gettysburg itself) in Philadelphia? No, not the line about his white grandmother. Some other line. Oh, dear. Now do you see what I mean?
Right. Obama’s big problem is his uninspiring oratory. Looks like Hitchens really nailed that one.
We are told by outraged Democrats that many voters still believe, thanks to some smear job, that Sen. Obama is a Muslim. Yet who is the most famous source of this supposedly appalling libel (as if an American candidate cannot be of any religion or none)? Absent any anonymous whispering campaign, the person who did most to insinuate the idea in public–“There is nothing to base that on. As far as I know”–was Obama’s fellow Democrat and the junior senator from New York. (Emphasis in original).
Yeah, it was Hillary Clinton who kept the meme going by saying she didn’t know of anything to suggest that Obama was a Muslim. The relentless discussions of this on the chat shows, especially on Fox News (terrorist fist jab?) had little to do with it, I suppose.
On and on it goes, sentence after divorced from reality sentence. So I return to the question posed in the title of this post. What is it with Hitchens? Why is he so sensible and sharp when discussing religion, but almost perfectly brain-dead on every other issue?