Hitchens and Walsh Battle Over Secretary of State Clinton

Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens and Salon's Joan Walsh squared off Monday evening on MSNBC's "Hardball," and things deliciously got personal.

The topic on host Chris Matthews' mind was president-elect Barack Obama's choice for Secretary of State.

Hitchens was none too pleased with the nomination of Hillary Clinton for this position, while Walsh defended Obama's decision with all her soul.

With that as pretext, let's get ready to rummmmmmbbbbbble (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript, photo courtesy Huffington Post):

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Let's take a look at President-elect Obama today as he announced Hillary Clinton. He had a little tussle here with a reporter, mild-mannered compared to this, though. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were asked and talked about the qualifications of the-your now-your nominee for secretary of state. And you belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders, and your new White House counsel said that her resume grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy.

OBAMA: Look, I mean, I think this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign. Now, I understand and you're having fun. If you look at the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the heat of a campaign, we share a view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Christopher and Joan, what do you make of his commitment, his renewed commitment today, President-elect Obama, to removing our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, Christopher?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, VANITY FAIR: Well, he's been rescued by the Iraqi parliament. I mean, he's probably the luckiest politician one's ever seen since Kennedy in any case. But the real luck is that Iraqis are demanding roughly what he's been asking for, for a long time, which is a deadline and a date certain.

JOAN WALSH, SALON: Right.

HITCHENS: The actual date doesn't matter once you start talking about that. an I just add, though, that I thought Obama's answer just there was incredibly cheap and evasive. I mean, he was right the first time to say this woman doesn't, in fact, have foreign policy experience, and he could have added, which also came up in the campaign, that the experience she has claimed, such as in Bosnia, was fake, was fabricated. And he could also have added that she, like his other nominee, for the attorney generalship, main qualification in politics is being a friend of Marc Rich, which I don't think has changed.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: It's a ridiculous thing to say. How is that a main qualification?

MATTHEWS: You make it sound like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... got his head together. Why would he make this appointment, the most profound appointment so far...

HITCHENS: The best known decision-the best known-the best known thing Mr. Holder ever did as a government lawyer, shall we-shall we just say, and the biggest intervention in foreign policy made by Mrs. Clinton were both to try and get this crook off in exchange for favors we don't even want to think about.

MATTHEWS: Well, we don't know what they are, do we.

WALSH: I think that's ridiculous.

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: Call it what you like. It's not change. It's a reminder of the most sordid...

MATTHEWS: Why do you-Christopher...

HITCHENS: ... sordid elements-sordid elements of the Clinton era, which was not an era of foreign policy triumph.

MATTHEWS: What's the sordid or any motive behind this appointment, then, Christopher?

HITCHENS: I didn't say this is a sordid (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Well, what is-what is the...

HITCHENS: I just think it's very disappointing for those who were hoping for a foreign policy change.

MATTHEWS: Well, what's the motive behind it? What's the motive?

HITCHENS: If you wanted to see a foreign policy change, you should have-you should-consensual, I suppose, it's party unity, that sort of thing, probably a gesture to NOW, that no doubt is involved, and so forth. Nonetheless, it's a terrible missed opportunity. Susan Rice would have made a very good appointment as secretary. You'd have known where she stood, a person who's always approached foreign policy as a matter of principle, who doesn't any baggage, who hasn't been a servant of special interests, is given a relatively unimportant job. It's a major job, of course...

WALSH: It's a major job.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: Susan's a terrific person. She's a friend of mine.

HITCHENS: Hillary Clinton is not qualified in any way to be secretary of state!

MATTHEWS: OK, let me-Joan...

HITCHENS: And she doesn't have...

WALSH: I think that's absolutely ridiculous.

HITCHENS: ... any interests but herself and her husband at all!

MATTHEWS: Joan, did you find it interesting, a couple of decisions the president made were sort of modifying his decision to name secretary-to name Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, the senator from New York-he fenced off the role of U.N. ambassador. Susan Rice now has a reporting relationship directly to him, the incoming president, not to her. Both cabinet secretaries...

WALSH: And it was the same...

MATTHEWS: What's that about? Why do you think he did that? And why did he give Greg Craig the job as White House counsel, where he would be completely fenced off from foreign policy? It seems like he separated, segregated the people who agreed with him in the campaign from those who-from the one he opposed in the campaign, Senator Clinton.

WALSH: I'm not sure I see it exactly that way. It may play out that way, Chris. I mean, let's remember, I believe the U.N. secretary was a cabinet appointment under Clinton. I think he wants to send a message to the world, more important than domestic policy, that this woman speaks for him and that he wants her to play an active role his administration and in the world. I don't see it as much as separating her from Hillary Clinton. am sure there were hard feelings during the campaign. I have a lot of mutual friends on both sides. I know Susan. It was-you know, for Clinton people to leave Hillary Clinton and go with Barack Obama was hard, but I would imagine that if, you know, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can patch this up, I mean, that, you know, portends great things for democracy in the world...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALSH: ... that these two people can learn to get along. I'm sure Susan and Hillary Clinton have already had conversations and that this will be a fine relationship.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Samantha Power...

WALSH: These are people who basically share values.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Samantha Power has a role?

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: Yes, she's back. I mean, she's back in the transition team, and Hillary Clinton reportedly signed off on that.

MATTHEWS: OK...

WALSH: I think these, you know, problems are enormous and we need the best team of people, and that's what's guiding Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WALSH: ... and that's what I find impressive.

MATTHEWS: Christopher, I want to go back to your point that this is a political move by Barack Obama, naming Senator Clinton to be secretary of state, apart from foreign policy. He must know, and you all know, certainly Joan knows and you and I, Christopher, know, that we're facing a bad couple of years of economic history coming at us, maybe a lot more than two bad years, not just a deep recession, but a prolonged-perhaps something approaching a depression. It could be-does he need the Democratic Party united to weather that storm? Because he's going to get hit like hell by the conservatives and the Republicans within about three months.

HITCHENS: Well, whatever the answer to that question may be, it still divides us as between those of us who think that a job must be found for Hillary Clinton, that the country would be somehow disgraced if she wasn't in an important position, and those of us who could do without her. And neither answer to that question is going to make any difference at all to the way the market performs. However...

WALSH: But that second group is a very small group.

HITCHENS: ... it doesn't-it doesn't help...

WALSH: It's a group of eccentric Clinton haters who've made a career out of trashing the Clintons. It's a small group. It's not an important group in American domestic or foreign policy.

HITCHENS: Which group are you talking about?

WALSH: And I don't think that-the group who would rather see Hillary Clinton off the world stage. I don't think Barack Obama was thinking about that at all because that group of people is eccentric. They are devoted to looking at everything the Clintons do in the worst possible light, and he's trying to solve problems. And to you, Chris, I don't think it was done with domestic politics...

HITCHENS: Christopher.

WALSH: No, I'm sorry, I'm talking to Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, no...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: I did call you Christopher.

MATTHEWS: I'm looking at the 18 million-look, I'm looking at the 18 million people that voted for her, and I'm thinking that if he's looking at Lincoln as a role model, he clearly is looking at bringing in that constituency, not just Senator Clinton or former president Clinton...

WALSH: But Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... but the 18 million working people that voted for her.

WALSH: Sure.

MATTHEWS: I'm just thinking he might be a politician. That's not a knock.

WALSH: But quite honestly, he brought them in. No, and I know you don't mean it as a knock at all, but he brought those people in on November 4. For all that you and I spent a year talking every week about what was going to happen to those Clinton voters-and even I had some-you know, some weeks where I worried about it, the fact is, he brought those people in. He's not worried about that. I genuinely think, if he's got an eye toward politics, it's global politics. And he wants the strength of the Clinton name, the Clinton brand...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: That's what the secretary of state-that's what the secretary of state is for.

WALSH: Right.

HITCHENS: And what you want as president is to know your secretary of state spends all her time working to make sure your policies stick. With this woman, that can't be said. She's always thinking first about herself, second about her husband.

MATTHEWS: What about her husband? Before...

WALSH: Oh, I trust Barack Obama's opinion more than yours.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Christopher, last question...

HITCHENS: That's never changed! That's never changed, and it's never going to! So he won't have...

WALSH: That's your opinion, Christopher.

HITCHENS: Well, guess what? Guess who's saying it? That's a very clever thing to say. Should I ask would you prefer I uttered your opinion? What a fatuous remark.

MATTHEWS: Christopher...

WALSH: You know...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Christopher...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: I prefer Barack Obama's opinion. Barack Obama is a supremely qualified...

HITCHENS: Those of us who care about foreign policy...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: ... will never be able to relax!

MATTHEWS: Christopher and Joan, I want to ask one objective-one objective question...

WALSH: Yes, Chris?

MATTHEWS: ... which does not have any values attached to it. Will Bill Clinton, with his popularity in South Asia, be brought in as an envoy with regard to Kashmir and the general dispute between Pakistan and India? Christopher, will he be used in that regard, the former president?

HITCHENS: Someone whose main clientele is the Wahhabi royal family of Saudi Arabia, who've paid for the people who just blew up Bombay, I don't think would be an ideal mediator, no. But that's just my opinion, as Ms. Walsh would say.

MATTHEWS: Joan?

WALSH: Christopher, you can call me Joan. I've had dinner at your house. That seems condescending to call me Ms. Walsh. You know, Chris...

HITCHENS: If I had said Joan, you'd have said I was being condescending.

MATTHEWS: Oh, come on!

WALSH: Hardly. Not at all. We've had drinks together. Chris, I actually-I think it's not a great idea to bring President Clinton in right now. I think Barack Obama needs to make some big moves of his own on foreign policy. And I think secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton needs to make some moves of her own. I am of the opinion-I'm not a Clinton hater, I respect the former president. I'd like to see him find a quiet role for himself and let these two new world leaders emerge without his shadow. So I would, if anybody else-my opinion and it's only my opinion, I would advise against it.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think we've covered every area of concern and happiness about this appointment tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Christopher Hitchens, for helping me explore all possibilities, and you, too, Joan. You complement each other in terms of American thought on this appointment.

Well, that's one way of putting it! 

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.