Word for Word

Henry Kissinger gets a much-deserved skewering, and some pearls from Nader.

The Ralph Nader Reader, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich. Seven Stories Press, $19.95.

The Trial of Henry Kissinger, by Christopher Hitchens. Verso, $22.

It was hard to miss the laugh-out-loud irony last November as irate liberals cursed the name of Ralph Nader, blaming him for thwarting Al Gore's mismanaged bid for the presidency.

But to Nader's credit, he didn't care. Throughout the entire campaign, he knew that--by diverting votes away from Gore--he was forever souring a large chunk of his long-time legions. And yet he stood firm. That irony gets even better when one ponders how many rigid conservatives must have secretly wanted to kiss the outspoken activist because they believed his whistle-blowing presidential run helped secure George W. Bush's narrowly "won" relocation to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nader may have lost the election and a lot of his fans, but he earned a slew of new disciples who saw in him something absent in the other presidential hopefuls: integrity. What Nader was doing last year is what he has done for four decades: championing popular positions in the face of deep-pocketed sandbagging.

Still, many might be surprised to learn that Nader has been a thorn in the side of Big Business and Big Brother for years. Collected between the covers of The Ralph Nader Reader are articles, position papers and speeches penned by Nader documenting his unblinking occupation as a first rate rabble-rouser.

In a sound-bite happy era, the book offers long, irrefutable essays in which he skewers the banking industry, the news media, airlines and countless other multi-national corporations fueled by greed. The section devoted to corporate welfare will make the average taxpayer's blood boil. And his 1967 piece examining the meat industry might leave readers queasy as he reminds them that "eyeballs, lungs, hog blood ... chopped hides and other indelicate carcass portions are blended skillfully into baloney and hot dogs."

What's missing from the book, though, is more material from 2000. Only one item from his crusading campaign is included and that is unfortunate. In spite of the Florida fiasco, the only real drama on the airwaves last November was Nader's impassioned appearances on C-Span where the exhausted and hoarse Green Party gadfly reminded people that they could make a difference. Those speeches belong in this book. As do samples of Nader's going toe-to-toe with smug political pundits. Such dialogues--where he effortlessly unraveled the commentators with logic and facts--would have made for an entertaining addition to an important collection.

FEW IN THE press took Nader's political aspirations seriously. One of the few who did was Christopher Hitchens.

Last year--as herds of Beltway Boobs crowded the airwaves with their uniform analysis--Hitchens castigated them for refusing to treat Nader as a viable candidate. Big media, he reminded them, shares in the blame for the corrupt and homogenized state of U.S. politics.

Hitchens--an acerbic Brit who somehow manages to remain on the payroll for both the left-leaning Nation and the celebrity-driven Vanity Fair--has made a career out of crucifying sacred cows and exposing hypocrisy. His revisionist views on Mother Teresa and Princess Diana shortly after their deaths soiled the names of the would-be saints. And in 1999 he happily exposed the cheap corruption at the heart of the Clinton administration in his excellent No One Left to Lie To.

Now Hitchens forces a rethink of another celebrated political icon in The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

Like many Washington insiders, Kissinger left public life years ago to engage in the much more lucrative business of playing the "elder statesman" role on pundit roundtables and college lecture circuits.

But Hitchens argues that the bloated former Nixon cohort is nothing less than a war criminal and should be treated as such. In a tightly-written 150 pages, Hitchens offers biting analysis of Kissinger's career and policies, revealing how his shady activities and decisions destroyed democratically-elected governments around the world, in favor of pro-American fascist regimes.

"Kissinger's global career," Hitchens writes, "started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American Republic and American democracy and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies."

In a style that stings like acid, Hitchens details the official stories, contradictions and lies that surround Kissinger's political shenanigans. His arguments are persuasive and conclusions undeniable.

The blood on the hands of thugs such as Augusto Pinochet, he argues, is also on the hands of Kissinger. And any student of Cold War politics knows there is plenty of blood to go around.