Martin Walker is caught in the middle of an extraordinary political feud between two of his closest friends, Christopher Hitchens and Sidney Blumenthalby Martin Walker / June 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Despite being an intensely partisan and political city, Washington seldom allows politics to get in the way of personal relations. Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the most liberal of US politicians, has always got on rather well with the conservative Senator Phil Gramm and the two cooperated discreetly in some of the procedural manoeuvres in the impeachment process. Republican friends who despise Bill Clinton helped arrange a lavish party for the launch of my own favourable book about him, The President They Deserve. And White House officials, such as George Stephanopoulos and Sidney Blumenthal, held a special affection for Christopher Hitchens and wined and dined with him often, despite the visceral loathing he expressed for Clinton in his columns in The Nation.
But Washington is a warped city, lacking industry, show business and high finance. The biggest private employer was the Washington Post, until it was overtaken by a local supermarket chain. In the absence of competing glamour the only stars of the incestuous capital are the politicians and the media, who bask in the mutual reflection of their artificial glory. In this most media-intensive theatre of American life, any row between big names in journalism-which would be forgotten in Britain after a brief flurry in Private Eye-can assume awesome proportions.
This helps to explain the extraordinary feud which blew up this winter between two of my closest friends in the city. Christopher Hitchens and I go back three decades, to our first meeting at Balliol, and he was an incomparable best man at my wedding. Indeed, I spent my wedding night with him, because my mother-in-law insisted that her daughter’s virtue be maintained in the family home after the register office ceremony (before church the next day). Christopher and I made do with a nearby hotel. We have sunk ridiculous amounts of drink together, praised one another’s books, liked our respective wives, dandled each other’s children on our respective knees. I love him dearly and always will.
Good fortune also introduced me to Sidney Blumenthal after I arrived in Washington in 1989. He became the most astute of political guides and a loyal friend. The first bar-mitzvah I ever attended was for his son, and last summer we were on holiday together with our wives in Tuscany, while Sidney worked on the speech which Clinton was to deliver after his testimony to the grand jury on the Monica…