The leftist defecting rightward is a tiresome figure even for students of the Cold War. This figure of history would remain such if not for today’s Left, which seeks to compare the War on Terror with the Cold War, the goal of which is the detriment of both.
Their “usable past” jumps from date to date based on propagandistic need. If the U.S is winning the War on Terror, it is 1971, the year of Mai Lai. If the U.S is losing, then it is 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive. And if one of their own breaks ranks to support the war, then it is 1951, when the courageous fought fascism and the cooperative emulated Whittaker Chambers.
By far the figure who most assaulted with the Chambers label has been Christopher Hitchens. The comparison began with his high profile testimony against Clintonista Sidney Blumenthal during the Lewinsky scandal (with sex being to the '90s what espionage was to the '40s) and was cemented by his support of the Bush administration in the War on Terror.
On the surface, comparing Hitchens to Chambers seems the stuff of labored propaganda. Hitchens did, like Chambers, testify before Congress against a left-wing icon and went on to support an establishment war. But Hitchens never engaged in espionage nor did he become a born-again like Chambers.
Nevertheless, there are complex similiarites between the two that, ironically, are damning of leftist behavior then and now.
Chambers, the former communist spy, did travel rightward but he carried considerable baggage with him. Supporting Republicans because of their anticommunism, he nevertheless recoiled from Senator Joseph McCarthy, partly for strategic reasons (the man is "a raven of disaster," he wrote), partly for political ones (he shared with the '50s-era Left a view of the senator as Hitler-like). On the staff of National Review, he quarreled with their intention of reversing history from the New Deal and instead urged them to take a more teleological approach—a holdover from his Marxist days. Small wonder that William F. Buckley and company had difficulty relating to his worldview.
Hitchens too is an odd figure for the Right. He writes now for the Weekly Standard but still considers Leon Trotsky a great man. He supports an administration peopled by born-agains, but is an atheist whose moments of reverential silence are reserved for labor union matrys, not Christian ones. Like Chambers, he has carried considerable baggage with him. His lifelong hatred of religion in all forms garners him allies who are fighting it in Taliban and al-Qaeda versions. But he also allies with Republicans based on revolutionary priorities he still carries with him from Troskyite times. It was while seeking revolution from the masses that he discovered it could come from above. In Letters to A Young Contrarian, he wrote that while he and his comrades took to the streets to end the draft, establishment types like Milton Friedman were quietly ending it behind the walls of power. Today, Hitchens points to gains made by the Kurdish working class and women in Iraq as proof that the Bush administration is creating a revolution from above.
Thus, Hitchens and Chambers do share commonalities. Both allied with conservatives while retaining views gained from revolutionary backgrounds. And both have been kidnapped from a Left for sloganeering purposes while avoiding any hint of complexity or irony.