Nat Hentoff, RIP

In early 2009, I wrote an article for a now-defunct website on the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” In it, I cited the views of famed columnist Nat Hentoff. A few days after the article was published, I received an e-mail from Mr. Hentoff to call him, because “I admire your reporting.”

To have one of your heroes tell you of their admiration for your work is something, nearly 8 years later, I’m still humbled over.

It took me a couple weeks to muster the courage to make the call. When we spoke, our conversation was brief. I told him of my admiration for his work, he asked where he could find my work, and we both expressed our dismay over the offerings of the 2008 presidential election. The call probably wasn’t more than 3 minutes, and it was the only time we ever spoke.

My blogging is now, just as it was in 2009, a hobby and not a vocation. But this hobby was spurred by a passion to speak truth to power, regardless of political affiliation. There was nobody more formative in influencing me to take up this hobby than Nat Hentoff.

The self-professed “Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer” spoke the truth as he saw it, no matter the consequences. No president went unscathed: Reagan was pro-life “up to the moment of birth,” Bill Clinton “dishonored his office,” George W. Bush had a “hole in the soul,” and Barack Obama is “possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had.” Rest assured, Donald Trump’s pending presidency would not have been spared, either.

When it came to human rights, nobody wrote with more passion and persuasion than Nat Hentoff. His columns on Bush-era torture gave us a righteous anger. Hentoff’s articles about abortion gave blunt clarity to its barbaric features. And nobody was a greater champion for free speech.

Hentoff’s politics almost guaranteed you would never be in complete agreement with him. I find his favorite president to be vastly overrated, for example. But a powerful thinker will make you stop and reconsider your views. Nat Hentoff was most certainly that.

Now more than ever, we need voices that aren’t afraid to be a “pain in the ass” to those in power. Here’s hoping there are other contrarians ready to take the mantle Hentoff leaves behind. RIP.

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