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Bill Bennett on his book, America: The Last Best Hope, comparing history to events today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
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HH: If you’re really smart, you go to work with my next guest, Dr. Bill Bennett, former secretary of education, and author of many books, including the second volume of his magnificent history of American entitled America: The Last Best Hope. Volume Two is from a world at war to the triumph of freedom. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. You’ll want to go get Volume Two. In fact, they’ve got a good deal at Amazon for Volume One and Volume Two at the same time. Bill Bennett, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

BB: Thank you, Hugh. It’s great to talk to you. I saw you on TV at the L.A. book fair.

HH: Yes, that was two weeks ago, great fun.

BB: You did a great job. She’s a nice interviewer, too. Is it Patt Morrison? Is that her name?

HH: Yes, I worked with her for a decade on PBS, and she is a very excellent provocateur.

BB: Smart person, and you certainly pulled your weight, and the weight of others on that panel. It was really very good. I liked the discussion of talk radio, particularly. I really loved when you mentioned me, but really, the whole discussion of talk radio. It’s something very different now. These guys don’t understand. They think all talk radio is Rush and Sean, and I have the greatest affection for those guys, and Rush is a dear, old friend, but there’s a lot of different conservative talk radio now.

HH: And you and I both stress talking to people of ideas and substance, and having a lot of fun while we do so, but making sure that there’s content there. And you have some pretty good ideas. We might have to marry up these two programs somehow, so that we…

BB: That’d be great. That would be great.

HH: Cross-pollinate our best…but let’s get to the book, because I’m giving this the five-star rating. It’s really, I said on the blog earlier today, Bill Bennett, it’s not just a wonderful work of American history, it’s a work of political philosophy in that it begins with Chesterton, and there’s a pretty profound thing that you say in the chapter on the 70’s, on the 60’s, that I want to come to. But first, to set the stage, you don’t have to write books. They’re a pain in the neck to write. Why are you doing these histories?

BB: Well, a lot of reasons. I mean, this book, particularly, Hugh, again, it was to encourage people to fall in love with their country again, or for the first time, to tell the story. I think it’s the greatest political story ever told, the second greatest story of all ever told, the greatest political story ever told. And third, you, know, to be prosaic, but these NAEP scores, this National Assessment of Educational Progress, Hugh, our kids in history, U.S. history, do worse in U.S. history than they do in math or reading. And you know, I used to have the secretary of education’s job, I was doing it long before I took the job. I was worrying about the nation’s learning. And you know, they don’t know our history. We ask them to defend it, to love it, to respect it, to fight for it, maybe even to die for it. And they don’t know it. Now happily, luckily, these kids who go over to Iraq and Afghanistan, instinctively, they love their country, and they know it’s a great place. But can’t we do better by them, since they are doing so well by us, and give them this great story?

HH: You reference the precipitous decline in the National Assessment of Education Progress scores in history…

BB: Right.

HH: Is that because of the text or because of a lack of enthusiasm, or simply teacher inability to convey in a multimedia age, and a limited attention span, even the backbone of American history?

BB: All of the above. The best teacher I know is a U.S. history teacher. My kid’s a U.S. history teacher. Now I have one son who has just graduated from Princeton, he took all the right courses, Robbie George’s courses and so on. His best teacher to date, though, is a history and civics teacher, history teacher, actually, at his high school, Georgetown Prep. These guys are few and far between. He loves his subject, and the love comes through, the knowledge is deep. The problem is the books are killers, they’re often killers. I mean, yes, political correctness, tendentiousness, all the stuff that we conservatives like to rail about, but maybe the worst sin of all, Hugh, is boring, you know?

HH: Right.

BB: I’d rather be enraged by a Howard Zinn than go through some boring thing that’s just loaded with six over here and five over there, and mentions over here, and requirements that all these people get their due, so that no one’s offended. And the weight of these books, then, it just becomes too much to bear. So lack of enthusiasm in the teaching and the presentation, boring or tendentious textbooks, and yes, failure to hold the imagination. However, even in this multimedia age, you and I can talk about this, it is still possible to do it with a very, very old, and very useful phrase that goes once upon a time.

HH: Right, right.

BB: Tell a story, and tell it well, which is what I try to do with this book. At least some of the stories, I hope, are told well. It works.

HH: I’m talking with Bill Bennett, author of America: The Last Best Hope, my colleague on the Salem Radio Network. Bill, I’m reminded, I interviewed Ken Burns a long time ago…

BB: Yeah.

HH: …about one of his documentaries. He said the key is to put the story back into history, which is what you just said.

BB: Right.

HH: But that the fact is that a lot of these textbooks are chronological, forced marches. Now your two volumes are chronological, but you pause to play with whatever you enjoy along the way. Is that how history ought to be taught?

BB: Well, I think so. You know, I did get some criticism for doing it chronologically, rather than in the method that’s used in many of the schools, which is you start with the neighborhood, and then you work your way out, because the neighborhood is familiar, and the far away is not familiar, when in fact, the child’s imagination, what’s long ago and far away may be a lot more interesting, you know, some other part of the country, or even some other part of the world. It’s interesting you mention Ken Burns (laughing). I played a role in his life I’m very proud of. I was sitting on an airplane once, Hugh, and this guy runs up and grabs me. You never know, you know, when you’ve been in government, someone grabs you.

HH: Right.

BB: I’ve been the drug czar, so you never know, you know? And I look, and it’s Ken Burns, little bearded face. He says Mr. Bennett, I’m Ken Burns. And I said oh, I know who you are. He said you gave me my start. I gave him a grant when I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, for something called The Brooklyn Bridge.

HH: Oh, yes. His first.

BB: It was a film he made about…

HH: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, it was a fabulous little movie. And the panels had turned it down, and I reversed the panels, because it sounded good to me. Maybe a little Brooklyn was coming in, because that’s where I grew up, but he’s a great storyteller.

HH: Now I want to plunge into America: The Last Best Hope, Vol. II, and I’m going to do it through the chapter which I think, I wish they’d put it out there on the web as the teaser. Sometimes, book companies do that. Nixon’s the One, 1969-1974. Full disclosure, of course, I’m too young to have enjoyed any of the drama in this, but I’m also old enough to have worked for Nixon in his retirement. Your portrait of Nixon is compelling, Bill.

BB: Really?

HH: But I thought it was…yes…

BB: Thank you.

HH: The most painfully shy public person I’ve ever met, with an inability to talk to anyone who he did not know very, very well.

BB: I know, it was hard to write. It was hard to write.

HH: But on page 417, you wrote something that comes up in the course of the debate that we’re having today about immigration. You talk about Nixon’s methods, secretive, cynical and sudden, and how it raised questions about the meaning of freedom in the American political process. Today, the Senate is going to vote on cloture for a bill that no one’s even read, affecting the future of this country. And as I was going through and preparing for this interview, I thought that criticism applies exactly to the situation we have today in the Senate. Your thoughts?

BB: Yeah, very interesting. You distracted me by mentioning today, because today, you talk about blending these two shows, we’ve got to do it, because today, maybe you didn’t hear this, I was talking to Jon Kyl, and I cited you, your reading of this bill, because you are one of the two human beings who has read the whole bill.

HH: I know, it took all day yesterday. Ugh.

BB: And I don’t know who the other guy is. But anyway, good for you (laughing). But I mentioned what you said about the exceptions on the Z Visa, the 601H. Do I have that right?

HH: That’s correct.

BB: And I just scanned it. I did the Cliff’s Notes version. But I asked Kyl about that, and he said that Hewitt is a good lawyer, and a close reader. I will take another look at it. And I said well, you need to take another look at it, sir, because if the exception is that large, you can drive a truck through it. You can drive many truckloads if illegals through it. This whole thing collapses. He promised he would look at it. I don’t know what to make of all this. This response to this legislation, I guess we can call it, was so loud, so immediate, and so negative, you would think that some people would just pause out of, if nothing else, Hugh, out of political prudence, wouldn’t you? Survival?

HH: Yeah.

BB: Do you want to get stampeded by this? I mean, whoa. I mean, the reaction is unbelievable.

HH: Now it does undermine, though, my confidence in the institution when they won’t allow debate.

BB: Yes, yes.

HH: And to do a cloture vote without the bill having been forwarded to many of the Senators, or certainly available online, except at www.truthlaidbear.com. That’s what I want to get to, because you scored Nixon, and I had never thought of this criticism before, for springing China on the country, without having campaigned on China.

BB: Yeah, well, that’s right. Of course, he’s credited with this, and I think appropriately enough, and it’s now become part of the idiom, isn’t it? You know, Nixon in China, Nixon going to China. We say that to, admiringly of someone who does something that’s a surprise, given the history of the political career. Yeah, but this is the way, this is the way he operated, and sometimes, it could be to great and positive effect. Other times, as we know, we know this as the story unravels, that it led to very bad things, ultimately, his demise.

HH: Now, you also write that Nixon was in love with the idea he could be the conservative who implements a major liberal policy, and you bring up the Disraeli…

BB: Sure.

HH: And he was always talking about that in retirement as well. How many presidents…

BB: Was he? Was he?

HH: Oh, yes. He had Blake’s Disraeli very close to his hand at all times. He loved…

BB: That’s very interesting.

HH: He wanted to be remembered that way.

BB: I got a note from him, I didn’t mention it. I tried to keep myself out of this book a lot, though there were a few times I couldn’t resist. I was in the audience as a high school senior, Hugh, when Kennedy made his inaugural address. I was a senior in high school then, and a few other things. But he wrote me a note, very late in his career, and asked to meet me, and we met, and had a very interesting meeting.

– – – –

HH: Bill, I want to go to something you wrote about the 70’s, a time of enormous war, and political scandal, and cultural meltdown, that despite all the drama, you wrote that it was a profoundly unserious time. Here we are in the first decade of the new millennium. We’ve got a war, we’ve got cultural meltdown, we have incredibly difficult…it’s also an unserious time. Are the 70’s just replaying themselves in your mind right now?

BB: I haven’t thought that yet. It’s possible they are. I was, you know, in the 70’s, let’s see, I was 25, 28. I was very worried about the country in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I really thought we were melting down. I don’t think we’re melting down now. I think we’re in disagreement, but I think something has been secured in the republic, in the regime, and it was secured in the 80’s by Reagan, and by a lot of Americans stepping up and stepping forward, and saying we’re going to reclaim our country. So I don’t have…yes, things are very serious, but I do not see the questioning of everything…remember the bumper sticker, question authority, question everything, question everybody, don’t trust anybody. There are some limits, now, it seems to me. There are some guard rails. People understand some things about America, they understand some things. Even the hesitation…look at the hesitation, Hugh, to criticize the military. You notice how careful these Democrats are as they’re talking about it?

HH: That’s true. That’s true.

BB: Remember what Clinton said when he was in England? I loathe the military.

HH: Right.

BB: People were talking about the military industrial complex. They’re…I think we’re inside the borders at this point, inside the boundaries of most of the time, acceptable discourse. In the 60’s and 70’s, it was foul, it was profane, and it was nihilistic. We’re not there yet. Maybe we won’t get there, is what I’m hoping.

HH: Well, there was, however, an indifference to the consequences of defeat in the 70’s…

BB: Yes.

HH: …manifested itself in the cut and run out of Vietnam, and then…

BB: Well, that specifically, I use as a template for talking about Iraq. Sorry, not to interrupt you.

HH: Well, that’s okay. But doesn’t that, if we do another one of those numbers, as we did in ’74-’75, the consequences I can’t even begin to imagine.

BB: Well, the worst thing going on now, I think, in terms of commentary. If you wanted to take the temperature, and you viewed the world through the eyes of a former president like Jimmy Carter, you would have to be mightily discouraged. You know, did you see that statement of today or yesterday?

HH: Yes, yes.

BB: He said Bush is the worst administration in history? His [Carter’s] was the worst administration, I think, of the 20th Century. And what happened on his watch, this was after Vietnam, and partly as a consequence of Vietnam, can never happen again. We lost more than a dozen countries to communism, Soviets went into Afghanistan, that turned out, interestingly, a funny turn there at the end with the Mujahedin and us getting the stingers to the Afghan rebels. I want to tell a story about that if I can, too. But we lost all that ground, he scolded us for being ourselves responsible for our own problems, and said we had an inordinate fear of communism. He got almost everything critical wrong.

HH: Wrong, yeah.

BB: I tell a story of Malcolm Toon, who was his ambassador, it’s a footnote, but Toon went out and gave a speech in Seattle, and said, this was his ambassador, I never feared so much for my country, and its existence, as when I was his ambassador, and Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. That’s a heck of an indictment. Let’s go back to Vietnam, because I fear the parallels. And when we left, what happened as a result, who was it? It was Assad, what’s the son of the father? I always confuse them.

HH: Bashir.

BB: Bashir’s the son, right?

HH: Yup.

BB: And Hafez, was that his name?

HH: That’s correct.

BB: …was the father. He said well, you’ve abandoned your allies in South Vietnam. Someday you will abandon your allies in Taiwan. And when you abandon Israel, we’ll be waiting.

HH: Hmm.

BB: You can’t keep getting a reputation for this. It’s not a good thing. So you’re right in this sense, is this the 70’s, if you do in Iraq what we did in Vietnam, it’s a second time, so it’s worse, and it makes it worse, and it’s a more consequential desertion than Vietnam.

HH: I’m talking with Bill Bennett, author of America: The Last Best Hope. The second volume is out. If you want to find where you can order it easily, just go to Hughhewitt.com, the link to Amazon, and the special two volume deal is there. Bill, we mentioned two anecdotes, which I’ve learned from my audience, if you mention one and you don’t tell them, people will hate you forever. So it’s…

BB: I know. Why didn’t you let Bennett tell his story? I know, I know. I do that all the time. I hope you get punished for it (laughing).

HH: There’s one where you meet Nixon in retirement, and then there’s stingers in Afghanistan. I want them both.

BB: All right, well, there’s not much to the Nixon meeting, except it was everything you just described. He sent me a note, it was a charming note, very well written, you know? And I met him, and it was actually at a reception, and he took me aside, and said let’s just go over in the corner, and he was the most awkward human being I’ve ever met. But really smart, you know, to use the adjective you used the other day, incandescently smart. Or is that an adverb?

HH: That is, I made it up. I hope it works, yeah.

BB: Incandescently would be what? What is that, actually?

HH: Going off like an incandescent light.

BB: No, no. Is it an adverb or an adjective? It’s an adverb.

HH: It’s got to be an adjective, because you’re using it next to smart.

BB: No, but…so we’re modifying an adjective, so it’s an adverb.

HH: I’ll leave it to you, Professor.

BB: (laughing)

HH: I teach law, not English (laughing).

BB: All right, there’s something else you’re going to get from your audience now, right? Do they do that to you like they do it to me?

HH: You bet, you bet.

BB: Except to me, they are merciless. Bill Bennett, you are the secretary of education, and you said me instead of I? Anyway, they kill me.

HH: All right, then, stingers in Afghanistan.

BB: Stingers in Afghanistan, quickly, I did a survey of 40 people I knew in Washington, and not a social science thing, I said what was it we did that defeated the Soviets, you know, the single thing? Defense build-up was the number one vote. You know, Reagan, we busted them, you know, they couldn’t keep up with us. Reagan at Reykjavik was tied in second place with getting the stinger missiles to the Mujahedin in Afghanistan.

HH: Yup, yup, an amazing and important…

BB: Interesting, and we know that those…

HH: And the deployment of the Pershing II’s, and the cruise missiles mattered a great deal in that as well.

BB: All of it mattered, but I thought it was very interesting when those body bags started going home to Moscow.

HH: Yeah, and they’re still debating that war.

BB: Yeah.

HH: I’m moving backwards through the book, Volume II of America: The Last Best Hope. I’m getting to Truman now, chapter 7, Defending the Free World.

BB: Yeah, yeah.

HH: Is Bush the new Truman?

BB: Well, I hope so. Maybe. I mean, he has that kind of stubbornness, doesn’t he?

HH: And that kind of unpopularity (laughing).

BB: Yeah, oh boy, he sure does. Truman was, what do I say, down to 20, wasn’t he?

HH: Right.

BB: I think he was close to 20, and yeah, Bush is pushing that. You know, here’s a difference between the era of Truman and the era of Bush. Truman was very good one on one, he was a straightforward guy. Do you remember the great Truman speeches, or great Truman rhetoric?

HH: No.

BB: Not particularly. It’s required. The job description of the president has changed. You’ve got to be a communicator, particularly when you follow people who are very, very good communicators. The inability to make the case now is a real problem.

– – – –

HH: Bill, I love the fact that in this book, you do not attempt to make any apologia for Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin. I quote, “The cause of anti-communism, which united millions of Americans, and which gained the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents, was undermined by Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.” And you detail that in a couple of places in the book, and I’m glad you did, because we’ve had that albatross around our necks for too long.

BB: Well, there’s a couple of things, a couple of things that conservatism, or conservatives have gotten wrong, I think, over the last few years. That’s one of them, or some conservatives, this review of McCarthy, and the elevation of the apotheosis of McCarthy is not a good thing. And Reagan had a great judgment, I mention in the book, he used a shotgun. He should have used a rifle. And discrediting that he gave the cause was just a very bad thing. The issue was obviously very, very important, but that wasn’t the way to go about it. The other thing is comic book conservatism, what I call comic book conservatism, which is we, all we do is caricature and make fun of liberals, and I don’t write comic books, and you don’t write comic books, and I’m glad neither of us do.

HH: Was the McCarthyist impulse to take politics to a personal destruction level, was he the one who…I know Carville refined it with our common friend, Ken Starr, to an almost perfect pitch, but it’s been on both sides of the aisle. I’m just wondering, do you think it begins with McCarthy?

BB: It’s a great question. That’s a great question. I need to think further about it. In the modern era, probably so, yeah. And it was so potent. It was so powerful, because the issue was so important, all the more reason not to do it, because of the critical importance of the issue. You discredit then, people, men and women of good faith, who were serious about communism, serious in opposing communism, by doing it in this way.

HH: Now moving backwards again to FDR, you point out on page 146, he was, in fact, what Machiavelli would refer to, the Lion and the Fox at the same time.

BB: Yeah.

HH: Our greatest modern president, Bill Bennett?

BB: Have you read my Reagan chapter?

HH: Not yet. It’s at the end of the book.

BB: (laughing)

HH: It’s at the end of the book. I didn’t get all the way through it.

BB: Well, okay, if you read the whole book, you’re going to say well, we know who he loves.

HH: (laughing)

BB: Pretty hard for me. Roosevelt is terrific, smart, skilled, brave, courageous, personally courageous. The story, it’s interesting that my son remembered from the whole book, was the story, and I was touched that he did, was the story of him making his way across the stage with his son Jimmy, leaning on him, but throwing his head back as if he had just heard, just delivered the punch line of a joke, all the time leaning his weight on Jimmy, because of the crippling effects of the polio, and at that point, not wanting the audience to see just how crippled he was from the polio. This was when he was introducing Al Smith. And a remarkable man what he did to overcome physical challenge, as the other Roosevelt had. And then, as his handling of the war, I would like the president of the United States to read how Roosevelt did this. I mean, the way in which he was so committed to this war, and winning this war, unconditional surrender, and absolute clarity of purpose. I don’t doubt George Bush’s clarity of mind and his conviction here, but to use every power, every talent, every ability to persuade his fellows of the rightness of this cause, it was a tremendous thing. Nice…something for Wendell Willkie to hear, though, too, not our mutual friend, Wendell Willkie, but you know, the original Wendell Willkie.

HH: Right.

BB: We both know the grandson. But if he had not brought the Republicans around to the issues of World War II, it would have been very tough going.

HH: You know, it’s funny, you bring up Willkie, and he was the one who said yes, we’ve got to have the draft…

BB: Yup.

HH: In 1940…

BB: Yup.

HH: In that day, FDR never stopped being relentlessly political, declaring Willkie is finished, and just as happy as could be.

BB: (laughing) Yes, I know. I know, and he gave him the greatest service, but you can’t take politics out of politics, as Tommy Corcoran said.

– – – –

HH: Bill, going backwards still, on page 139, you write, “Churchill was heard, but not heeded.” We’re obviously talking about the 30’s, we’re talking about Chamberlain’s appeasement. And I wonder as you wrote this chapter if you weren’t thinking about the time in which we find ourselves today, where lots of warnings are made, and very few are heeded about the jihadist threat.

BB: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, I think there’s another parallel to the Vietnam situation, withdrawal from Vietnam, and the temptation to withdraw from Iraq, I think is one parallel. The other is the 30’s in Europe. And you know, it’s quite the extraordinary story, and a lot of people don’t know about Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh, a great American hero who flirted with the Nazis. I spend more time than I probably should have on the ’36 Olympics. I could have spent fifty pages on it. It’s a fascinating period, and the opposition by some to the Olympics, based on what Hitler was doing, you know, there were concentration camps that had started. They were forty miles, fifty miles away from the Olympics site. But people didn’t want to hear it. They just didn’t believe it. What does he mean, they said, the Cliveden Set said over there, you know, over tea in England with Lindbergh and Joe Kennedy. If there’s a bad dude in this book…

HH: Yeah, you give him his due, and I’m glad.

BB: Yeah, well he is just…he deserves it. I mean, he and Jimmy Carter, I’ll tell you, I mean, over there, just trying to just…selling…not selling out, but underselling and undervaluing the Brits, and just saying the Germans will just whip their butts, and who’s side here was he on, in terms of the Allies? It was a very bad time for…again, people, very smart people being blind to very clear and obvious things, just like today. When Zawahiri says we want to reestablish the caliphate from Spain to Iran, people say what does he mean?

HH: Right.

BB: What does he mean? Well, I think he means exactly that. When Hitler says we will exterminate the Jews, we’ll rid the world of the Jews, what does he mean? That’s exactly what he meant.

HH: There’s an uncomfortable parallel as well for Republicans in your chapter on the Great War.

BB: Yeah.

HH: At home, Wilson alienated the Republicans utterly. He could not cooperate with the bitter enders. Now I’m not sure that Bush intentionally set out to do this, in fact, I’m sure he didn’t. But that’s where we are now, a completely alienated partisan divide. How does the country get around that, Bill Bennett? Or is it impossible to do so until the next presidential election?

BB: I don’t know. I mean, I think everybody has to pull the oar here. We all have to do what we can. I think lots of small things, for the people who are not presidents, so there’s…everyone has a job to do. Radio talk show hosts have a job to do. Columnists have a job to do. Citizens and teachers have a job to do. Pollsters have a job to do. I want a question, Hugh, I want a poll question. Would you be in favor of withdrawal from Iraq if you knew the following things: that instead of hundreds of people a month dying, there will be thousands a week, that Zawahiri and bin Laden, and whoever’s in charge of al Qaeda at the moment will be dancing, saying we defeated them, we said they were not a strong horse, we said the U.S. was a paper tiger, we said they would run, and we were right, that the world’s second largest, now it turns out, reserve of oil is in Iraq, and that will be controlled by who? Al Qaeda? Iran? Both of them? All of them? If you know all of that is going to happen, and the rest of the world draws the same conclusions that people started to draw after Vietnam, that the U.S. cannot be trusted, when it says it will be there, its word is not good, would you still be in favor? You know, these ridiculous interviews that these Democrats are doing, thank God, goodness that people are at least asking these questions. Are you prepared for genocide? Are you prepared for massive slaughter?

HH: Right.

BB: A couple of the ones with intellectual honesty have said yes, we are, but that’s why we’ve got to keep the troops close, so we can send them back in. Well, what the heck does that mean? What kind of a policy is that? Some have said well, that’s what we’ve got now is genocide. No, you don’t. That’s not what you have. You have something a good deal short of that. What you have is ugly and it’s brutal, but it’s not genocide. You know, Shakespeare’s Lear says it’s not the worst as long as we can say this is the worst. This is not the worst. Things can get worse than this, and they did in Vietnam, and they did in Cambodia.

HH: And it could very quickly do so.

BB: Yeah.

HH: We are airing this originally on May 21st of 2007. I will re-air it, because in it, there are some predictions which I’m pretty confident of, but one of them, Bill Bennett, concerns the fact that on this day that we originally conduct the interview, Hamas is at war with the Palestinian Authority, and Israel. And in Lebanon, the Lebanese Army is facing down al Qaeda. Not Hezbollah, but al Qaeda in a vicious battle.

BB: Right.

HH: I mean, anyone who looks at the map of the world has to see that we are rushing towards a nuclear Iran, and an explosion of violence in that area, or is that just alarmism?

BB: No, it is very real. I don’t…I’d be curious of your opinion, and I know you’re being a good interviewer, but I mean, do you think the country is at risk in the same way it was in the 70’s? The external threats are every bit as real, more real, as real. But I still have greater confidence in the country now than I would have, I think, in the early 70’s. Do you agree with me or not?

HH: Let me ask you…I want to respond by asking a question. If the fourth plane had hit the Capitol, and had destroyed a significant number of members of Congress, or the first plane had hit when Bush was there, would we have reconstituted the country the same way as the founders had, Bill Bennett?

BB: Great question. Yes…yes.

HH: You’re much more of an optimist than I am.

BB: Yes, I just think yes, because…not because of learning, but because of instincts, and I think enough cooler heads would prevail. A lot said in the first four months…let me just make my case here. What was done in the first four months [after 9/11], most of it was very good. It really was very good. It was a sound response on the part of a lot of people. Now I wrote a little book called Why We Fight, in which I chronicled a lot of the stupid things that were said, you know, what did we do to make them do this, and we have to try non-violence, blah, blah, blah. But most of what was said, even on a lot of editorial pages, was very good.

– – – –

HH: Bill Bennett, when we went away, I just want to come back to the first thing we talked about, which is do we fail to appreciate the world in which we live, and the seriousness of politics, because we don’t know our history, and not knowing our history, don’t know how some patterns repeat?

BB: Yes, that’s part of it. Yes, you’re condemned to repeat what you don’t know. Probably that’s right. There’s an epistemological base here, there’s a knowledge issue. You remain…who was it? It was Kolakowski at the Jefferson lecture who said you remain alien to yourself in a culture in which your past is denied. You wander around as an alien in your own culture, like a stranger in your own land. There is that. But there’s something else, too. There’s this…there’s not seeing what’s around you. There’s not being in love with this incredible story, this unique story.

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