Audio and Transcript Of A Conversation with Tom Ricks About His “Moving Left” And A Closing Argument For Doug Ducey
My Washington Examiner column today reviews how Doug Ducey put together a broad coalition that is allowing him to grow a lead in Arizona even with so-cal;ed “dark money” from Big Government Republicans and liberals pounding him on radio and television.
Opening today’s show will be an hour’s conversation with veteran reporter and author Tom Ricks, whose Making the Corps, Fiasco and The Generals established him as one of the key voices on defense issues in D.C. over the past two decades. Ricks spent eight years covering the military for the Washington Post and twice as long doing so for The Wall Street Journal before the Post before leaving papers to join Foreign Policy, where his pieces are must reads for anyone following any of the related debates. We will of course talk about the spiral in Iraq and our debt to the Kurds (Ricks is one of the few guests you will on media anywhere today who has actually seen Sinjar Mountain), but we will also be talking at length about his provocative piece from Politico Magazine from late last month: “Why I Am Moving Left.” Don’t miss the interview in the show’s first our or any of the other guests who will be joining me to discuss the Iraq crisis. We may have a full scale civil war in Baghdad and not just Western Iraq to discuss.
If I were king of the forest –not queen, not duke, not earl– I’d summon Ricks, John F. Burns, Rajiv Chandrasakeran, Dexter Filkins and Robert Kaplan to a studio already filled with Generals David Petraeus, John Allen, Stanley McChrytsal and James Mattis, and SecDefs Gates, Rumsfeld, and Panetta and have at it for a couple of days of candid conversation about the last 25 years and the next, moderated by Jake Tapper, Stephen Pressfield and myself, thus producing the most interesting mid-mortem of the war in which we find ourselves still and for the foreseeable future. Perhaps a philanthropist will step up…or a network executive with a brain.
Audio of Tom Ricks interview:
Transcript of Tom Ricks interview:
HH: One man who watched the chaos up close and personal is Tom Ricks, for 25 years one of the country’s leading national security correspondents, first for the Wall Street Journal, then for the Washington Post. He’s the author among other books of Making The Corps, Fiasco and The Generals. And he now writes at Foreign Policy every day. Tom Ricks, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to have you.
TR: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be back.
HH: And you are also newly on Twitter, relatively newly on Twitter, @tomricks1. How are you enjoying your new media life?
TR: Surprisingly a lot. I kind of boycotted social media for years, and then a couple of friends of mine persuaded me that I was being a snob. My main worry is it’s really distracting me from the book I’m working on, I’m writing right now, a book on Churchill and Orwell as the greatest men of the 20th Century. And I find myself tweeting when I should be writing.
HH: Oh, you have got to sit down with Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, who also has a book on Churchill coming out, and is part of the official Churchill biography team. You know, all of his American papers are stored at Hillsdale. Did you know that, Tom Ricks?
TR: I did not know that.
HH: Yeah, so we’ll have to get you up to Hillsdale. All right, Tom Ricks, the reason I called you originally is I was on vacation when your Politico story came out – Why Am I Moving Left. It came out on July 23rd, 2014, and in Politico. I’ve got it linked over at www.hughhewitt.com. And I tweeted out I had to get this scheduled, and you said fine, either you or Terry Gross. That’s an interesting pair to say you’ll talk to either of them but nobody else.
TR: You’re my two favorite radio interviewers. I just enjoy both of your approaches, your attitudes, your interest in the world, and your tolerance of divergent views.
HH: Well, this is a very divergent view from mine, but I’m not surprised. I am surprised by a few things in here, but I’m not surprised you’re moving left. What I’m surprised about is where you were before you began to move left, and I’ll come back to that. But first, given your…
TR: Well, why are you not surprised?
HH: Because anyone who leaves a newsroom takes with them all the baggage of a newsroom, which is a point of view. And that point of view inevitably doesn’t include people like very grounded religious conservatives. It doesn’t take with them deeply-committed ideological activists, the Tea Party. Your friends, your associates, I assume, will still be the opinion elites with whom you ran, but now the disciplines of the newsroom are gone, and so you tend to write what you see and feel.
TR: I kind of disagree with that. I actually think there’s a surprising number of closet conservatives in journalism, especially in Washington journalism, people who really more or less agree with sort of a Republican point of view. I knew several at the Washington Post, and I think the Washington Post editorial page, by the way, is remarkably conservative, a very strong conservative voice in the Capital. And in addition, covering eight years of a Democratic administration makes reporters who yes indeed are naturally anti-authoritarian, covering Democrats from an oppositionist point of view, which I think reporters have and should have in an adversarial system, I think also tends to make them very skeptical of liberal points of view. But I’ve got to tell you, in all the years I worked in the Washington post newsroom, I don’t think I ever had an ideological discussion. Events are moving too fast, facts are moving too fast for people to sit around and dibble dabble around ideology. It’s more just what’s going on and what’s the best way to get to that story.
HH: Well, that’s so different from my 15 years in a PBS television newsroom, that I can’t begin to tell you. But that may be television and news.
TR: Well no, that’s different.
TR: Broadcast is different, and you know, and PBS and NPR, I think they generally are both liberal in their points of view. I was in the new NPR building/headquarters in Washington, and they have a special section of their parking lot reserved for electric cars. And I just thought this is, you know, so NPRish. In fact, you should send one of your conservative spies into the parking lot and photograph, see how many cars have Obama stickers, and how many have Romney stickers.
HH: Yeah, done and done, but we know the answer to the latter question.
TR: Yeah, I think it’s about 100 to 1.
HH: Let me ask, you were buddies with Thomas Edsall, right?
TR: I know Tom. I don’t know him well. He’s sort of a previous generation to me.
HH: All right, Tom Edsall came on this program in 2006 and gave me a long interview about the newsroom. Let me play for you two bites of what he said, cut number one:
TE: And I agree that the, whatever you want to call it, mainstream media, presents itself as unbiased when in fact there are built into it many biases, and they are overwhelmingly to the left.
HH: Well, that’s very candid.
HH: And then this one.
TE: Big name political reporter?
TE: Jim Vandehei of the Washington Post.
HH: Think he’s voted for Republicans for president?
TE: Yes, I think he has. I don’t know, because he’s never told me, but I would think he has.
HH: And so, of those sorts, and he’s a very fine reporter.
TE: He is.
HH: So he probably is a Republican. But given that number of reporters out there, is it 10 to 1, Democrat to Republican, 20 to 1, Democrat to Republican?
TE: It’s probably in the range of 15-25 to 1 Democrat.
HH: So Thomas Ricks, your colleague at the Post pegs it at 15-25 to 1, Democrat to Republican, in the Post newsroom and in newsrooms generally. Do you think he’s wrong?
TR: Yeah, I do. I think he may be talking about the Post newsroom of the 1980s. The Post newsroom that I saw in the 2000s was quite different. And I also think there’s sort of, I don’t think a Democrat is particularly left or liberal anymore. I think the Democratic Party is whoring itself to Wall Street. And that’s actually the job of the Republican Party, and they should stay out of that. I think right now, we effectively have a one-party system, and I think reporters who may self-identify as Democratic, more likely should be identified as status quo worshippers of power.
HH: Well, we may end up agreeing on a lot. I thought Leibovich’s This Town book summed up for me the critique, the reason I’ve always lived on the West Coast and not in D.C. is the absolute poisonous atmosphere to truth that living in a capital city exerts on your work.
TR: That’s true, but the fun of Washington is when you do speak the truth, everybody’s shocked. And when I said, for example, that Fox News was operating as a wing of the Republican Party, it’s obvious to anyone who watches Fox News that that’s what it is. But in Washington, it was a big story.
HH: Did you also say that MSNBC was operating as a wing of the Democratic Party?
TR: When, no, because I was on Fox at the time. When MSNBC called me up and said will you come on and discuss what you said about Fox, and I said yes, but you need to be aware I’m going to say the same thing about you guys, about that you and the Democrats, except I’m going to say you don’t do it as well, and they said well, thank you very much, no thanks.
HH: So MSNBC did not want you on when you were going to speak truth to their power?
TR: No, they were not interested in me coming in and saying they’re basically an incompetent version of Fox News.
HH: Well, let me ask you since we’re there…
TR: Fox is really good at what it does, by the way.
HH: It also includes at least the occasional left winger. I mean, Juan Williams, and I like Juan quite a lot and I’ve toured the country with him, we agree on, for example, school choice, is a dyed in the wool old school liberal. Mara Liasson from PBS, dyed in the wool old school liberal. They have lots of them on, Tom Ricks.
TR: And also, when I was in 7th grade, Mara Liasson defended me when a teacher accused me of plagiarism.
HH: Well there, oh, she did?
TR: Yeah, she’s a good fellow. I’ve always liked Mara.
HH: Insipient…well yes, she’s also very fair. But she’s a lefty. And so Fox does allow good, well-spoken lefties on. MSNBC will not allow on well-spoken, effective conservatives in their prime time.
TR: I’ll have to take your word for it. I haven’t watched either one for a year. Every time I turn on the TV news, I just find it so depressing, I run away.
HH: Well, I do spend most of my time on ESPN. I’ll come back to that. I did want to begin by talking about your years reporting on the war. And briefly for the audience, how often were you in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of your war reporting?
TR: I did 14 trips to Iraq between ’03 and 2008. I have not been back since 2008 when my wife basically said to me I don’t know if you can keep doing this, but I can’t.
TR: And you need to find some other way to make a living, and I agreed with her. I think it was time for me to move on. One of the things that I learned was when you’re the oldest person in a convoy that gets blown up by an ambush, an IED, you should ask yourself why you’re the oldest person there, and do you want to continue to be the oldest person in those dangerous situations where people are getting killed. So it’s time for me to move on. But I have continued to pay attention to Iraq every day since then, and it really has for many years dominated my life since ’03.
HH: Now I wrote today over at Hughhewitt.com if I were the king of the forest, not queen, not duke, not earl, I’d summon you, John F. Burns, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Dexter Filkins, Robert Kaplan along to a studio with Generals Petraeus, Allen, McChrystal and Mattis, and SecDefs Gates, Rumsfeld and Panetta, and just tape the conversation for three days. Do you think there would be merit in doing such a thing?
TR: I think it would be a lot of fun. I think we’d learn a lot. I would also include Emma Sky, who was the political advisor to General Odierno in Afghanistan. I’d add Joel Rayburn, a very smart Army intelligence officer, and I’d finally add Ali Khedery, who was the longest-serving American official in Iraq, in many ways the guy who picked Maliki for the Americans and now deeply regrets it and has written a very good piece for the Washington Post about a month ago about his regret in picking Maliki. He actually predicted today, I saw on Twitter, and Maliki will use tanks and forces to prevent the other guy from coming in.
HH: Yeah. And we would throw Crocker in, and we’ll talk about why after the break.
— – – – –
HH: Tom Ricks, when I was talking about my mythical gathering, it would be for the purpose of doing a postmortem on everything that went wrong as we see the cycle, the spiral down of the post-United States Iraq. And over the weekend, President Obama became the fourth consecutive American president to ab anitio commit troops to the Republic of Iraq, meaning that we were gone, now we’re back. George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, now President Obama. It keeps drawing us back, and I am afraid, I actually would be happy if we threw boots on the ground into Kurdistan and nowhere else, but I’m afraid that our historic allies, the Kurds, are about to go down the tubes. Does this alarm you?
TR: No, I don’t think the Kurds will go down the tubes. I think people historically have underestimated them. They’ve made a lot of money off of oil in recent years. They’re in, I think, pretty good shape. I think they wisely retreated a bit in front of these ISIS guys, but I think they will do well in the end. My favorite paragraph in the unedited, uncondensed Gibbons Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire is his one little reference to the Kurds. Somewhere in Volume 3, it says the Kurds were a fiercely independent mountainous people who Romans were never able to subjugate them.
HH: Well, I hope that is the case about ISIS. They are awfully close to a number of key Kurdish cities, and a lot of Kurds that tweet and communicate, and I’ll have someone on later in the show who are very worried about mayhem and genocide. And of course, there is Sinjar Mountain. And you’re one of the handful of people who will ever be on the show who have actually surveyed that mountain in person. You haven’t climbed it, but you’ve seen it, right?
TR: Yeah, the old U.S. base outside of Tal Afar in Northwest Iraq was actually close enough to Sinjar Mountain so you could see it just north of you on the horizon.
HH: And so should the United States do whatever it has to do to stop the massacre of those 40,000 people?
TR: Yeah, and in fact, because we don’t have to do that much. I think the threat of air strikes really complicates matters for ISIS. It’s always much harder when you have to worry not just about people shooting at you from the ground, but also from the air. It really complicates the issues like resupply for them when their convoys know that any minutes, a drone could come in and shoot some hellfire missiles into them. So I think simply by the threat of air strikes, and by doing them occasionally, we have made life much more difficult for ISIS. And if it’s just a matter of airdropping water and food to these people up on Sinjar Mountain, we can do it pretty easily with not much of a threat. I think we should do it.
HH: Now Tom Ricks, the only American base I’ve been to outside of the United States is Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. We’ve been there for 15 years. And why can’t we have such a facility in Kurdistan, something that acts as a permanent peacekeeping force, a place to project American force from? We’ve got one in Djibouti as well, but I haven’t been to that one. Would you object to that sort of garrisoning of Kurdistan with American troops if they invited us in?
TR: I’d want to ask some questions first about what sort of commitments it involved to the defense of Kurdistan. That said, I’m quite confident we’ve had people in Kurdistan for the last 30 years. We had a big CIA station there, and we recruited a lot of Kurds to carry out operations against Saddam Hussein. But you know, the less we have boots on the ground in the Middle East, I think the better off we are. In many ways, we were more influential in the Middle East before we committed forces there. The threat of America entry was always scarier than the actual fact when they saw we were not ten feet tall, and when in fact the Iraqi insurgents, having studied Americans for about six months, figured out a number of ways to start killing Americans. People, if you put troops on the ground, some of them will die inevitably in a place like Iraq.
HH: Now Tom Ricks, I know you know this better than I do, because I only interview the wounded from the Semper Fi Fund twice a year, and you’ve lived with them and worked with them and traveled with them, and you know the cost of war better than any civilian like me. On the other hand, we look at ISIS right now, and I know they spend their nights figuring out how to one-up al Qaeda’s 9/11 spectacular, and they have an industrial base which is much larger than al Qaeda ever controlled, they have a sophistication of talent, and they have lots more European passports and American passports than they ever had before, meaning jihadis who are American and European. What do we do about that nest of vipers?
TR: Well, I think what Obama’s doing is pretty good saying we’re not going to be the frontline force, but there are things that we are uniquely good at – air power, resupply, intelligence, and we can help other people. We can show you. We can give you photographic imagery from satellites and drones that show where those guys are, and you Kurds go attack them, or your Iraqi army go attack them. Backing up local forces is a much better way than trying to do it ourselves. By the way, there’s a related point here. One reason why ISIS is so good is because they’ve been studying and fighting Americans for ten years now. They don’t have one year rotations.
HH: Oh, agreed.
TR: And we rotated people in and out, and the old saying about Vietnam is also true of Iraq. We didn’t fight there for ten years. We fought there one year ten times.
HH: And as a result, when Vietnam fell, they massacred everyone who was on our side. And the same thing’s happened now. It is sort of a replay. You’re too young, I’m too young. We skipped the 60s, I think, Tom Ricks, but the…
TR: Well, we came along like the people at the end of the circus parade picking up the elephant poop.
HH: And it was, the campuses were not a good place to be in ’74-’78. I want to go to your article now, why you’re moving left. And I take it as gospel you didn’t vote. Some of your colleagues at the Washington Post don’t vote. Robert Kaiser never voted. And I went around a couple of times with him. I’ll bet you Marty Baron’s been voting left forever. He’s a fine editor, probably the best in America, and I’ll bet you that he’s a lefty when he votes. But neither here nor there, I want to go through the reason you listed in Politico for moving left, beginning with disappointment in the American government. Look, you wrote that you never expected U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lincoln was inept. Churchill was inept. FDR was inept. They all got better as they went on. Isn’t that what happened in Iraq?
TR: We did get better, but it took too damn long. It didn’t take Lincoln and Churchill three years to get it together. Remember, Churchill becomes prime minister in May of 1940. He has a series of crises. He has the fall of France, he has Dunkirk, he has the Battle of Britain. He handles them pretty well. It took him about 20 days to get his act together, not three to four years, as it did with the Americans in Iraq.
HH: You know, I will leave it to, that’s a, I’m going to have a conversation, host a conversation between you and Arnn about ’39, ’40 and ’41, because there was a movement to unseat Churchill, so badly did the war go for three years. Not his fault, but attributed to him, because British…
TR: Oh, I was reading, I’m actually reading the transcripts of Parliamentary proceedings from that time. Hansard, by the way, which is the British version of the Congressional Record, is so much better than the Congressional Record. It’s online, I can sit there, it’s very searchable. You know, there was a movement, there was a challenge to, a no confidence vote in May, ’42 against Churchill.
HH: And he crushed it.
TR: And I believe it was like 342-2.
HH: He crushed it, and he crushed it because he had some timely wins. But that was mounted because there had been disaster after disaster in the desert until Monty arrived.
TR: Oh, yeah, and the fall of Singapore, Crete, I mean, they had a lot of problems. I wouldn’t lay those at Churchill’s feet, nor did the British people, if you remember.
—- – – – –
HH: His article in Politico from two weeks ago, Why Am I Moving Left, listed eight reasons why this veteran Pentagon national security affairs correspondent is indeed becoming a lefty. One of those is disappointment in the American government. We covered that. I think there’s a counter to that. Then comes torture. Now this is most interesting to me. I always ask people for a definition of torture, Tom Ricks. I don’t believe waterboarding is torture, but I know some people do. I believe it includes permanent physical disfigurement or injury, and some instances of transformative psychological damage such as would equal at least Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. How do you define it, because I don’t actually think we used it.
TR: I think you’re wrong, because I know we had people die while being questioned. And no matter how you cut it, the infliction of pain to the point of death is torture.
HH: Oh, that, I would agree with. But then the question becomes, were they bad at what they did? Were they aberrational? Were they prosecuted? But as a general rule, the reason I think…
TR: Well, what are you saying? You’re saying that sure, it happened? Well then, you know, why aren’t we looking into it? Why aren’t we asking these questions? It’s so un-American.
HH: I think we did. I think Rumsfeld makes the point in his book again and again and again that there was no indication of torture within the entire Department of Defense through his whole time.
TR: That’s entirely false. I wrote about this in Fiasco. We know of people who died under questioning, because people were sitting on their chest because they had them, they had one Iraqi general in a down sleeping bag on a very hot night in the desert, people sitting on his chest, and he died with massive inflictions of injury, broken ribs, punctured lung.
HH: Okay, well that would count. Was that DOD or was it CIA?
TR: It was people under the control of DOD.
HH: Okay, well that’s different from what Rummy has said, and you know, I’ll ask him about that.
TR: If you hire somebody…
HH: But what I’m talking about…
TR: If you hire somebody to do the torture for you, you are just as guilty as somebody, as doing it yourself.
HH: I would agree with that.
TR: Rumsfeld is playing with words in a shameful way if he tells you that DOD was not involved in torture.
HH: He has.
TR: Either that, or he is no unfamiliar with the facts as to be reckless.
HH: But now as to, if you’ll give me a sense of what you think was the proportion of time spent in interrogation, and of that, time that you would call torture, because obviously, we interrogated hundreds of thousands of people over the course of the last 12 years, and I know that from the beginning, there have been controls in place. I know the men at the Department of Justice that wrote them. I know how seriously they were taken at the top of the Department of Defense. I’m sure there are aberrations, but I don’t know that it’s an indictment of America that you will find, and indeed you will, a My Lai in the course of Vietnam, or a war crime in the course of a long war. I mean, it’s going to happen, Tom Ricks.
TR: Torture always happens in war. There’s no question. It’s usually, though, been a matter of indiscipline that is contrary to policy.
HH: And that’s what I’m waiting to see.
TR: And here, it was not. Enhanced interrogation embraced techniques that by any definition are torture. In fact, we prosecuted Japanese officers at the end of World War II for waterboarding people on the grounds that it was torture.
HH: Well now that, I’ve actually looked into that quite a lot. And the difference, because I had Louie Zamperini sitting across from me here before he died, and he was very adamant that what the Japanese did to Americans had nothing to do with what waterboarding was. They filled your stomach with hoses of water. They did not induce the indication of suffocation. But more importantly, Tom Ricks, what I’m trying to get at is…
TR: We did those things to people routinely in interrogation.
HH: That would be news to me. But here’s my question to you, though.
TR: Wait until you see the stuff that will come out of the CIA in the coming weeks and months.
HH: Okay, that will be, and I’ll follow it. I would be as disgusted as you. But the United States Congress, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats from 2006-2008, never passed a statute that identified what was a prohibited practice. The legislative failure there is at least as great as the executive branch failure. And you know why they did that, Tom, is they were afraid of the day that there’s a nuclear device somewhere in America, and we’ve got the inability to waterboard someone. You know they wanted to keep that in their arsenal.
TR: Everybody knows that if you have a ticking bomb scenario, your responsibility as the person holding that person is to get the information as quickly as you can. You should then suffer the moral and legal consequences for doing so, saying there was a greater good here. You can ask for a presidential pardon, and I’m sure it would be granted.
HH: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s interesting.
TR: But that does not, that would not make it official policy. Sometimes, you break rules. But I’m an admirer of Martin Luther King. Part of civil disobedience is being willing to take the punishment afterwards. He knew he was going to prison, and actually welcomed…
HH: I have to think about that. We have a break coming up. I have to think about that. So your position is torture is evil, sometimes evil is necessary, own it if you commit it, and don’t take the position it’s never necessary. I like that.
— – – – –
HH: Among those reasons, you listed we fought poorly, we used a lot of mercenaries, our intelligence officials ran amok. And as to that last one, do you think Snowden’s a traitor?
TR: I don’t know, but I think he may be. But I think at the same time, he may be right in what he did.
HH: Okay, fair enough. I think he’s a traitor, and he ought to step forward and suffer the consequences like we talked about in the last segment, which is trial.
TR: Yeah, I’m a big believer in accountability. I was shocked when he ran to Moscow. It really, that really bothered me.
HH: And he probably cost American lives. That’s what really bothers me, and gave away…
TR: I think that’s, I mean, there were so many more things that have cost American lives. I thought the irresponsibility of Wikileaks, and it disclosed, for example, contacts that U.S. intelligence had overseas, I think that was incredibly irresponsible. I haven’t seen Snowden’s actions causing that. I actually think Snowden brought to light facts that the American people should have known, and the Congress likewise should have provided oversight for. And I think the erosion of American rights in the names of, by these intelligence officials, secret policemen, saying they’re protecting us, is un-American.
HH: Okay, we disagree on whether or not actually secret policemen exist. I was part of that apparatus in the early 80s, and protections are extraordinary. Let me go to your argument about democracy for sale. I have in front of me the Open Secrets list. Top individual contributors for this year, all federal contributions, number one is Tom Steyer with $20.5 million. Number two is Michael Bloomberg with $8.7. Number three is Fred Eychanar with $5.8. Together, $35 million, all going to Democrats. well, 6% of Bloomberg’s money went to Republicans. $35 million going to Democrats, dwarfing the next seven people who are divided between Republicans and Democrats on the list. If you go over to 1989-2014, Open Secrets, heavy hitters, number one, Act Blue – $113 million. Number 2, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – $63 million, number 3, National Education Association – $59 million. Then you’ve got AT&T, which splits it, National Association which splits it, then you’ve got the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – $46 million, 90% going to Democrats. You’ve got Goldman-Sachs, which splits it, you’ve got the Carpenters and Joiners Union at $43 million, which mostly goes to Democrats, United Auto Workers, $42 million, mostly goes to Democrats, Service Employees International Union, number 10, 80% of their $41 million go to Democrats. Tom Ricks, the problem of money in politics, if you’re really worried about it, is a problem of the left trying to buy a tiny point of view, disproportionate slice of the political power.
TR: You know, you sound like an incipient leftist, because I am, I think that party contributions demonstrate in both parties that what we’re seeing is a democracy of money, not of people. And I think we actually have a one party system which is dominated by money.
HH: Well, money plays a role, but here I’m an originalist. I just go with the Constitution. If you want to change this, and you call yourself a 1st Amendment fundamentalist, in fact, Citizens United is the most thoroughgoing 1st Amendment treatise I have ever read, and it’s based on, you know, I spend my life teaching Con Law, and reading James Madison and the framers, and they would not, they would never have agreed to any limit on anyone’s amount of money spent anywhere. Now it might be appalling that people do this, and we might have to use moral suasion on people like Tom Steyer, and there are some rich Republicans like the Kochs as well, but to legislate in that area, if you’re a fundamentalist, Tom Ricks, you can’t go there unless you amend the Constitution. The government has no right to tell anyone what to do or not to do with their money, or a corporation.
TR: You think corporations, the founding fathers would agree that corporations are people?
HH: Without question, they did. And in fact, they operated that way. They used fronts, they used newspapers. The New York Times corporation should be as free as Tom Steyer or the Koch Brothers to do whatever they want with their money, as I am free to use this microphone to promote, for example, Doug Ducey to be the next governor of Arizona, or Tom Cotton, the next Senator from Arkansas. Let a thousand voices contend. I don’t want to go Maoist on you, Tom, but I really, I don’t understand people who want to take speech and minimize it, when what we need it more speech, more speech, more argument.
TR: Speech is fine. Money and corporations in politics, I feel disenfranchised by the American campaign finance system as it now exists. And I would like to see less money in campaign finance. Talk to any congressman about how they spend their day. They get elected, and then they spend the next two years raising money for the next election.
HH: Well, that’s true, but it’s like Churchill said about democracy. It’s the worst system in the world except every other one that’s been tried. And every other system that’s been tried is unconstitutional. And again, if people are willing to go through the process of amending the Constitution, this brings me to gun massacres. I’m not a gun guy, Tom. I doubt you are, although you live up in Maine in the summers, which is the highest per capita gun state in the United States. Did you know that?
TR: Oh, yeah. And you know, I have friends who are hunters.
TR: I have lobsters. I put a spike through their head to kill them when I broil them. I’ve got no problem with hunting and shooting.
HH: But what would you do? What I really wanted to know is what would you do, because the 2nd Amendment is the 2nd Amendment, and if you really want the only thing that works, which is confiscations, it’s the only thing that works, you have to amend the Constitution, don’t you?
TR: I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I believe in a well-regulated militia. And my interpretation of American history is that the militia, a regulated militia, is one in which you actually belong and show up. So my attitude.
HH: But Tom, that’s been repudiated. Now I wouldn’t tell you how to cover the Pentagon, so I’m going to ask you to give me a little deference on the Con Law side here. That point of view has been widely and everywhere repudiated by serious Constitutional scholars. That’s not what it meant.
TR: Yeah, but in the 19th Century, they also said slavery was Constitutional.
HH: Well, I know, but then we amended the Constitution in the 14th Amendment. If people want to confiscate guns, and they want to be a republic of laws, you’ve got to come out for amending the Constitution, and the gun grabbers never do.
TR: I’m not. I’m for interpreting the 2nd Amendment as saying if you want to own a handgun, join the National Guard.
HH: But that’s, you want to change the Constitution without changing the Constitution. And once we begin to do that, aren’t we on the slippery slope to Maliki? Isn’t that in fact the same thing…
TR: No, we’re on the slippery slope the way the Supreme Court operates nowadays.
HH: No, no, really, when we come back from break, what you’re proposing, and this is why I wanted you go come on, is you want to govern the way Maliki is governing right now, which is you want it so, so you want to make it so as opposed to winning elections to make it so.
— – – – –
HH: I want to thank Tom Ricks, the author of five books about the United States military, including Fiasco and Making The Corps for joining us. Tom, at the end of your piece, it’s a short segment, you call for a new return to progressivism, when reform and reinvention take hold to restore a democracy gone complacent. I’ve got to ask, have you read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism?
TR: No, I haven’t.
HH: Please do. The one book, because the progressive era is the reason everything’s gone to hell in this country. It was the progressives who did not trust ordinary people. It was the progressives who built this idea that there is a super elite who know better than the average Joe and Jane Bag O’Donuts walking around the streets of America, and you know all these people. You wrote Making The Corps. You saw how ordinary people can become extraordinary people if trusted with training and encouragement.
TR: You know, you sound like an angry white man a bit, the progressivism sent things to hell. When I look over the history of the last hundred years, I see a real expansion of the ideal what it meant to be America. And I think we’re a much better and stronger country for it. I mean, if you go ask any black person, most women, whether you’d like to go back to the way we lived a hundred years ago, they’d say hell no, so…
HH: I am a Lincoln Republican, and I am an absolute believer in Constitutionalism, and bring on the right to vote, and bring on the Equal Protection Clause, all that good stuff.
HH: I believe in all the civil rights. But the progressives did not do it that way. The progressives just claimed power, and once people can start claiming power, they can tell you to do this, that, whatever they want that day, Tom.
TR: And there was a nasty right wing edge to populism that I think is coming back now in the Tea Party. That said, I think populism, yeah, I’m all for it. Populist progressivism. I want to go back to the gun massacres for one moment, because…
TR: You did a neat rhetorical trick. You made me give the answer, what’s the answer to the gun problem. And my response should have been okay, Hugh, what’s your fix for gun massacres? Or are you willing to tolerate every year gun massacres from 9-30 people frequently in schools? If so, why do we live with that?
HH: Well, normally, if it wasn’t you, Tom, if it wasn’t you, I would normally respond it’s an interview, not a debate. But what I always answer is we need to reinvigorate the mental health system in the United States where we are allowed to early intervene, hold and treat the people who are obviously deranged in this society, and I would guess if we had employed that approach over the last 15 years, at least three-quarters of these massacre people, these killers, would have been in mental institutions where they belong, because they were quite obviously ill for a long time before, for example, they killed the judge and shot Gabby Giffords, before they assaulted the Aurora…I am not willing to live this way, but the left prohibits us from moving back to the common sense, morals-based, value judgment-driven paternalism of the state when it comes to such things.
TR: I’ll give you one when you’re right.
HH: Ricks, always a pleasure talking to you. I mean, it’s a really interesting article. When is your Churchill book coming out?
TR: Not for a couple of years. I’m having too much fun in researching it.
HH: All right, a joy. Come back and join us soon. We read you every day at Foreign Affairs.
End of interview.