HH: I begin this Thursday as I do most Thursdays when I’m lucky with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. Mark, good to talk to you again, sir.
MS: Hey, great to be with you after the Thanksgiving break.
HH: I hope you had a good turkey. Mark, it will please you to know that not only the President, but the Governor of Massachusetts has also been reading America Alone. I was with the Governor on Monday. And it’s traveled pretty quickly to the top of the best-seller’s list. Are you surprised by how well the book has been doing?
MS: I am, to be honest. You’re always surprised. I mean, I wake up every morning now to bizarre requests for foreign rights in languages I’d never heard of. And you look and you say what is this language? And it turns out, it’s spoken by 40 million Muslims on a particular province of Indonesia. And you think well, I guess that’s a pretty big market, although I don’t know how receptive…
HH: That’s a lot of books.
MS: …they are to the message, but…So I have been very pleasantly surprised.
HH: Well, congratulations. Now I want to plug, and embarrass you a little bit, because you were kind enough to send me Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade, a book about which I did not know it was coming out. It’s a collection of your obits and your essays on personalities. It’s magnificent, and I can’t get it away from my wife. We are fighting over this thing. When did this project come to be?
MS: Well, this was really…it just arose, because you’re always very kind about my Atlantic Monthly obituaries, and I get quite a lot of people who say oh, I love your obituaries in the Atlantic Monthly, and then I Googled you up, and I had no idea you were such an insane, right-wing madman, Bush-lover, neocon, Zionist warmonger.
MS: But despite all that, I’ll still keep reading your obituaries. So this is my concession to the kind of non-partisan spirit of the age. And it happened, really, on my website. We have a weekly request from the archives, and it turned out the most popular, most requeste piece in the four years we’ve been running this feature, has been my obituary for the Reverend Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe.
MS: …who was this Zimbabwean political figure of whom it’s said that the British elevated him up. Lord Soames, the last governor of Zimbabwe in the 80′s, and Lord Carrington, who presided over the conference giving Zimbabwe independence, were…just thought it was a rather droll joke to elevate the Reverend Canaan Banana to lead the country, because it would make it the first literal Banana Republic. And this sort of curious footnote in history managed to become the most requested personality on my website.
HH: Well you know, the familiar essay, or the biographical sketch, I am reminded of Churchill’s great contemporaries, which is a great collection of things that he churned out over the years.
HH: And also of Joseph Epstein. Are you familiar with Epstein? Are you a fan of his?
MS: Yes, I love his work. I think he’s an absolute dream of a writer.
HH: Exactly. And so, it’s a different niche, and there isn’t much of this sort of writing out there, so I’m recommending for Christmas, people get the Passing Parade. I’ve got to ask you if you’ve seen The Queen yet, the movie?
MS: Actually, I haven’t, but my wife and my sister-in-law went to see it in New Hampshire a couple of days ago. And they had a glorious time at it. They thought it was just a wonderful movie, and a marvelous performance by Helen Mirren as the Queen.
HH: I bring it up because your essay on Princess Di’s death predicted, as well as the afternote, predicted that that tough old bird that is Elizabeth II might have been right all along, and might turn out to actually win back that which the public took from her, and I think you’re right.
MS: Yes, I think so. I mean, my respect…I mean, in a sense, I can take or leave the Queen, but my respect for her went up enormously at the end of that week when she’d basically been forced into going on air and making a statement about the Princess of Wales. Now don’t forget, the Queen has known Diana since she was a little girl. And basically, she was being told that she needed to bring her feelings for this person she’d known all her life into line with the views of this kind of mob in the streets who’d never met the woman. And she went on TV, and she did this, in that marvelous voice of hers, she goes, “Diana was a remarkable woman.” And I thought, my respect for her in choosing that wonderfully, that wonderful word, remarkable, went up. She, even the height of, even in the depth of the appalling situation she was in then, she couldn’t bring herself to utter words she didn’t believe. My respect for her integrity truly went up.
HH: Well, it’s a magnificent essay, and it’s among many other ones in Passing Parade. I want to talk about your most recent Atlantic Monthly obit, though. And by the way, is the magazine The Atlantic? Or is it the Atlantic Monthly?
MS: Well, that’s one of those things. I always thought that it comes out monthly, but you’re supposed to refer to it as The Atlantic. That’s what I’ve been told. But I’m not…it’s one of those things like using the wrong knife when you’re dining at Buckingham Palace.
HH: Well, I do that all the time.
MS: You’re supposed to know it instinctively, I think.
HH: Well, let’s talk about Oriana Fallaci, because I’ve read her interviews all these years, but I never quite got her until I read your essay. And of course, we can’t read your essay on the air, or the FCC will come and take my license away.
MS: That’s right.
HH: But she was a remarkable woman.
MS: Yes, and she was basically, she described herself at the end of her long life as a Christian atheist.
MS: And she understood, as actually…she is the embodiment, really, of the sort of feminist, left-wing, career woman. And certainly, that’s how she was admired around the world in the 60′s and 70′s. But she came to understand, she requested a meeting with Pope Benedict toward the end of her life. They agreed on the grounds that what they discussed would never be divulged, but she started describing herself as a Christian atheist, and that’s a very shrewd designation, because atheists in Western Civilization should understand that they enjoy the lives they do, in part because of the Judao-Christian inheritence that they cannot bring themselves to believe in. So in a sense, she understood that even as an atheist, she had a vested interest in the continuation of Christian civilization. And more left-wingers, more atheists, more secularists should understand that.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, she also sort of broke the ground that you have richly plowed and seeded, in terms of warning Europe about what was coming.
MS: Yes. She understood that you cannot simply have remorseless demographic trends that go on, decade in, decade out, and for it not to have an impact. You know, people got shocked when…you remember Pat Buchanan’s famous thing about ten years ago, that it would be easier for America to assimilate 100,000 Englishmen than 100,000 Zulus?
HH: Oh, I did not hear that, but I’m not surprised Pat said it, yeah.
MS: Pat said it, and I didn’t particularly agree with him at the time, because in fact, you know, if you got 100,000 Englishmen on a Saturday night after the pubs closed, you realize that at least the Zulu warriors stopped chanting and go home at 10:00 at night, where as the baying English yabos don’t. So I didn’t particularly agree with him at the time. But I mean, there is a basic point there that you cannot have the same piece of real estate, and for it to pass into the hands of a completely different group of people, and to expect that that society will survive in its present form. And Oriana Fallaci understood when she looked, she traveled around Europe. She looked at France, she looked at Italy, she looked at the Netherlands, and she understood that these countries are transforming themselves at a faster rate than most societies in human history.
HH: It’s a magnificent essay. I hope people will read it. I want to turn to the political obituary. The presidential campaign is underway. I watched Wolf Blitzer today, and it’s all about Tom Vilsack, and it’s all about who’s running for president. I can’t believe it. We blinked, and we’re into ’08. But the political obituary of Bill Frist was unexpected, sudden and certain. Mark Steyn, what happened to the majority leader?
MS: Well, I think it’s very hard for Senators to run for president anyway. I remember seeing Orrin Hatch at the Gun Owners of New Hampshire dinner, and every time he was asked a question, he said I’ve been in Washington twenty years, or whatever it was, I’ve been in Washington twenty years, I know how it works, I know how to get things done. And he thought he was emphasizing his effectiveness. And everyone in the room thought he was basically just confessing to being a sleazy deal maker with no principles. And I think that’s the problem Senators have. And I think that was compounded, that would be compounded in this electoral season, in that the Republican base really feels let down by the Republican Congress. And as one of the leaders of that Congress, Senator Frist understood that he was a hiding to nothing.
HH: It looks like a three person race on the Republican side, Mark Steyn, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney. Your first prediction of many that will come over the next 18 months?
MS: Well, I think Mitt Romney is going to be the guy that basically is going to be the non-McCain, non-Giuliani candidate. They’re both problematic candidates for large segments of the Republican base, notwithstanding Giuliani’s magnificent performance on September 11th, and the days afterwards. That in itself should not actually be a political platform, because one would hope that whoever happened to be Mayor of New York City would rise to that particular occasion. Obviously, we saw in Louisiana after Katrina hit that political officials don’t always. But that in itself, I don’t think, is enough. And John McCain, I think, brings tremendous baggage. I’m amazed at how he’s managed to offend almost every element in the Republican base. And that simply doesn’t add up. He’ll have the same problem he’s always had once he reaches the South Carolina primary.
End of interview.